"Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon." ~ Gloria Steinem

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Everyone's a doctor--er, anthropologist

I feel called to congratulate 52% of the state of California on their admirable accomplishment; they have succeeded, in just one round of Mormon-funded voting, where anthropologists have failed time and again. They have 1) defined Marriage [the capital M is intentional]; and 2) decided that a one-woman, one-man union is essential to a culture’s survival. Well done, you! I expect the anthropologists who have dedicated their lives to the study of marriage and have yet to agree on a universal [yet utile] definition shall ring you presently to bask in your infinite wisdom.

I do not claim to be an expert on culture; I doubt you could find anyone who does. I freely admit that I hold only a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, but lacking any evidence that the majority of Americans have any knowledge of cultures beyond our own (and this is written in the simple fact that most Americans still use the term “primitive” to describe cultures that do not engage in totalitarian agriculture or live in vast cities), I think we can assume I’m more of an expert than they are.

George Peter Murdock defined marriage as such: Marriage “exists only when the economic and the sexual [functions] are united into one relationship.” But what about the Nayar? In the 19th century, the Nayar lived in India; a woman had to have at least two husband, a ritual husband and one or more visiting husbands, none of which contributed any material support to the woman and her children. And so Kathleen E. Gough, an anthropologist studying the Nayar, gave this definition: “a relationship established between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides that a child born to the woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of the relationship is accorded full birth-status rights common to normal members of his [or her] society or social stratum.” This allows the definition to include other rare and rather complicated kinds of marriages, such as biologically female-female marriages that are socially defined as male-female and do not include a sexual component—which, as of the 1970s, made up 3% of all marriages in the Nandi of Kenya. And yet, Gough’s definition excludes the male-male marriages of the Cheyenne Indians in the 1800s, and ghost marriages of many cultures including Taiwan. (Pasternak 82-84)

Where do your “traditions” fall?

Oh, I see; you’re just talking about our culture. After all, we’re special; we answer to a higher power; we’re “civilized”. Perhaps you should read my next post.

Note: Statistically, I believe the most common marriage arrangement is indeed male-female. But most cultures have situations in which a different arrangement occurs—and in no instance are those different arrangements considered “deviant” or “outside the norm”. They are simply different, and still within the boundaries of their culture—or else they would not exist, and not by virtue of illegality. When did we start believing “minority” = “deviant”?

If you would like to know more about any of these topics, please let me know. I was intentionally brief to avoid rambling.

Works Cited:
Pasternak, Burton, Carol R. Ember, and Melvin Ember. Sex, Gender, and Kinship: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. 1997.


  1. I really think this Prop 8 bullshit is going to be the straw that breaks the camels back. I really think its going to unite those against bigotry in a way that the religious nuts could never have imagined. They have awoken the sleeping giant.

    Dusty Smith

  2. I concur with Dusty. If nothing else, they have failed to let legislation go through without notice as has been happening for years and years in other states. Now, people will take notice on all these anti-gay bills being pushed rather than think, "Oh, well, it doesn't affect me."