Married three times herself and in at least two long-standing lesbian relationships, as well, Mead was suspect, at best, in elitist academic circles. Worse, however, was the fact that her work further challenged our perceptions and practices of gender and sexuality in Western societies. She convinced Dr. Benjamin Spock, for example, that it's better to breastfeed babies when they're hungry rather than according to a schedule. Countering the idea that men are "by nature" aggressive and women are "by nature" submissive, she published research demonstrating that there are cultures wherein both genders are aggressive, cultures wherein both genders are not aggressive and even cultures wherein the women are practical and the men "primp." And she suggested that societal pressures cause adolescent angst and rebellion!
Needless to say, the criticisms came hard and fast -- once she was dead -- but they were ultimately nit-picking or debunked. And, in fact, U.S. President Jimmy Carter awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom a year after her death in 1978. The citation reads: "Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, [Margaret Mead] remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn."
Her instruction to those who listen to in-your-face women? "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."