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Journal Article

Women's Status in Egalitarian Society: Implications for Social Evolution [and Comments and Reply]

Eleanor Leacock, Virginia Abernethy, Amita Bardhan, Catherine H. Berndt, Judith K. Brown, Beverly N. Chiñas, Ronald Cohen, Jules De Leeuwe, Regula Egli-Frey, Claire Farrer, Valerie Fennell, Maureen Giovannini, Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, Anna-Britta Hellbom, Knud-Erik Jensen, Kirsten Jørgensen, Ann McElroy, Verena Martinez-Alier, Nalini Natarajan, Marilyn Strathern and Susan S. Wadley
Current Anthropology
Vol. 19, No. 2 (Jun., 1978), pp. 247-275
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2741993
Page Count: 29
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Women's Status in Egalitarian Society: Implications for Social Evolution [and Comments and Reply]
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Abstract

The analysis of women's status in egalitarian society is inseparable from the analysis of egalitarian social-economic structure as a whole, and concepts based on the hierarchical structure of our society distort both. To see relations of power and property that characterize our society as present in band societies, although extremely weak, obscures the qualitatively different relations that obtained when, in place of dyadic lines of dependency, each individual was dependent upon the group as a whole, "public" and "private" spheres were not dichotomized, and decisions were made by and large by those who would be carrying them out. Assumptions of female subservience in egalitarian society both derive from and perpetuate a view of such society as merely an incipient form of our own. This problem, along with ethnocentric reporting of data, leads to contradictory ethnographic accounts of women's status among hunter/gatherers, as illustrated by material on Australian Aborigines and on the Ojibwa. Similar problems obtain for the more elaborated but still egalitarian Iroquois. The failure to deal historically with changes in egalitarian societies as they became involved in the "capitalist world system," recently discussed by Wallerstein, further compounds problems of analyzing their structure. As a result of these various difficulties, the fundamental transformation in result of these various difficulties, the fundamental transformation in women's status that accompanied ranking and hierarchy is commonly obscured. However, an understanding of egalitarian society as based on production for use and control by the producers over their work lays the basis for examining the linked processes proposed by Engels, whereby specialization of labor and production for exchange led to private property, class differences, and the subservience of women in the economic family unit.

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