Female to Male as Nature is to Culture Essay

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Female to Male as Nature is to Culture Gender relations form an integral part of human social interactions and are of great interest to anthropologists. Since the feminist movement in the late 1960s, one question that has been discussed is to what extent the opposition between women and men can be thought of in terms of the dichotomy between nature and culture and what implications this has for the position of women in society. This structuralist perspective was first formulated by Ortner (1974), drawing on Levi-Strauss and de Beauvoir, but has since been criticised for being simplistic and ethnocentric. I will delineate Ortner’s argument and look at its application to male and female roles in…show more content…
She argues that human culture’s universal devaluation of nature and the association within all cultures of women with nature is the clue to the problem. Culture is the tool through which humans are able to ‘transcend the givens of natural existence, bend them to its purposes, control them in its interests’ and it is this ‘human ability to act upon and regulate, rather than passively move with and be moved by’ nature which Ortner considers evidence that humankind regards itself as inherently superior to our natural surroundings. She admits that this opposition is not equally clear in all societies but maintains that the universal presence of ritual practices is evidence of human awareness of our ability to manipulate the natural world. Further, woman is in all cultures viewed as closer to nature than man, Ortner postulates, due to her physiology, the social roles she is confined to as a result of her physiology and the psyche she develops through living her social role. Drawing heavily on de Beauvoir (1953) she highlights the constraints placed upon women by their reproductive biology; that menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth are not only detrimental to her physical strength and health but also confine her to the ‘mere reproduction of life’. This stands in contrast to man, who is free to assert his
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