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Women Are Closer to Nature Than Men in the Contemporary United States

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Women Are Closer to Nature Than Men in the Contemporary United States

It seems only natural that America, one of the most developed and forward thinking nations in the world, would have set women on equal social, economic, and political footing with men by now. After all, it is the "Land of the Free" and the "Land of Opportunity." In the contemporary United States, women are encouraged to dream as big as men do. They may become doctors, scientists, and even soldiers who fight for their nation in battle, roles historically, and even presently in some areas of the world, set aside for men. However, one must ask his or herself whether women in the United States are subordinated to men in even just one way. If so, the United States is automatically subject to scrutiny under Sherry B. Ortner's claim that women are second class to men, or "seen "merely" as closer to nature than men" (Ortner 73). Ortner's uses analysis of three aspects of the woman (i.e., her body and its functions, social roles, and psychic structure) to justify her position. In this paper, I will explain Ortner's idea and her rationalization behind it. With each of the first two out of Ortner's three levels of justification for her claim, I will present a related outside source to show that women in the contemporary United States are seen as closer to nature than men. (A related outside source for even just one of Ortner justifications would be requisite for this undertaking, according to her.) In addition, I will explain why the universality of Ortner's claim cannot be assumed based solely off of proof that perspectives on American women support her argument.

Ortner arrives at her claim by discussing the universality of female subordination, and then connecting it to women's association with nature. In order to maintain that women are devalued in a specific culture, one must provide data to support such a case. Ortner proposes that exhibition of female inferiority sentiments from even just one of the following three types of evidence would suffice: elements of cultural ideology and informants' statements, symbolic devices, or social structural arrangements (70). As Ortner points out, in every known society in the world, such evidence is found. She uses one example of how even women in the Crow tribe (traditionally viewed as matrilineal) were, although given highly honorific offices in the Sun Dance, Tobacco Ceremony, and Cooked Meat Festival, looked down upon as "a source of contamination" during their menstruation periods, barred from participation in certain rituals (70). Because examples like this are innumerable and counterexamples are sparse, Ortner takes the universal secondary status as a given. She hones in on her claim by trying to associate women's inferiority with their relation to nature, suggesting that the woman is being identified with "something that every culture defines as being of a lower order of existence than itself" (72), that is nature. Let culture be broadly equated with the notion or products of human consciousness in men and be characterized as having the power to transcend natural conditions and turn them to its purposes (72-73). Nature lacks association with these aspects of culture. Ortner deems it important to point out that her claim is not that women are a part of nature, but that they are "seen "merely as being closer to nature than men. That is, culture [...] recognizes that women are active participants in its special processes, but at the same time sees them as being more rooted in, or having more direct affinity with, nature. It is now time to investigate the reasons why women are associated with nature.

The first justification Ortner gives for why women are seen as closer to nature is that woman's physiology is seen as closer to nature. According to Simone de Beavoir, physiologically speaking, '"the female, to a greater extent than the male, is the prey of the species"' (74). Women undergo menstruation, which is often uncomfortable and may have negative emotional correlates. In addition, "in many cultures, it interrupts a woman's routine, putting her in a stigmatized state involving various restrictions on her activities and social contacts" (74). De Beavoir summarizes when concluding that the female '"is more enslaved to the species than the male, her animality is more manifest"' (74). Ortner goes on to rephrase De Beauvoir's thoughts, arriving at the generalization that the woman's body restricts her to mere reproduction of life. The male, lacking the woman's "natural creative functions" (75), must exhibit creativity externally, through cultural things, such as technology and symbols. These technologies and symbols are transcendental, whereas the human beings the woman produces are perishable (75). This greater bodily involvement with the natural functions dealing with reproduction makes women seen as more of a part of nature than men (76).

In the contemporary United States, menstruation is regarded in a light similar to that described by De Beavoir; thus, American women can be seen as closer to nature than men. To some degree, American law, medicine, religion, and psychology still isolate and devalue menstruating women, who at that time of the month are considered to be unreliable workers, unstable human beings, and "physically and emotionally handicapped" (3-4), unable to compete with men.

The second justification Ortner gives for why women are seen as closer to nature is that woman's social role is seen as closer to nature. She wishes to show that woman's physiological functions have tended to limit her social movement, confining her to the "domestic family context" (Ortner 77). Culture sees the nursing mother and her newborn baby as bonded together; for example, the child needs the mother's breast milk, or something



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