Anthropology began as the study of how diverse cultures shape differently the human condition. Culture, it was understood, makes the man or woman. More recently, this has been seen as too conservative a credo and some anthropologists have shifted to a study of how people overcome culture. This shift in emphasis from acculturation to empowerment is reflected in this collection of essays on feminism written over a 20-year time span. The earliest essay details the cultural subordination of women. The later essays are accounts of women bucking male domination, including a fascinating account of liberated Western women climbing in the Himalayas. Its complex portrait of sexual liaisons with local porters, of demands for female porters, and the effect on the local culture, creates an apt symbol of women seeking power and climbing a mountain.
From Publishers Weekly
Ortner, a feminist anthropologist and winner of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, mixes her pathbreaking papers and specialized academic pieces in this collection of eight essays spanning the last 25 years. In one influential 1972 article she argues that in every society women are viewed as closer to nature, whereas men are identified with culture, a prejudice that she blames for the universal second-class status of women. Another major essay looks at men's obsession with female chastity, and their systematic control of women's social and sexual behavior in traditional societies. This ideology, she contends, was bound up with the emergence of patriarchal extended families, social hierarchies and the state. Drawing on her fieldwork in Nepal, Ortner, a professor at UC-Berkeley, offers some unusual perspectives on the roles of women, such as the entry of European, American and Tibetan women since the 1970s into Himalayan mountaineering and their interactions with Sherpa guides. Another provocative essay contrasts the popular image of Polynesia as a haven of sexual liberation with less familiar realities: low status of women, a high incidence of rape and sexual violence, an elaborate prestige system regulating personal status.
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