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Sex and Temperament: In Three Primitive Societies Paperback – May 22, 2001

3.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Margaret Mead (1901-1978) began her remarkable career when she visited Samoa at the age of twenty-three, which led to her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa. She went on to become one of the most influential women of our time, publishing some forty works and serving as Curator of Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History as well as president of major scientific associations. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom following her death in 1978.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 22, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060934956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060934958
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
"Sex and Temperament" by Margaret Mead was first published in 1935. The book is an anthropological study of three tribal cultures in New Guinea. The book still creates controversy, since Mead very explicitly connected her observations to a feminist and left-wing political agenda. Mead believed that human nature was malleable, and that the patriarchal gender roles in modern America were cultural constructs, and therefore could be changed. This still rubs many people the wrong way (see some of the other customer reviews).

"Sex and Temperament" is very well-written, almost captivating, and gives you an eerie feeling that you are present in New Guinea together with Mead and the somewhat strange peoples she was investigating. From a purely literally point of view, it's a tour de force. Mead's political message is also crystal clear: she criticizes authoritarian childrearing practices, male dominance, and discrimination against "deviants". I read the book from cover to cover over a week-end.

The book describes the way of life of three quite different peoples in the northeast part of New Guinea, then under British control. The Mundugumor and the Tchambuli lived along the Sepik River, while the Arapesh dwelled in the hills further north. In Mead's opinion, the Arapesh were a gentle people who promoted peaceful co-operation among both men and women, while the Mundugumor were cannibals and head-hunters, who promoted aggressiveness among both sexes. The Tchambuli, most sensationally of all, lived in a kind of matriarchy where the women were dominant and the men submissive.

Critics of the book usually attack Mead's descriptions of the Arapesh and the Tchambuli (called Chambri in later sources).
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Format: Paperback
Mead capitalized on her widely read book about Samoa to further research in New Guinea in the mid thirties. She located three tribes near the Sepik River who fundamentaly differed in sex roles and aggressiveness. I suspect she was influenced by Ruth Benedict who compared three very different cultures in her influential book. Patterns of Culture
Mead refrained from the grand, overall comparisons of Benedict to focus on how male and female roles differed in the three cultures. In one, males were dominant and head-hunting epitomized their aggressiveness. In a second culture women dominated, and the subordinate males showed less aggression. The third culture featured equality between the sexes with the least aggression while also demonstrating an equality and a freedom that might serve as a model for the West.
No doubt Mead emphasized some culture traits over others to reach her conclusions, but her results have helped the feminist movement and given general readers much to think about.
The book reads much like a novel with few technical terms from anthropology to slow the reader.
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Margaret Mead provided the foundation for many of the attitudes and philosophies of the mid-century's women's movement. Her insights into the culturally-based gender roles was a cornerstone in our understanding of humanity. This profound study of three very different societies, seperated by geography in remote New Guinea, clearly showed that culture can control our behavior. We can only conclude by her research that we must allow freedom for the individual, first and foremost, if we are to fully reach our potential as individuals.
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