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Feminism in anthropology in the United States emerged in the mid-1970s with the publication of two collections that examined women’s subordination, power, and influence. By the 1980s, US anthropologists were rediscovering their feminist foremothers and turning their attention from only women to an analysis of gender. Feminists paid more attention to history, class, race, and sexuality as gender relations. Since 2000, feminists have taken a global perspective in studying immigration, sexuality, masculinity, new reproductive technologies, neoliberalism, and gender violence. Despite some claims that the twenty-first century is a postfeminist era, US feminist anthropologists are participating in a variety of activist movements and collaborating with feminists on other continents.
- Early Frameworks
- The Turn to Gender, History, and Intersectionality
- Discovering a Legacy
- Diversifying Feminist Anthropology
- Forging a New Theoretical Language
- Writing New Feminist Ethnographies
- Engendering the Past through Feminist Archaeology
- Emerging Issues in the Twenty-First Century
- Collaboration and Activism
The 1970s saw the flowering of feminism within US anthropology. (Due to space limits, the author has confined this research paper to feminist anthropologists from the United States. The author has also not covered feminists whose specialty is either biological anthropology or language.) Influenced by the American feminist movement, women scholars, including professors, graduate students, and faculty wives, began teaching courses and delivering papers on women’s roles in a wide variety of cultures. Two collections, published in 1974 and 1975, marked this new interest in women. Woman, Culture and Society (Rosaldo and Lamphere, 1974) coalesced around Michelle Z. Rosaldo, Jane Collier, and others at Stanford University and Louise Lamphere at Brown University. Another collection edited by Rayna Reiter (later Rapp) emerged from a number of feminist anthropologists at the University of Michigan (Reiter, 1975).
Many women in both of these networks were involved in the Vietnam antiwar movement as well as in the broader women’s movement. They took part in consciousness-raising groups, testified at hearings on abortion rights, participated in rallies and marches, and attended conferences (Lamphere et al., 1997). Both collections focused on issues of equality and subordination and how to think about women’s position cross-culturally. Feminists in other disciplines looked to anthropology to answer questions like, “Are women subordinate in every culture (as well as in our own)? Were there matriarchies where women ruled? Is there a biological basis for sex differences? And what is the role of the state in women’s subordination? Analytical frameworks (structural, cultural, evolutionary, Marxist) reflected the graduate school training of many authors and many had not focused their field research on women’s roles.”
In 40 years since these two collections were published, feminist anthropology in the United States has changed. The number of feminist anthropologists has increased and diversified as the topics they study have multiplied. At least two new cohorts of scholars have conducted feminist research. More of these are minority women, men (both minority and white), women raised in non-Western traditions, and self-identified gay and lesbian anthropologists. Feminist anthropology has become international. Feminist analysis has blossomed especially in archaeology and in biological anthropology and linguistic anthropology. The emphasis has shifted. Gone is the focus on binary categories and sweeping universals. Writing about gender has replaced writing about women. More attention is paid to problematizing categories, attending to historic contexts, and experimenting with innovative writing strategies. Since 2000, feminist anthropologists are more engaged with issues of identity and difference, and the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Feminists speak about ‘engendering’ the discipline, and scholars have brought feminist perspectives to a wide range of topics such as globalization and transnationalism, new reproductive technologies, sexuality, gender violence, immigration, and the study of neoliberalism, the financial sector, and economic crisis.
The essays in Woman, Culture and Society emerged from a course at Stanford University in the Spring 1971, as well as papers delivered at the 1971 American Anthropological Association meetings, and the networks of the editors. The introductory essays by Rosaldo, Ortner, and Chodorow offered an integrated set of explanations for women’s universal subordination of women, that is, in terms of social structure, culture, and socialization. All three argued that in every society women bear and raise children, and women’s role as mother provides the basis for subordination. Women are confined to a domestic sphere (Rosaldo) or associated with nature rather than culture and seen as ambiguous, dangerous, and devalued (Ortner).
