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Male Bias in the History of Anthropology

Updated on March 31, 2012

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.

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.


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    • EuroNinila profile imageAUTHOR

      Fotinoula Gypsyy 

      7 years ago from NYC BABY

      Thanks for your comment A.A.Zavala, yea I think there are a few tribes in Africa that practice matriarchy and in other sporadic parts of the world. I don't think this problem will exist anymore, but due to our past being full of it we are still seeing it's residue. Thanks for reading!

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Anthroplogy is a fascinating field. A lot of the exciting research to me was done between 1900-1980. My anthro professor was researching Manga artwork as a part of her doctoral thesis.

      A lot of the male centered biases are due to the nature our paternalistic society. Not all cultures are this way, but a significant number are. However, in science it should be gender neutral. I think this will be the trend from now on. Thank you for sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Perhaps in the past, today most anthro majors are white women, as are the plurality of the professors at least where I go to. Outside of biological anthro, it has become dominated by post-modernist and other feminist friendly groups.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 

      8 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      I am interested in Anthropology, but the local university didn't opened a course on it due to lack of instructors or professors. I still have to go the the big city in order to pursue such interest.

      May I say that men and women will have to contribute fairly in the field of anthropology.

      Although, it's already recorded that men already initiated the move for its research and more.

      I agree with your opinion regarding the Male Bias in this field of world, That was before. Now, women can go braso-a-braso or mano-a-mano with men and compete in this field.

    • EuroNinila profile imageAUTHOR

      Fotinoula Gypsyy 

      8 years ago from NYC BABY

      Women's roles in the past are an iffy subject because as history goes, women were seen as inferior and that's just the way it was in most cultures. But today, there are far too many women in the world and we have grown in trying to be equal and such that anthropology is a little better in this aspect.

      Thanks for your great comment and for reading jadesmg!

    • jadesmg profile image

      Jade Gracie 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      I found that often womens roles were written in Anthropology as lesser and inferior to men's even when about a society which did not itself share this opinion. It is often regarded to have been a means of supporting the Western views and to make our own culture seem ultimately superior and right, as was commonly concieved to be God's will at the time. As Anthropology began and grew from collonialism essentially, imposing a superior framework was cruical in domination and beliefs of the Western peoples that this domination was jutified. Often anthropologists were even contracted by the colonising forces to find out how the society worked in order to find a means of taking them over. These baises were and still are very prominent in anthropology, yet i wuld agree that the introduction of a variety of backgrounds in anthropologists has much improved this. For example, anthropologists Native to an area are now able to counter incorrect judgements.

      A very interesting hub, thanks for posting.

    • EuroNinila profile imageAUTHOR

      Fotinoula Gypsyy 

      8 years ago from NYC BABY

      I have read a lot concerning anthropology not being seen as valid soft science, but that was more in the history of anthropology. Today this is not as big a problem as it was say in the 70's.

      I think that the U.S has this problem of male and female differences and females being inferior. For the most part other cultures such as the Native American culture that you bring up, value the roles of both men and women equally as important which is how it should be. This is just my opinion of coarse.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 

      8 years ago from Space Coast

      This is a well written essay. I have not heard much about anthropology not being accepted as a valid branch of science because of bias. However, I see how any kind of bias can be applied in text about the subject.

      I think of Native American culture. The roles of males and females were vastly different and well defined. It would require bias that they knew nothing of to say one was inferior because of their traditional tasks.


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