Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Judith K. Brown's "Iroquois Women"

Judith K. Brown’s article “Iroquois Women” is an important text in the history of ethnography. The article was first published in 1975 as part of the collection edited by Rayna Reiter, Toward an Anthropology of Women. This book was one of the more prominent collections of feminist anthropology (also often called “the anthropology of women” at the time) in the mid-1970s. (Woman the Gatherer and Woman, Culture, and Society were two other important collections of essays and articles. The names of those two books were responses to the titles of two other important anthropological books of the 1960s, Man the Hunter and Man, Culture, and Society.)

Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, gender was an understudied aspect of culture and information on women often underreported, as male ethnographers often worked mainly with male informants or presented information collected from men as typical of a culture in general. The collection Toward an Anthropology of Women and the Brown essay were part of a broader project to redress earlier male bias in ethnography and introduce more information about women specifically and the importance of gender as a social factor generally.

Historically, Iroquois women had great influence and status within their communities and culture. Brown’s essay is in part a discussion of this status of women in Iroquois culture and of Iroquois gender relations (so it’s also very much about Iroquois men). She’s also concerned to examine the social factors that influence gender relations in any culture through the discussion of an Iroquois case study. Among the factors she discusses are economic production, the gender division of labor in relation to production, kinship and residence organization, and the control and distribution of economic goods.

For more information on Judith K. Brown, see her faculty web page at Oakland University.

For more information on the Iroquois, see the web site.

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