The Reiter collection also emerged out of a class, taught by women graduate students in 1971. Several articles reflected the four-field evolutionary and even Marxist orientation of the Michigan Department, in contrast to what many say is the structuralist and symbolic approach of the Rosaldo and Lamphere volume. Two articles had a lasting impact. Gayle Rubin’s article “The Traffic in Women” pioneered the use of theory (Marx, Levi-Strauss, Lacan) to understand women’s subordination and the creation of a normative heterosexuality. Reiter argued that the domestic/public divide coincided with the rise of the state. It was the first of several important treatments of women’s subordination in relation to class divided, patriarchal states (Sacks, 1979; Silverblatt, 1987; Gailey, 1987).
The articles in both attested to the variety of positions women held in cultures throughout the world. Feminists offered examples where women held power or influence (McCormack, Brown) and case studies where women strategized to achieve their own goals even though men wielded power in patrilineal descent groups (Wolf, Collier, Silverman, Lamphere). Still others found cultures where men and women could be considered equal (Sacks, Gough, Draper). As Gayle Rubin put it “So they [the books] were locally inflected [structural and cultural versus materialist and evolutionary], but the project was a common one, and it was one of those historical tectonic shifts where you don’t understand the forces that are impinging on all these different people in different places but they clearly were” (Lamphere et al., 2007: 417). Feminists felt, as Rapp said, “we and our whole generation were reconfiguring the field.”
The three introductory essays in Woman, Culture and Society gave rise to a debate over women’s subordination and the usefulness of dichotomies like domestic/public and nature/ culture. Some scholars argued that in small-scale foraging and horticultural societies, women and men held roles that were “complementary but equal” (Schlegel, 1972). Working primarily from a Marxist perspective, Leacock (1980) (Eleanor Leacock was an important analyst of women’s roles and mentor to feminists of the 1970s generation. In addition to her collected essays on women’s status, she co-edited collections on women and colonization and on women’s work. She also published a critique of the culture of poverty and edited a new edition of Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.), Sacks (1979), and others took the position that colonialism had transformed and undercut many native economies, creating inequality where autonomy had been the norm.
The Turn to Gender, History, and Intersectionality
By 1980, feminists began to turn from ‘finding women’ to examining relationships the concept of “gender.” Rosaldo’s article “The Use and Abuse of Anthropology” (1980) was a first step in this direction. However, she continued to argue that women have been universally subordinate. She also began to break apart the categories o ‘female’ and ‘male,’ analyzing differences between unmarried young men and women and their married elders. Working with Jane Collier, she said “We are concerned to stress not the activities of women – or of men- alone; instead we are attempting to convey the ways in which a sexual division of labor in all human social groups is bound up with extremely complex forms of interdependence, politics, and hierarchy” (Rosaldo, 1980: 412). This same emphasis on gender and hierarchy is the unifying theme of Sexual Meanings edited by Sherry Ortner and Harriet Whitehead (1981). They call for an analysis of ‘prestige structures’ and suggest that gender systems are themselves prestige structures. Statuses such as warrior, statesman, Brahmin, or elder are seen as part of a male ranking system, while women get defined as wives and mothers, unmarked positions with lower prestige. These four authors pose models that are comparative and not based on universal dichotomies.
Micaela di Leonardo’s collection Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge (1991) represents this trend to examine gender rather than simply ‘women.’ In her Introduction, di Leonardo argues for a culture and political economy approach, one that respects many histories (rather than one evolution), takes a social constructionist position, and sees gender as embedded in larger institutions and other forms of hierarchy (race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality). Ann Stoler’s historical analysis of the policing of sexuality in Indonesia and colonial Asia (Stoler, 2002), Patricia Zavella’s comparative research on Hispana/Chicana women factory workers in California and New Mexico (1987; Lamphere et al., 1997) and Irene Silverblatt’s work on women and the state in the Inca period (1987) are excellent examples of this approach to gender.
