because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Margaret Mead

Anthropologist Margaret Mead had a lot to do with the "sexual revolution" in the 1960's. For starters, her research in Samoa suggested that we'd all be a lot healthier and more rational, not to mention happier, if we just "went with the flow" as sexual beings rather than "saving ourselves for marriage," as we were being taught to do (but all too often, didn't).

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."

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