role of women in society

Why Franz Boas, Father of Modern Anthropology, was a Champion of Equality

“There are two things to which I am devoted: absolute academic and spiritual freedom, and the subordination of the state to the interests of the individual; expressed in other forms, the furthering of conditions in which the individual can develop to the best of his ability—as far as it is possible with a full understanding of the fetters imposed upon us by tradition; and the fight against all forms of power policy of states or private organizations. This means a devotion to principles of true democracy. I object to teaching of slogans intended to befog the mind, of whatever kind they may be.” (From a letter from Boas to John Dewey on 11/6/39)

Although he’s called the “Father of Modern Anthropology”, Franz Boas (1858-1942) isn’t as famous as some of his contemporaries, or even some of his students, like Margaret Mead, who once gave George W. Bush a B+ in her class. That’s largely because he cared much more about scientific and personal integrity than about fame or personal ambition. His refusal to accept the limited role of women in society is another reason that his theories are still relevant today.

One of the most important concepts he introduced was cultural relativism, which holds that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or better than others because we all view and judge the world with a perspective created by our own cultural conditioning. In Boas’ day, orthogeneticists believed that all societies progressed through the same sequential stages towards “progress”. For example, they argued that although the Intuit and German cultures were contemporaries, the German culture was at a later, more advanced stage of cultural evolution.

Boas, in opposition to many other scientists of his day, adhered to three scientific principles. The first was that science begins with questions, not answers or value judgments. The second was that science is dispassionate inquiry rather than ideology tinged with emotional prejudice, and the third was that the nature of science is inferential and judicious. He used these principles in scientific inquiry to make a great contribution to the social debate between nature and nurture.

In an experiment he conducted to determine whether bodily forms are also subject to processes of change, he studies 17, 821 people of seven ethnic/national groups. He found that the average cranial sizes of immigrants were significantly different from members of the same group who had been born in the United States. He also found that the cranial sizes of children born within ten years of their mothers’ arrival to the U.S. were different from those born more than ten years after their arrival.

This experiment clearly demonstrated that traits such as cranial size were not only inherited, but could also be affected and influenced by the environment. The results of this experiment led to his argument that any differences between races were not immutable. In a 1963 book titled “Race: The History of an Idea in America, author Thomas Gossett wrote that

“It is possible that Boas did more to combat race prejudice than any other person in history.”

Boas proved himself to be a man who lived according to his convictions on more than one occasion. For example, in 1892, he and another member of the Clark College faculty resigned to protest infringement of academic freedom by its president, G.Stanley Hall. In 1897, while with the American Museum of Natural History, he attempted to organize Native American exhibits according to cultural context rather than along evolutionary lines. That brought him into conflict with the President of the Museum, Morris Jesup, and its director, Hermon Bumpus who wanted the exhibits to express how much further behind in the evolutionary scale those cultures were compared to U.S. culture. Unable to reform the system or increase its educational potential, he resigned from the museum and never worked at another.

To his credit and the great benefit of science, Boas remained critical of his own work, and often, upon discovering new evidence, modified his own theories. For example, his study of the Tsimshian and Tlingit tribes on the northern coast of British Columbia revealed that their social organization consisted of matrilineal clans. The Nootkaand Salish tribes on the southern coast had a patrilineal social structure. The Kwakiutl tribe lived between the two and had a mixture of elements within their social structure. Before marriage, a man assumed his wife’s father’s name and family crest, his children taking them on as well. Boas at first thought that the Kwakiutl were evolving towards a patrilineal social structure, but later reversed himself, concluding that the evolution was in fact AWAY from a patrilineal structure towards a matrilineal one, learned from their northern neighbors.

Boas spent the final years of his career as a beloved and highly influential professor at Columbia University. Through his students, many of whom went on to found anthropology departments and research programmes inspired by their mentor, Boas profoundly influenced the development of anthropology. Among his most significant students were  A. L. Kroeber, Ruth Benedict, Edward Sapir, Margaret Mead, and Zora Neale Hurston, who all had their impact on Motherhood.

Because in much the same way that his work disproved many racist theories, his actions also helped discredit sexist ones, thereby changing the role of women in society. Before his death in 1942, he entrusted his female colleague Helen Codere with editing and publishing his manuscripts.