Discovering a Legacy
Simultaneous with the turn to gender and the importance of history, feminists began researching the lives of early female anthropologists and discovered a long lineage of women scholars and feminists. They reexamined the lives of well-known anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Elsie Clews Parsons and discovered the role of Franz Boas and the Columbia Anthropology Department in producing 20 women PhDs between 1920 and 1940. They recovered Nancy Lurie’s history of the nineteenth-century Women’s Anthropology Association outlining the beginnings of a female presence in the emerging discipline (1966). Several graduate students spearheaded the publication of Women Anthropologists: A Biographical Dictionary (Gacs et al., 1988), and Hidden Scholars (Parezo, 1993) examined the impact of women’s research on the study of Native Americans in the American Southwest.
Adding to these sources that emphasize white women has been the new scholarship on minority women, many of whom did not have PhDs or spent their careers in minority institutions or outside the academy. One now views Zora Neale Hurston, Katherine Dunham, Ella Deloria, Christine Quintasket (Morning Star), Catherine Bond Day, Irene Diggs, Manet Fowler, and Vera Green as pioneering women in anthropology (Finn, 1995; Harrison and Harrison, 1999).
Full biographies have been written on a number of women anthropologists: Alice Fletcher, Elsie Clews Parsons, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Ruth Landes, Cora Dubois, and Zora Neal Hurston. These materials have made it possible for feminists to bring these women in from the margins and reevaluate their contributions (Lamphere, 2004). For example, Elsie Clews Parsons, Gladys Reichard, and Zora Neale Hurston can now be appreciated for their more dialogical writing that places the anthropologist within the text and creates more open, polyphonic descriptions of concrete interactions and conversations. Each used these textual strategies long before the appearance of the Clifford and Marcus collection (1986), often seen as the original call for a more dialogical approach to ethnography.
Diversifying Feminist Anthropology
The 1980s and 1990s brought many more minority and lesbian women into graduate programs anthropology and those who obtained PhDs in the late 1970s began holding faculty positions. This laid the groundwork for a more diverse feminist anthropology. Johnnetta Cole’s collection All American Women (1986) featured feminist writing and the biographic sketches of minority and working class women, as well as white women. African American feminists analyzed the impact of globalization and neoliberalism on women’s lives in the Caribbean (Bolles, 1996; Harrison, 1997), collected the narrative histories of women (McClaurin, 1996), documented the impact of poverty (Mullings and Wali, 2000), and explored gender relationships in African cultures (Shaw, 1995). The forging of Black feminist anthropology is well documented in Black Feminist Anthropology (McClaurin, 2001). Among the Chicano/Latina woman who have studied women’s lives are Patricia Zavella and Ruth Behar. Gina Perez, Monica Russel y Rodriguez, and Anna Ochoa O’Leary are among those who have made contributions during the first decade of this century. Bea Medicine’s innovative scholarship on Lakota women warriors and Nancy Mithlo’s research on Native American women artists are examples of contributions by Native Americans.
Another aspect of diversity has been the flowering of gay and lesbian anthropology. In the 1970s, this was initiated by Esther Newton’s research on female impersonators, Ellen Lewin’s (1993) study of Lesbian Mothers, and Elizabeth Kennedy and Madeline Davis’s oral histories of lesbian women in Buffalo, New York. Ellen Lewin and William Leap have published three collections on the impact of gay/lesbian anthropology. Out in the Field narrates how gay and lesbian anthropologists negotiated their sexual identities during field research; Out in Culture emphasizes gay/lesbian theorizing; and Out in Public takes a reflexive public anthropology stance by exploring the ways both anthropologists and the gay/ lesbian populations they study have engaged the public sphere and pushed for change.
Forging a New Theoretical Language
The important contributions of minority and lesbian feminists in the 1980s and 1990s cleared the way for a continued emphasis on what came to be called ‘intersectionality,’ the multiple interpenetration of gender, race, class, nationality, and other forms of difference. The attention to gender in relation to class and especially race owes much to the critique of white feminism by minority and Third World feminists often labeled as part of ‘third-wave feminism.’ The authors mentioned in the previous section are very much part of this same moment in theorizing gender.
