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We sought to write a book that did not focus primarily on contemporary gender issues in the United States (sexual harassment, violence against women, gender inequity in the workforce, and so on), all of which are well covered in Innumerable other texts. We wanted, rather, a book that focuses on cultural constructions of gender, one that invites the reader to see America as a set of interacting cultural beliefs and values, much as students of our Gender and Culture classes are encouraged toview societies of Asia, Africa, or Latin America: The book is intended to open a new perspective for students, moving attention away from American gender inequality as a problem to be dealt with through new legislation or policy reform, into a deeper view of American gender as enmeshed in our own distinctive and varied cultural traditions. The book seeks to challenge students to consider that addressing gender inequality in America involves not just activism or new laws and policies, but new modes of thought, a rethinking of our deepest, most accepted premises about the world.
Our book, then, is designed for undergraduate anthropology courses like our own Gender and Culture. We recommend it especially for the last few weeks of such a class, after students have been exposed to the study of gender in any number of non-Western societies, and after they are familiar with basic concepts and theories in the anthropology of gender. Students can then approach gender in American culture comparatively, within a framework of the cross-cultural study of gender already developed in the course. The book will also be useful in sociology, history, or women's studies courses that cover the United States.
The book approaches American gender through a historical and multicultural framework. Two chapters following the introductory chapter focus on the culturally dominant white middle class. These two chapters also present material on alternative gender constructions among gay men and lesbians. The next two chapters cover a history of gender constructions among ethnic minorities (specifically Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic groups, and Asian Americans).
Chapter 6 then moves to a subject we think will be of particular interest to students, "Gender on the College Campus." In this chapter we include results of our own study of gender and students' perceptions of their futures on a campus in the Northwest, as well as the results of a smaller subsequent study we conducted on eight other campuses around the country. This study shows important variation by gender in how students perceive and plan for their future world of work, marriage, and reproduction. As part of this research we administered a questionnaire to students on all campuses. Appendix A provides the questionnaire we used. Instructors using our book might like to have their students fill out this questionnaire in order for students of their classes to see how their own responses conform to or vary from those of the students in our study.
The book's first few chapters introduce a number of themes that recur later in the book. A central theme is American individualism. The book discusses how gender constructions of the white middle class have been shaped by the different positions that women and men have had with respect to this central value of mainstream American life. The chapters covering ethnic minorities show how other groups have reacted to individualism and how these reactions fit in with their own constructions of gender. Another theme is gender in relation to the body. We discuss how gender constructions are related to ideal body images and notions of health and illness. A connection between religion and gender is another theme, mostly developed in Chapters 2 and 3. A final important theme that runs through all chapters implicitly or explicitly concerns the interconnections among the inequalities of gender, ethnicity, and class in America. A final chapter draws together the various themes of the book and provides a summary and conclusion.
Like all textbooks, this one has limitations. One is that we do not, and could not, cover all ethnic or social groups that play relevant roles in American gender construction. As noted, we selected for attention the categories of white middle-class Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans, and thus we have excluded many other categories. For example, Jewish Americans, elderly Americans, poor whites, Polish Americans, and so on are not mentioned individually. Similarly, in a book of this size, the vast cultural variation within the categories we have chosen could not be covered in great detail. And though we use a historical framework, no one historical period is covered in the depth it deserves. Finally, although we have tried to maintain an objective tone in the book, we are well aware that our personal, professional, and gender biases seep through. If one were to read this book without knowing the identity of the authors, it would come as no surprise to learn that they are women, academics, feminists, and anthropologists. Our aim, however, has been not to promote a particular theoretical position but to offer students a view of the many contributions that varied anthropological perspectives can make to our understanding of gender in the United States.
In this second edition of Gender and Culture in America we have added a section on gender theory in anthropology in Chapter 1 and more material on gender and the body in Chapter 3. Throughout the book we have included more works by anthropologists on gender in the United States. We have also added discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Finally, we have included some useful Web sites for further information on issues we cover in the book. These Web sites are listed at the end of Chapter 7.
For their comments on earlier drafts of the book manuscript, we would like to thank Susan Armitage, Edward C. Joyce, Jane R. Millard, Jill M. Wagner, and Miranda Warburton. We are grateful to the Spencer Foundation for financial assistance with the research reported in Chapter 6. The data presented there, the statements made, and the views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors. For their interviewing on that project we thank our graduate assistants, Jennifer Strauss and Towako Masuda, and we thank Louis Olsen for his help with analysis of data. Special thanks go to Diana Ames, Karl G. Heider, and Karen Sinclair for their assistance with the project. We are also grateful to the many students around the country who participated in the research. Linda Stone would like to thank her husband, Paul F. Lurquin, for his help and support throughout the preparation of the book. Nancy P. McKee would like to thank her husband, George E. Kennedy, and her daughter, Hannah McKee-Kennedy, for their assistance and encouragement. Finally, we thank the following reviewers, who gave many helpful suggestions: Judith Krieger, Western Washington University; Susana M. Sotillo, Montclair State University; Barbara D. Miller, George Washington University; and Ann Corinne Freter-Abrams, Ohio University.
Nancy P. McKee