Male Bias in the History of Anthropology
Your own view of things is part of how you perceive information...
Although today academia is more aware of the problems that can occur when being biased in academic works, anthropology is still being criticized as not being a real academic discipline by many because of the biases that existed in the past and today as well. It's only natural to be biased because your own view of things is part of how you perceive information, so with that said, it is difficult to get away from being biased. So how does one avoid this issue. It's simple, be aware of your biases. Everyone is different, if you are a professor and researcher you will have different biases say than a janitor working at a high school. We are all brought up differently and have different experiences, therefore we will all hold biases no matter what, and did I mention different biases? Your own view of things comes from somewhere, from your experiences in life, so that is how you perceive the world and we all cannot help it. But we can become aware of why and how we perceive the world the way we do. That is just what the field of anthropology started doing, becoming aware of it's biases and telling the world of it's awareness.
Woman the Gatherer: Male Bias in Anthropology, by Sally Slocum
So, in college I was an anthropology minor, and throughout my coursework I came across Sally Slocum's paper titled Woman the Gatherer: Male Bias in Anthropology. Slocum's article shines some light on the fact that there has been bias in anthropology and her critique is from a feminist perspective. Her 1975 article is still as important now as it was then. Since recent decades, more variation in researchers cultural backgrounds have emerged and since more women came into the field of anthropology there have thus been many criticisms of the field as well. The fact is that anthropology used to be widely western white males, as well as the rest of academia, therefore the questions they addressed were extremely limited, as were the answers to those questions Today there are so many people questioning and critiquing everything, so writers must be careful in limiting their biases as much as they can in their research, because someone is bound to point it out! But the good thing is, that anthropology is now more advanced due to the variety of perspectives that exist in the field today and I say thank Sally Slocum and others for pointing these problems out in the first place and helping to make a change for today.
I liked how Slocum used the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in saying that human language use shapes our world-view, or the way we think, to point out male bias in anthropology. Primitive man and man hunters were primarily the targets of anthropological biases as well as women who were either ignored or assumed to be part of the word "man", when it was talked about. The word "man" is repeatedly used by many and she points out that it is confusing to distinguish as to whether the researcher is just talking bout males, or the human race as a whole, obviously including women. Although this example she used of the word "man" is a little drastic, she does make her point. Basically, historically, the world of anthropology as Sally Slocum points out was primarily made up of males, therefore many biases exist toward females and the "inferior", the "other", etc. since there was not much diversified perspectives on the field. Today we have more perspectives to rely on than we did in the past.
Some interesting anthropological books to check out
- Amazon.com: Women and Men in World Cultures (9780767417693): Laura Klein: Books
Amazon.com: Women and Men in World Cultures (9780767417693): Laura Klein: Books
- Amazon.com: Life and Death on Mt. Everest (9780691006895): Sherry B. Ortner: Books
Amazon.com: Life and Death on Mt. Everest (9780691006895): Sherry B. Ortner: Books
Male-centered language use in the history of academia
The problem lies in the male-centered language used in historical language and writings which are included in research, but unfortunately that is how Western history was back in the day. Females were ignored and seen as inferior, and a man's word held more weight than a woman's. Women, in past anthropological perspectives, were always associated with men or explained in relation to men. Never alone, as men were usually described. Another problem was that men were usually described as strong and dominant whereas women were spoken of as weak or inferior. This idea has brought many contemporary anthropologists to point out these past biases and focus on bringing changes to the field with their works. An example of this is Sherry Ortner's idea in her book, Life and Death on Mt. Everest, where she says anthropologists see Wester white males a the representation of the strong dominant male, whereas the "primitive man", or non-Westerner was the "other", as was female, both were inferior. This is why critiques are so important in research because they find faults and allow us to fix, retest, or rethink our research and come up with more factual writings. They allow us to acknowledge our biases, and to avoid problems with our work.