The focus on intersectionality is also evident in studies of working class women, poverty and welfare, many influenced by Marxism and using a political economy approach. The collection Women, and the Politics of Empowerment (Bookman and Morgen, 1988) brings together feminist analysis of women’s resistance, organizing and political consciousness in workplace, educational and community contexts across working class and minority communities. More extensive studies include Karen Sack’s analysis of women hospital workers in Caring by the Hour, Ida Susser’s focus on women in her New York ethnography Norman Street, and Mary Anglin’s study of women’s resistance in the Mica industry in Women, Power and Dissent in the Hills of Carolina. Two very excellent collections on women and welfare reform are edited by Catherine Kingfisher (Western Welfare in Decline) and by Francis Fox Piven, Joan Acker, Margaret Hollack, and Sandra Morgen (Work, Welfare and Politics).
In contrast to the political economy approach, postmodern feminists have followed the theories of Lyotard and Derrida who critique ‘modernism’ and its commitment of science, objectivity, and truth. However, many feminist anthropologists have been wary of a postmodern stance that dissolves the speaking subject and focuses primarily on discourse rather than on material reality (Mascia-Lees et al., 1989). Anthropologists remain committed to understanding the ‘empirical reality’ of women’s lives and the analysis of social, political, and cultural structures. However, postmodernism has led feminist anthropologists to be conscious of the colonial heritage of their discipline, of their positionality as middle class observers and (often) white Western women. Many feminists have become advocates of critique, deconstructing our concepts as historically situated, culturally bound, and open to revision.
Several other trends emerged in the late 1980s, influenced by Marx, Foucault, Bourdieu, and Butler. First, Ortner (1989) drawing on the Marxist definition of ‘praxis’ and Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’ argued for an emphasis on practice or concrete actions emerging from structure that could also transform it (Ortner, 1989: 12). Second, anthropological feminists have used Foucaultian notions power as productive and capillary. Power, through structures like the panopticon, shapes the self and inscribes habits of self-policing and states of subjugation forming ‘docile bodies’ (Foucault, 1977). Aihwa Ong’s study of Malaysian women factory workers (Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline), Ann Stoler’s research on sexuality in Southeast Asia (Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power), and Saba Mahmood’s book on the Egyptian women’s Mosque movement (The Politics of Piety) are some of the most important examples of this approach.
A third trend has been research on the body and embodiment. Studies by historians and feminist biologists have pointed to the Western bias in viewing the body and sexuality as biologically based, historically static, and as only situated in a two-sex, two-gendered fixed system. Rather than the body being ‘presocial’ and a blank slate, feminists using Foucault and Butler view sex and gender as malleable, culturally structured, and performative. Mascia-Lees and Patricia Sharpe’s collection of essays exemplify this foray into analyzing the body in literature, painting, and contemporary US culture (2000).
Writing New Feminist Ethnographies
A central impact of postmodernist and Marxist theory has been the emphasis on rethinking the power dynamics embedded in feminists’ relationship to their subjects. This began by interrogating the boundary any observer must confront – that between the Self and the Other, that is, between the investigator and those with whom she interacts. Feminist ethnographers questioned whether anthropology could be constructed differently when feminists study women. Stacey is deeply skeptical, stressing the class divisions and manipulative aspects of the feminist/subject relationship (1988). Marilyn Strathern argues for an ambivalent relationship between feminism and anthropology since each mocks the way the contrasting discipline conceives of the Self/Other dichotomy (1987). However, Abu-Lughod is much more hopeful, suggesting that feminist ethnography can disrupt boundaries and replace the presumption of a universal female experience with a grounded sense of our commonalities and differences (1990: 27).
