Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Gender Ideology and Psychological Reality

Gender Ideology and Psychological Reality: An Essay on Cultural Reproduction

Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Gender Ideology and Psychological Reality
    Book Description:

    Why do members of a society espouse culturally constituted beliefs that are at odds with their personal interests and experiences? In this book Melford Spiro, a psychological anthropologist, answers this question by investigating ideologies of gender and sex relations in Burma, according to which men are superior and women are morally and sexually dangerous-despite the reality that women actually enjoy high economic, legal, and social status. Spiro argues that these sexist ideologies-prevalent in most of the human world-are an expression of male anxieties and insecurities.Spiro proposes a theory of cultural reproduction that is an alternative to the enculturation model of radical cultural determinism. He postulates that cultural systems are reproduced only insofar as they are internalized by members of society and that this occurs if these systems resonate with members` conscious and unconscious beliefs and desires or are employed by them as a resource for the construction of defense mechanisms. He compares his firsthand observations of a Burmese village to extensive data from a wide array of other societies (including our own) and argues that this explanation applies to all societies.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14655-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    For any anthropologist acquainted with the work of Edward Sapir and A. I. Hallowell, Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton, Ralph Linton and Melville Herskovits, and a few of our other intellectual ancestors, a great deal of contemporary anthropological discourse poses a challenging problem in intellectual history. Because some of the key terms of this discourse (practice, intentional subject, cultural reproduction) merely replace traditional terms (role enactment, actor, cultural persistence), the anthropologist might have the feeling, best expressed by that great American sage Yogi Berra, that “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

    We may well wonder why it has been necessary...

  6. 2 Males and Females in Village Burma
    (pp. 11-44)

    Although the cultural ideologies of the Superior Male and the Dangerous Female are frequently discrepant with, if not the opposite of, the social system of male-female relations, this is especially so in Burma. But before describing the Burmese variants of these cultural systems, it is important to describe the Burmese social system of male-female relations.

    Some of the following description is based on published sources, both historical and ethnographic, but most of it is based on fieldwork that I conducted in 1961–1962 in the Upper Burma village I call Yeigyi and in the surrounding villages. Consequently, although this description...

  7. 3 Cultural Internalization: Conscious Desires and Beliefs
    (pp. 45-73)

    Because three prominent theories of cultural internalization already exist, the need to formulate yet another stems from my belief that these theories are not only problematic but incapable of explaining the internalization of cultural systems of the type described in the previous chapter. Before formulating an alternative theory, let us examine the three “classical” theories: the Marxist, socialization, and cultural determinist theories.

    According to classical Marxist theory, the culture of any group legitimizes its social system (especially social stratification). There can thus be no single explanation for cultural internalization; rather, the explanation varies as a function of social class. Because...

  8. 4 The Concept of Desire
    (pp. 74-89)

    Desire is a motivational concept that, together with certain other concepts, accounts for volitional action.Action, as I am using that term, refers not only to physical action (e.g., driving a car) and social action (e.g., disciplining a child) but also to mental action (e.g., internalizing a cultural proposition). If to desire something is to want something, then volitional action—according to the theory of action employed here—is motivated by the desire to fill a need or else to express, or to avoid the arousal of, a sentiment. I shall reformulate this later.

    Aneed, as I use that...

  9. 5 Cultural Internalization: Unconscious Desires and Beliefs
    (pp. 90-117)

    Because repression protects an actor against painful affects, it, like a class of other unconscious cognitive operations, is called a mechanism of psychological defense, or, more concisely, a defense mechanism. This term is unfortunate, becausemechanismusually implies something mechanical, automatic, or involuntary, something like a physiological reflex, which is neither motivated nor cognitively mediated. Because, however, defense mechanisms are complex cognitive operations, none of these adjectives is appropriate, and it would be better perhaps, and certainly less misleading, to call them coping ego behavior, as Haan (1977) and Theodore Kroeber (1963) do. Nevertheless, I retain the conventional term because...

  10. 6 Culturally Constituted Defenses and Psychopathology
    (pp. 118-135)

    In a recent critique of the concept of culturally constituted defenses and other concepts of psychoanalytic anthropology, Gananath Obeyesekere contends that their proponents "analyze symbolic forms on the model or analogy of psychopathology" and employ a “pathological model of culture” (1990: xvii). That is, they “postulate that, insofar as an isomorphism exists between personal and cultural defenses, so a similar isomorphism exists between [cultural] symbol and symptom” (19), if not, indeed, “a simple replication” (57). Consequently, the psychoanalytic anthropology of these authors has “made little change” in Freud’s “basic orientation” that religion (and presumably culture in general) is a “neurotic...

  11. 7 Internalization of Sex and Gender Ideologies
    (pp. 136-176)

    In Chapter 2, I delineated two interrelated cultural ideologies (or cultural systems) regarding sex and gender that are prominent not only in Burma, where I studied them at first hand, but in many other societies throughout the world. The Ideology of the Superior Male asserts that males—in virtue of their sexual anatomy and an ineffable spiritual essence calledhpoun—are intellectually, spiritually, and morally superior to females and that it is consequently their right to dominate and control them. The Ideology of the Dangerous Female comprises two subsystems. According to the Ideology of the Morally Dangerous Female, females employ...

  12. 8 Conclusions and Implications
    (pp. 177-190)

    In this book I have been concerned with cultural and, to a lesser degree, social reproduction. Distinguishing between beliefs that are clichés and those that are cognitively salient, I have argued that the transmission of cultural systems is necessary and sufficient for the reproduction of cultural systems as clichés but is not sufficient for their reproduction as cognitively salient beliefs, for that requires that the cultural systems also be internalized. My primary aim has been to explicate a theory of cultural internalization: the psychological preadaptation theory.

    This theory rejects the traditional social science view that cultural novices are empty containers...

  13. References
    (pp. 191-210)
  14. Index
    (pp. 211-220)