After returning home from the AAA, I was browsing through Visions of Culture: An Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists by Jerry Moore (Alta Mira Press, 1997). In line with the topic of our roundtable I noted that of the 21 chapters, each covering a prominent theorist, only four feature women. They include not suprisingly Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, as well as Mary Douglas and Eleanor Burke Leacock. The last stands out particularly to me given her theoretical perspective and that she studied Native Americans and the fur trade, and the title of her chapter, “Feminism, Marxism and History,” made me give it a second look.
Burke Leacock’s (1922-1987) experiences remain pertinent today to remind us of just how great the strides of women in anthropology have been. Moore notes,
“She obtained her first tenure track position fifteen years after completing her Ph.D. at Columbia. In contrast, her male contemporaries at Columbia – including fellow radicals Elman Service, Morton Fried, and Stanley Diamond - were quickly hire by universities. In the pages of the International Dictionary of Anthropologists (Winter 1981), there is not even a brief mention of Eleanor Burke Leacock.
“Why did this occur? Simply because, as Stanley Diamond (1993:114) writes, “Being an honest scholar, a radical and a feminist, the going was rough.” But the most difficult barrier Eleanor Burke Leacock faced was simply being a woman in American society,” (p. 202).
Moore goes on to quote Burke Leacock’s own description of her undergraduate career under professor Alfred Tozzer, “who announced to his class of Radcliffe women “bluntly and umsympathetically, that they should not go into anthropology unless they had independent incomes, because they would never get jobs” (Leacock 1993:7),” (p. 202 in Moore).
Among her contributions she demonstrated that the holding private property, that is, hunting territories, by the Innu, as seen in the late eighteenth century was the result of an historical process of involvement with the fur trade. In addition she studied the place of women in non-Western, non-capitalistic societies and found that relegating them to inferior status employed extrapolating from a Western bias.
Amazingly, or perhaps not, Burke Leacock has recently been subject to the discrediting efforts of at least one individual online who claims to look more closely at her evidence than she did and claims to put it into context, which he claims she did not, thereby “debunking” her research into the place of women in egalitarian societies. While I am loath to give attention to such detractors who base their criticizes on such limited “evidence,” I do so to point out that even today a well researched feminist perspective remains the target of those who style themselves as sceptics. However, one does not have to look beyond the opening lines of the detractor’s blog to see that his argument stems as much from his distaste for her Marxist theoretical framework as any supposed research flaw.
Burke Leacock received her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1952 where Ruth Benedict taught, but I have not to date seen any publications that indicate Benedict served as a mentor. She made her own way at a time when Marxist theory was at least as unpopular, and dangerous to espouse, as feminist theory, and her example remains inspiring.
By Misty Jackson, Ph.D.
Arbre Croche Cultural Resources
For more on Eleanor Burke Leacock go to http://www.indiana.edu/~wanthro/theory_pages/Leacock.htm. Kristin Alten who posted the biography also provides a bibliography of much of Burke Leacock’s publications.
References cited in Moore:
1993 Eleanor Leacock’s Political Vision. In From Labrador to Samoa: The Theory and Practice of Eleanor Burke Leacock. C. Sutton, ed. Pp. 111-114. Arlington, Virginia: Association for Feminist Anthropology/American Anthropological Association.
Leacock, Eleanor Burke
1993 On Being an Anthropologist. In F From Labrador to Samoa: The Theory and Practice of Eleanor Burke Leacock. C. Sutton, ed. Pp. 1-31. Arlington, Virginia: Association for Feminist Anthropology/American Anthropological Association.
Despite the growth and success of feminist archaeology, women in archaeology still face issues not necessarily encountered by their male counterparts in the 21st Century. Legacies of past discrimination, particularly the perceived and/or actual demands of family life, have resulted in disproportionate fewer women working at research institutions in many disciplines, including archaeology. This disturbing trend has profound implications for not only the direction of current archaeological research, but also the training of future scholars.
This blog is a forum for advocating for women archaeologists so that we can move beyond legacies of inequity to a future that strengthens a feminine voice in archaeology and a feminist perspective. We contend that the very practice of archaeology is skewed towards a masculine and hierarchical perspective that excludes consensus building and “minority opinions” when interpreting the past. We argue that the feminine voice brings unique and necessary elements to the discipline of archaeology, through values such as mentoring and collaboration. We also clarify that a feminist perspective is not limited to any one gender, class, race, ethnicity or sexuality. Rather a feminist perspective is a radical point of view; one that recognizes that women’s success professionally and personally is integrally tied to larger socio-political movements dedicated to the eradication of homophobia, racism, and androcentrism.
Our hope is to solicit advice, perspectives, and experiences from all realms of the archaeological profession- including tenure-track and adjunct faculty, CRM professionals, and those not currently employed or underemployed. The ultimate goal of the blog is to shift the realities of power experienced in the daily lives of women archaeologists by discussing, inventing and offering solutions to the challenges of professional life.