Other feminist anthropologists like Kirin Narayan and Patricia Zavella have explored the complexity of being partial ‘insiders’ (observers with kin or ethnic connections to those under study) yet being viewed as ‘outsiders’ because of national, class, and cultural differences. These essays recognize what Donna Haraway calls “situated knowledges” a feminist epistemological stance that acknowledges the social location of the researcher where knowledge is always partial and seen through the perspectives of active subjects (Haraway, 1991: 183–201).
This reevaluation has also led to different strategies for ethnographic writing. These include presenting women’s voices in detail, including the author in narratives, and historically contextualizing ethnographic material. These writing strategies, also pioneered by Parsons, Reichard, and Hurston, move anthropology toward creating more dialogic rather than objectifying accounts. Lila Abu-Lughod’s ethnography of Bedouin women’s lives, Writing Women’s Worlds; Ruth Behar’s life history, Translated Woman; and Margery Wolf’s A Thrice- Told Tale are examples of this growing trend.
The collection Women Writing Culture (Behar and Gordon, 1995) is in direct contrast to Writing Culture (Clifford and Marcus, 1986) that ignored feminism and women’s writing. Several articles explore the writing of earlier women anthropologists, while other contributions attest to the women’s past marginalization. There are also innovative examples of fiction, play writing, diaries, and narratives that suggest that feminist ethnography has taken new form and will reach broader audiences.
Engendering the Past through Feminist Archaeology
Feminist approaches to prehistory emerged more slowly than in social/cultural anthropology, but as they have grown, they have begun to transform archaeological theory and practice. Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory (Gero and Conkey, 1991) is one of the first comprehensive responses foregrounding the analysis of gender. Contributors examine gender in a variety of archaeological contexts (e.g., pottery production, weaving, cooking, lithics, and art). The intention is to examine gender in relationship to power structures, household organization, the deployment of labor, and the organization of space.
Interest in gender continued to expand, but many archaeologists have been content with just “finding women in the past.” In contrast, feminists examine gender relations and aim to change archaeological theory and practice. This means increasing the visibility of human agency, admitting the partial and situated nature of knowledge, and allowing for multiple interpretations rather than top-down, hierarchically positioned ones (Conkey and Gero, 1997: 429).
By the mid-1990s, there were a number of good examples of this new feminist research. Spector (1993) supplements her archaeological analysis of women’s activities in a Wahpeton Village by using Dakota categories for found objects and engaging indigenous consultants. She also constructs an imaginative narrative of a how a woman’s incised bone awl might have been made, used, and then lost. Elizabeth Brumfiel makes gender, class, and faction visible in her analysis of Azec figurines and tribute cloth (made by women weavers) (Brumfiel, 1996). Rosemary Joyce draws on Judith Butler’s analysis of embodiment and subjectification to examine Mayan construction of gender as well as political hierarchy (Joyce, 2002), while Meg Conkey draws on feminist and indigenous archaeologies to explore domination in the archaeological record (Conkey, 2005).
The collection edited by Pamela Geller and Stockett (2007) contains articles that also take an intersectional approach by focusing on identity and difference, two themes that Geller emphasizes in her review (2009). A special issue of the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (Conkey and Wylie, 2007) brings together feminist thinking on archaeological fieldwork, practice, and theory. Articles also probe the ‘backlash’ by scholars of gender who wish to distance themselves from feminist approaches (Sorensen, 2000) and the continued reluctance by many (often male) archaeologists to acknowledge the contributions of feminists.
Emerging Issues in the Twenty-First Century
Since the 1990s, feminist anthropologists have become increasingly engaged with the study of the social issues that impact women in a globalizing world. Financial capital has become more mobile, production processes have moved to the Global South, and labor migration has increased. Worldwide computer networks and satellite connections as well as breakthroughs in biotechnology have transformed everything from television, film, and music to medicine, reproduction, and sexual norms. For anthropological feminists, the emerging issues of labor migration and women’s work roles, reproduction and sexuality, gender violence, and human rights are all viewed through a global lens.
