Structuralism

For this topic, I’m going to be very “structured”

STEP 1: READ: Sherry Ortner, Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? (1974)

STEP 2: Review these slides (props to Catelynn)

STEP 3: Respond to these:

1. What is binary opposition? Why do humans create these categories? How does this apply to Sherry Ortner’s Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?

2. What gender do you feel is closer to nature and which is closer to culture? Why do you think this? How do you think this applies to the inferior status of women pan-culturally? How does structuralism fit into this cultural devaluation of women?

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Comments

  • Ian Whiting  On April 7, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Binary opposition, in the structuralist sense of the term, refers to physical or conceptual opposing forces. They are believe to function as a system for organizing and simplifying the complexities of our experiences within a cultural context. Despite the unique meaning given to these opposing concepts in each culture, the concepts themselves are often universal to humankind. Sherry Ortner applies this theory to explain what she claims is the “pan-cultural” secondary status of women despite the huge differences between how cultures see women. Ortner proposes that this universal secondary status of women in human cultures is due to the perceived “handicap” of the differences between male and female bodies. For example, Victorian Era Europeans and Euro-Americans explained the inferior status of women as because they were “ruled by emotion” rather than reason. Conversely, some indigenous cultures who shocked European colonists with their seemingly egalitarian treatment of women nevertheless saw them as needing necessary protection by male warriors or political leaders. Both cultures held seemingly contradictory views yet treated women as inferior. The problem here is that we have completely ignored how the people in these cultures saw themselves, particularly the role of women. While in both societies men and women may be treated differently, in the latter women may not necessarily see themselves as devalued or inferior.

  • Jessica Gomez  On April 8, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Binary oppositions are related terms or concepts that are opposite in meaning. Binary opposition can be applied to Sherry Ortner’s work in the sense that symbolically women are associated to nature and men are identified as being associated to culture. This is obviously a very binary approach at looking at the two genders and ultimately as Ortner concludes, women nor men are any closer to nature or culture. Humans create these categories because they provide structure and meaning. Certain words depend not so much on the meaning, but by our understanding of the difference between the word and its opposite. I don’t believe any one gender is closer to nature or culture. Although it may seem that way because women’s body and social roles places them closer to nature. The nature-culture relationship applies to the idea of inferiority in women became naturally culture has always oppressed and subordinated nature. Structuralism ties in with the cultural devaluation in women, in that social structural arrangements exclude women from power. Another structural aspect is biological determinism, which states genetically men are the dominant sex and that women are “lacking something.”

  • Alfred L.  On April 8, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Like contrasting phonemes in a word, a binary opposition, such as hot-cold, increases comprehensibility. The concept “Cold” does not contain meaning without understanding what hot is, and only through these oppositions can we comprehend the midpoint between the two, which is the temperature that is desired. As stated by the authors of our textbook, “Levi Strauss… proposed that a fundamental characteristic of human thought was the desire to find a midpoint between such oppositions” (346). Nature and Culture is one of these binary oppositions, and this relates to Ortners work in that she says women are associated with nature and men are associated with culture. The structuralists believe that there are “universal logical processes”, which is why Ortner states that the secondary status of women is pan-cultural. Even in our society today, men hold more positions of power than women, and this may be taken as a sort of proof of our thinking that men are more associated with culture than women (male-power vs. female-subordination).

  • cvang  On April 9, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Binary opposition refers to two terms or concepts that mean the opposite of each other. In Ortner’s article, she discusses the structure of female and male in a society, male being higher than female. That is because male and female are seen as binary opposites, so if one has power it would be assumed that the other doesn’t or has less power. Humans created this concept of binary opposition to have a sense of structure in their society. Ortner expresses that females are inferior in all societies despite the high positions she may hold because of biological factors such as menstruation, pregnancy, or lactation. In this way, females do get devalued pan-culturally. It is assumed females are close to nature because of their role to give life and the functions of their body that can disrupt their daily routine, in contrast to males being closer to culture because of their contributions to give to their culture. Ortner expresses this as females being more “enslaved” to nature. Because nature and culture are seen as binary opposites and so do male and females, associating one to another creates a structure in giving a sense of value to each gender. Male is associated with culture, whereas female is associated with nature. Because nature is inferior to culture, as stated by Ortner, this makes females also inferior to males.

  • Dkcruz22  On April 10, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Binary Oppression is like being stuck in two categories and being put down even more because you are in more then one category. I feel like humans create these because they want to make ways to feel better about themselves and sometimes by doing that is to put others below you. Whether it be by glass, gender or race. Any factor people can take into account to in a sense destroy someone else and build themselves back up.

  • Selena  On April 10, 2015 at 9:43 am

    1. Binary opposition refers to two words opposite in meaning, but are related through concept. This is a way for cultures to categorize their world, establish norms, and create meaning. A general example would be hot and cold; both are temperatures, but mean very opposite things. In regards to culture, a binary opposition can be found in gender, such as patriarchal vs matriarchal, or feminine vs masculine. In Sherry Ortner’s piece, we read about how these opposing binaries of male and female are structured across society. Ortner claims that in all cultures, the woman is placed in an inferior position compared to the man. She assumes this is due to some kind of structure that pervades pan-culturally. At first, I was hesitant to agree with her claims because I’ve read about some cultures that are matriarchal or seem to at least place man and woman on the same level. But in her introduction, she explains how it depends on which angle you’re looking at the culture from (giving the example of China, and how they suggest egalitarianism through yin-yang ideology, a male-centered society by their patrilineal descent system, AND a stronger female force in worshiping a female deity).
    2. I don’t feel that one gender is closer to nature or culture than the other. In fact, this question confuses me, because it is using binary opposition with gender, but I don’t see how nature and culture are in any way opposites. I can see how both men and women contribute to the functioning of their cultures, its values, etc. And I can see how women are tied to nature through biological processes like childbirth, while men can also be connected through their labor (“working the ground”). But perhaps some cultures place greater value on some roles than others.

  • Elizabeth Zepeda  On April 10, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Binary opposition is a par of related terms or concepts that are opposite in meaning. Its a system by which, in language and thought two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set off against one another. We like to think that women are closer to nature because they are the ones that nurture and give live as men are to culture because he is the one that create culture and is more structured. We create these ideas only to try to make sense of what is around us. Who is to say is any gender is nature or nurture? Nature vs nurture is something we still haven’t get figured out completely thus we try and put in a way we could live with. I feel we both are very close with nature but as our western civilization we put that picture of women being the one that gives life.

  • Grumpy Giraffe  On April 13, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Binary opposition as others have stated is two concepts that are opposites in meaning such as nature and culture, hot and cold, or male and female. We do not understand the word by definition necessarily but in relation to its opposite. In other words we need hot to understand cold because they are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

    As for natur vs culture I believe that we have for so long associated women with their biological functions and men with adapting to culture and being leaders that it is difficult to dissociate them. I believe gender is a social construct that is in not necessarily related to biological functions and is a means through which one group can be oppressed as the inferior of the two, in this case women.

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