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Sixteen women anthropologists analyze the place of women in human societies, treating as problematic certain questions and observations that in the past have been igred or taken for granted, and consulting the anthropological record for data and theoretical perspectives that will help us to understand and change the quality of women's lives. The first three essays address the question of human sexual asymmetry. Recognizing that men's and women's spheres are typically distinguished and that anthropologists have often slighted the powers and values associated with the woman's world, these essays examine the evidence for asymmetrical valuations of the sexes across a range of cultures and ask how these valuations can be explained. Explanations are sought t in biological givens of human nature, but in universal patterns of human, social, psychological, and cultural experience-patterns that, presumably, can be changed. The remaining papers explore women's roles in a wide variety of social systems. By showing that women, like men, are social actors seeking power, security, prestige, and a sense of worth and value, these papers demonstrate the inadequacies of conventionally male-oriented accounts of social structure. They illuminate the strategies by which women in different cultures achieve a surprising degree of political power and social recognition; and investigate, from case-oriented and comparative perspectives, the social-structural, legal, psychological, ecomic, ritual, mythological, and metaphorical factors that account for variation in women's lives.
Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo is Assistant Professor at Stanford University. Louise Lamphere is Assistant Professor at Brown University.