Gunawardena and Kingsolver’s collection (2007) provides some important examples of how women’s work is changing. From young factory workers in Sri Lanka to female traders in Ghana, domestic workers in Italy, and hotel workers in San Francisco, women are finding it difficult to make a living, but nevertheless forging survival strategies and contesting their situations. Migration is also gendered. Deborah Boehm shows how young Mexican males migrate to become adult providers while girl friends and wives remain to raise children or come to cook and keep house for a host of male relatives (2012) while Patricia Zavella’s transnational study (2012) focuses on how Mexican migrant women and men struggle with displacement, instability, gendered racialization, and discrimination at work. Anthropologists are also studying the children of immigrants and their adaptation to the United States as well as women’s role in helping their families hold on to language, customs, and identities (Coe et al., 2011).
International adoptions and the accompanying issues of culture and identity have been studied (Yngvesson, 2010; Howell, 2006). And as there are more immigrants from Middle Eastern cultures and Islamic states to European Countries and to the United States, the maintenance of language differences, the veiling of women, and the practice of Islam have all become points of controversy (Abu-Lughod, 2008; Scott, 2007; Mahmood, 2005).
Feminist analysis of the body has also spawned an important literature within medical anthropology beginning with Emily Martin’s The Woman in the Body (1987). Conceiving the New World Order (Ginsburg and Rapp, 1995) contains much of the new work on stratified reproduction across a wide range of countries from issues of abortion, assisted reproduction, and state controls on fertility to lesbian motherhood, single headed households, teenage mothers, and child care workers. Other book-length studies include Rapp’s study of amniocentesis in New York, Testing Women, Testing the Fetus; Ragone’s book Surrogate Motherhood: Conception in the Heart; Franklin’s study on assisted reproduction, Embodied Progress; and Inhorn’s ethnography of infertility in Egypt, Local Babies, Global Science. In the next decade, feminist anthropologists expanded their research on the new reproductive technologies and surrogacy to developing countries where their use and meaning are often very different (Rapp, 2011).
The body is also central to feminist and queer analysis of sexuality and sexual orientation an area that has grown and blossomed in the last two decades. Following on the ethnographies of gay and lesbian communities in the 1990s, more recent books, like those by Ellen Lewin, have focused issues of gay marriage and gay fatherhood. Others have continued the early work on gay and lesbian sexuality pioneered by Roger Lancaster in Life Is Hard: Machismo, Danger and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua and Evelyn Blackwood and Saskia Wieringa’s collection, Female Desire: Same-Sex Relations and Transgender Practices across Cultures. Cymene Howe examines the gay and feminist movements in post- Sandanista Nicaragua (Mediating Sexuality) and Martin Manalansan portrays the lives of Filipino gay immigrants in New York (Global Divas). David Valentine examines the elastic term ‘transgender,’ (along with ‘gay,’ ‘fem-queen,’ or ‘girl’) in his book Imagining Transgender about the lives of those male-to-females in New York who see it as part of their identity, while Gayle Rubin’s essays on sexuality (Deviations) and Margot Weiss’ book on bondage (Techniques of Pleasure) explore bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) and alternative sexualities, theorizing about gender, hierarchy, dominance, and pleasure.
Anthropological studies of masculinity flourished in the 1990s with the work of Matthew Gutmann (The Meanings of Macho), David Gillmore (Manhood in the Making), and others. More recent research ranges from ethnographic analysis of male struggles with poverty, drugs, and race (Bourgois and Schonberg, Righteous Dope Fiend) to masculine images of colonial terror such as the pishtaco in Peru (Weismantel, Cholos and Pishtacos) to shifting definitions of masculinity in the Middle East that have emerged through the impact of new reproductive technologies (Inhorn, The New Arab Man). Mascia-Lees (2011) brings together all the major authors who have written on the diverse aspects of the body in a wideranging collection that sums up various approaches to embodiment from sexuality studies, to medical anthropology, to those interested in colonialism, racialization, and border politics.
