Thursday, September 17, 2009
Who's that Queer?
Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist, whose written and spoken work was frequently featured in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Mead is remembered for her large contribution to making the insights into modern American and Western culture and is also regarded as a respected, yet occasionally controversial, academic anthropologist. Her reports about the purportedly healthy attitude towards sex in South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures amply informed the 1960s sexual revolution. Mead was a champion of broadened sexual mores within a context of traditional western religious life.
Mead had a long, eclectic professional time line. During World War II, Mead served as executive secretary of the National Research Council's on Food Habits. She later served as curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History from, and taught at Columbia University as adjunct professor from 1954 to 1978. She was a professor of anthropology and chair of Division of Social Sciences at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus from 1968 to 1970, founding their anthropology department. Following the example of her instructor Ruth Benedict, Mead concentrated her studies on problems of child rearing, personality, and culture. She held various positions in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, notably president in 1975 and chair of the executive committee of the board of directors in 1976.
Mead’s personal life was a series of peaks and valleys. She was married three times, and although they all ended in divorce, she readily acknowledged that her third husband, Gregory Bateson was the one she loved the most. She was devastated when he left her, and she remained his loving friend until her life's end, keeping his photograph by her bedside wherever she traveled, including beside her hospital deathbed.
Mead also had an exceptionally close relationship with Ruth Benedict, with whom she studied with at Columbia University before earning her master’s degree. Mead's daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, in her memoir With a Daughter's Eye, implies that the relationship between Benedict and Mead contained an erotic element. Mead spent her last years in a close personal and professional collaboration with anthropologist Rhoda Metraux, with whom she lived from 1955 until her death in 1978. Letters between the two published in 2006 with the permission of Mead's daughter clearly express a romantic relationship. While Margaret Mead never openly identified herself as lesbian or bisexual, in her writings she proposed that it is to be expected that an individual's sexual orientation may evolve throughout life.
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