Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World, drawing upon data she had gathered during field trips in Oceania among seven diverse cultures, anthropologist Margaret Mead explored the formation of gender roles among human beings. In every known culture, humans have emphasized differences in gender and have valued male and female roles unequally. Whereas in previous studies, such as Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935), Mead had sought cultural determinants in gender formation, in Male and Female she searched for universal biological constants. She did so by applying Freudian psychoanalytic theory.

Male and Female is divided into four sections. In part 1, Mead described the nature of her inquiry and the methods by which she, as an anthropologist, observed and analyzed cultures. In part 2, adapting Freudian theory, which credits the management of biological milestones such as suckling, weaning, and control of bodily eliminations with determining adult character, Mead evaluated the process by which individuals define their gender identity. In part 3, she investigated the variant biological rhythms of males and females and the means by which societies balance their needs. She also described the forms of the family in which children are nurtured and inculcated in the values of their culture and through which they learn to assume their gender roles....

(The entire section is 417 words.)