The focus on globalization has encouraged the analysis of economic policy and institutions both at the high and low ends of the income spectrum. Feminists have written on neoliberalism and its impact on gender in Nicaragua (Florence Babb, After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua), on the practices of governing and citizenship (Aihwa Ong, Neoliberalism as Exception), and on the creation of ‘desiring subjects’ with the appropriate needs, aspirations, and desires in China (Lisa Rofel, Desiring China). In the United States, financial crisis and income disparity have encouraged women anthropologists to write about the banking industry, for example, Karen Ho’s book, Liquidated, and Gillian Tett’s riveting account of the 2008 financial crisis, Fool’s Gold. Melissa Fisher has written Wall Street Women and while Sandra Morgen and Mimi Abromowitz have argued that Taxes Are a Women’s Issue in their 2005 study.
Finally, there has been continued research on gender violence. Sally Merry’s Gender Violence: A Cultural Perspective (2009) uses personal stories and case studies to provide an overview of the forms of gender violence globally and efforts to diminish it. Hillary Haldane and Jennifer Weiss have headed a group of young women scholars conducting research in a variety of venues across a variety of countries (Wies and Haldane, 2011).
Feminist anthropology is now global. Faye Harrison (2009) outlines some of the differences between African feminisms and those of the West, and describes the impulse to decolonize Western feminisms though forging cooperation and solidarity across cultural, national, and hemispheric lines of difference, a position also supported by Janet Mancini Billson and Carolyn Fleuhr-Lobban (2005). Harrison shows how organizations like the International Union for Anthropological and Ethnographic Sciences can offer spaces for exchanges and collaboration and the building of a broader and more diverse set of feminisms.
Collaboration and Activism
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, many feminist anthropologists feel the feminist movement has faded. Some theorists argue that this is a postfeminist moment. However, there are still protests against rape (the ‘slut walks’ of 2012), against the narrowing of the right to abortion (protests against defunding of Planned Parenthood in 2012), and struggles concerning access to birth control. Internationally, protests against the treatment of women and girls have been vigorous in India, Egypt, and Afghanistan.
Younger scholars may be reluctant to call themselves ‘feminists’ but there are many who would identify as queer theorists, those who study women and development, or those who examine gender. Anthropologists have been among the leaders in nongovernmental organizations dedicated to policy-oriented research. Linda Basch, who was director of the National Council for Research on Women between 1996 and 2012, headed an organization that spearheaded research projects on women and girls in science, engineering, and technology; taxes as a woman’s issue; retaining women of color in leadership positions; and the importance of publically funded child care. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, where Jane Henrici, Study Director and President of the Association for Feminist Anthropology (2011–13) is employed, is a public policy ‘think tank’ that provides rigorous research and public dialogue on the needs of women. A collection edited by Craven and Davis Feminist Activist Ethnography (2013) outlines the issues that engage women activists (reproductive rights, food activism, gay marriage, and breast cancer). Feminist anthropologists also describe the organizing strategies their subjects embrace in order to improve women’s lives. This form of engaged or public anthropology is increasingly adopted by feminists and is part of a much larger trend within the entire discipline.
Feminist anthropology in the United States has been transformed since its initial expansion in the 1970s. There is no longer a preoccupation with universals or assessing women’s status, perhaps mirroring the discipline’s move away from grand theories. Instead, there are careful historically contextualized studies that grapple with changes brought by increased globalization and transnational movements of capital and labor. Gender and its intersections with race, class, sexuality, and citizenship provide the lens through which feminists examine and engage with the past and with the issues confronting women both in the United States and across the world. Feminists are more frequently tackling issues that have public policy implications and are more committed to collaborating with and giving voice to individual women, women’s movements, and women’s issues areas of economy, reproduction, and sexuality. These studies are making an impact in many parts of anthropology including medical anthropology, studies of immigration, urban anthropology, the anthropology of work, and the practice of archaeology. Feminist anthropology is moving in the direction of engendering the discipline.
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