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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Anthropology Focus: Sherry Ortner's Contradictions

I had an incredibly difficult time finding fault with Sherry Ortner’s research. Yes, she’s a feminist who has contended that women are universally devalued, and in some degree, inferior to men. Some women are inferior to men in brutal strength and intelligence, but it’s also the other way around. The fact, according to Ortner, that this idea is culturally universal is grossly erroneous. Ortner later retracts some of her earlier arguments about the inferiority of women in a previous paper, in her retrospective essay.

Ortner admits that gender equality is more difficult to assess than she originally thought because cultures are more contradictory and dynamic. Why the sudden change and reflection? The fact that she has succumbed to criticism and revised her own work to satisfy the masses is for lack of the better sense, a copout. Part of doing anthropology is having your own opinion, and pushing the limits is just want you want to do, not avoid.

Additionally, I believe that her studies involving symbolism have given her a skewed outlook of what they really represent. Ortner’s symbolic studies have virtually blinded her to what certain symbols could represent, instead of what the masses as a whole, and based on hundreds of years of assimilation, agree on what they stand for. Take for instance American culture in the 1950’s. Ortner is a child of the 50’s. What exactly was happening at this time? Were there equal rights for women? Class and racial inequality? Was the middle class actually shrinking at this time? Was Marx right? Evidently, Ortner’s research has given me so many questions and concerns I don’t know where to start. Remember, I like agendas. Ortner’s views from the 50’s can hardly be compared to now. Why? You can’t really make a comparison if nothing has changed.

Ortner says herself that the United Sates is described “as a nation where anyone can grow up to become president”. It’s a contradiction to be truthful because we know not everyone can. My concern, however, is why doesn’t Ortner take more of her experiences from high school and compare them to how society had changed, or how it hasn’t? Explaining why everyone can’t be president. The American Flag, a summarizing symbol at Ortner notes, representing freedom and democracy, and national superiority, is a contradiction. Why do I think it’s a contradiction? To some Americans it represents the complete opposite. Why doesn’t Ortner use the American flag and describe it from a 1950’s point of view? Maybe I can’t tell the difference between a 1950’s opinion of America or a 21st century opinion.

In closing, you can never summarize a symbol, because it will always have more than one interpretation. Furthermore, those symbols can always be contradicted by different viewpoints. The key is to never falter and give in to criticisms because without your voice, you’re just another conformist.


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