Discuss cultural differences in gender. The cultural determinism view (that gender is solely determined via our culture) was first proposed by Margaret Mead

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Discuss cultural differences in gender (15 marks)

The ‘cultural determinism’ view (that gender is solely determined via our culture) was first proposed by Margaret Mead, an anthropologist who adopted an ethnographic approach to studying gender differences in 3 different primitive societies in Papua New Guinea. During her research she immersed herself in their culture and conducted participant observations and interviews with the natives. Mead described both the men and women in the Arapesh as unaggressive and sensitive, whereas in the Mundugumor, both men and women were described as aggressive, hostile and warlike. In contrast, the Tchambuli women were described as dominant and the men as submissive. She concluded that the 3 primitive societies showed clear differences in the gender roles of men and women and as such, gender cannot be determined via our biology, but instead, through our culture.

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However, Mead’s work was heavily criticised as being both subjective and invalid. Freedman (1984) claimed that many of the people interviewed told him that they provided Mead with the information she wanted to hear and other critics have challenged the validity of the translations. Both of these criticisms reduce the validity of the findings. Furthermore, subsequent studies of the primitive societies showed strong cultural similarities in levels of aggression, with men being more aggressive than women. Mead herself noted contradictions in behaviour in her field diary, suggesting that the role of culture is not as clearly defined as she first ...

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