You can find more on this period of history, also greatly influenced by Emile Durkheim, the Father of Sociology, here.

role of women in society
Franz Boas, performang a Hamatsa dance. Hamatsa is Kwakwaka’wakw secret society of British Columbia, most likely a cannibal society

 

June 26,2015  |

permissive parenting styles

How Dr. Benjamin Spock Invented Relaxed Common Sense Permissive Parenting Styles

When I try to think of the ultimate pop culture icon for modern day parenting, the image that instantly comes to my mind is a mother reading a worn-out paperback copy of Baby and Childcare by Dr. Benjamin Spock (probably given to her by her mother!).

Dr Benjamin Spock wrote a bestseller book in 1946, which is still bought today. Spock was the first pediatrician to study psychoanalysis to try to understand children’s needs and family dynamics. His ideas about childcare influenced several generations of parents to be more flexible and affectionate with their children, and to treat them as individuals, which later led to the more permissive parenting styles as we know them today.

Benjamin Spock: “Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense”

Dr. Spock empowered parents to trust their instincts. Since his first book appeared more than half a century ago, over fifty million copies have been sold, and the book has been translated into forty-two languages. But what is the appeal of Benjamin Spock’s book and should parents still have a copy on their bookshelf? Or have we arrived at a different place than even Benjamin Spock could imagine?

It might seem crazy to us now, but Benjamin Spock grew up in an age where physicians told parents not to kiss their child, and to be careful not to hold your baby in your lap. Spock, in his career as a physician, realized that parents were their own best clinicians and the best parent was the parent who could think through issues on their own. A large part of permissive parenting styles  is to permit the parent to feel and act upon those feelings. This is a lasting legacy.

Dr. Benjamin Spock was born in 1903 in New Haven, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale (where he majored in English and History only gravitating to Medicine later on). He quickly became interested as a young doctor in bring together humanitarian ideals to parenting. He was also not afraid to speak his mind. Ideas on pediatrics often co-mingled with politics such as Benjamin Spock’s condemnation of Vietnam War when he said

“There’s no point in raising children if they’re going to be burned alive.”

He was not afraid of speaking out against oppression and was arrested at many demonstrations. In fact, Benjamin Spock was arrested in 1968 for allegedly conspiring to counsel young people to avoid the draft, but those charges were dropped in 1969 after a reversal from the United States Court of Appeal. Spock could have faced two years in jail and a fine of $5,000. Spock was not afraid to buck authority, and he filtered the theories of Sigmund Freud and John Dewey into tidbits that parents could use practically apply.

Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Critics and the Legacy of Baby and Childcare

When it comes to finding out tips from everything to bed wetting to when to start feeding a baby solid food, most parents have probably heard of Dr. Benjamin Spock even though 21st century moms and dads are also pretty adept at searching out tips on the Internet. If Dr. Spock was starting his career today he probably would have become famous by writing a blog rather than a book. Even so, people still think of parenting books as a sine qua non of a parents’ essential toolkit. And indeed, he pioneered the practical guide to parenting and more specifically permissive parenting styles and helped usher in an entirely new perspective on what it means to raise a child from birth to young adulthood.

Critics of Benjamin Spock and Permissive Parenting Styles

Since he died in 1998, Simon & Schuster has continued to keep his ideas in publication and in 2013 the 65th anniversary edition of Spock’s book was published. It’s the 9th edition of the book. Although not everyone has had the nicest things to say about Dr. Benjamin Spock. Norman Vincent Peale thought that Spock had raised a generation or two of permissive children. He said that maybe Dr. Spock had raised too many peace-niks and watered down Dr. Spock’s advice to:

“Feed ’em whenever they want, never let them cry, satisfy their every desire.”

He also had critics from feminist activist like Gloria Steinem who said that Spock was just as guilty for repression of women’s voices as the old vanguard of psychological science and he was remonstrated for the sexist language included in the first edition. But today’s readers will find references not only to “he” and the text no longer assumes certain pernicious gender stereotypes.

The ins and outs of parenthood have certainly been transformed since Dr. Spock admonished parents in 1946 to use their common sense, and it is this kernel of wisdom that makes him still relevant today and the reason his book is still in print.  We owe permissive parenting styles and methods to dr Spock. A new team of writers have taken the helm to keep the heart of Spock’s gentle pediatric advice alive. While certainly we have come a long way since Dr. Benjamin Spock’s relaxed words of wisdom, I realize I probably wouldn’t be writing this article if it weren’t for the way he first advocated for mothers more at a time when parents desired to be heard.

Here is more on permissive parenting.

permissive parenting styles
Benjamin Spock

June 3,2015  |