There are many factors which can influence the ethnographic process for an anthropologist, and a very important one is his/her sex. This essay will examine the different attitudes towards sex, the problems that face all ethnographers when they embark on fieldwork in a different environment to their own, as well as the problems and benefits which can arise due to the sex of an anthropologist.
In order to produce a written work about a certain culture or society (an ethnography, anthropologists must embark on what is known as the ethnographic process". This term refers to all of the various activities and research methods which the anthropologist must undertake if he/she wants to obtain a profound and objective understanding of the culture being studied. This process can involve the method of participant observation, which is the long-term, extreme interaction with a community and involves the inclusion of the anthropologist in the day-to-day life of the society, including the attendance of the anthropologist at rituals, ceremonies etc.. The ethnographic process also involves the anthropologist expressing the feelings that he/she has experienced during the course of the fieldwork, and the relations which they might have built with certain members of the community so that the readers of the ethnography can have a deeper understanding of the culture being studied.
However, the above mentioned factors can easily be affected by the sex of the anthropologist. The word sex refers to the biological category into which a person is born; either male or female" but although the term refers only to the physical appearance of a person, the extremely diverse biological and psychological differences between the two sexes have led to there being a male-female a division and a "gender hierarchy" existing in virtually all societies. This can bring about both benefits and problems to the anthropologist, and this is what will be examined in this essay.
When conducting fieldwork in a different environment, there are many problems which all anthropologists encounter, and learn to overcome, despite their sex. The first problem, which often occurs as soon as the anthropologist arrives in their area of study, is culture shock. The anthropologist must learn to adapt him/herself to such basic things as sleeping, bathing, eating, and in most cases, adjusting to the loneliness and lack of privacy which he/she is certain to encounter. Some anthropologists learn that they were quite naive in their ideas about some things, and try to learn to be a lot more culturally and emotionally versatile. Also, some anthropologists find that they are not very welcome into the community, and in some cases, the members of society form very low opinions about the anthropologist almost immediately. Anthropologists also have to try and gain the respect and co-operation of the community by behaving in the appropriate manner and learning how to communicate with them without making them feel uncomfortable or threatened.
However, as many views and expectations about the differences between the two sexes often form the foundation of standards around which communities and societies organise their social lives, the sex of the anthropologists can make a significant difference in the collection of ethnographic data. Although most societies in the West regard women and men to be relatively equal, many societies, for example the Yanomano of South America, have extremely male-dominated societies within which men are given greater respect, have a higher social status and enjoy many more privileges than women. If a female anthropologist was to enter such a society, in addition to all the "usual" problems she would encounter, the community would be very likely to regard her as inferior, and would perhaps also be very shocked to see a woman without a dominating male partner and behaving so independently. Situations such as these are likely to cause great confusion in these cultures, as the community would have mixed feelings of curiosity, disbelief, and , especially among the men, some might feel threatened by her strong position. This may cause the community to be less willing to allow her to participate in activities, interview some people etc., and the anthropologist would probably have to work very hard to become more accepted.
Another problem is that some cultures, most notably among Muslims, is that relationships between female ethnographers and male informants are regarded as being taboo and socially unacceptable. This can cause the female anthropologist"s research methods and participant observation to be very limited and can greatly affect the conclusions which she will make about the community.
Nevertheless, there are some advantages that come with being a female anthropologist. In the past, most ethnographers were males who had very little opportunity to see the womens" side in society as men are more likely to be excluded from women"s rituals, ceremonies etc. Now that there are many more women anthropologists, ethnographies can concentrate more on all the members of the community as it is usually found that women are more tolerated in the "world of men", allowing participant observation with both the sexes. There are many confused ideas concerning the reasons why women are more accepted than men in some societies, but one of the main arguments is that women are seen to pose less of a threat due to their lower status in these societies.
In this essay, some different mentalities and attitudes towards the two sexes have been explored, and the different problems, as well as the advantages, which female anthropologists can encounter when conducting fieldwork have been expressed. There is no real answer to the question of which of the two sexes would be able to gain better experiences and learn more from studying a culture or society, as each different sex has both its advantages and disadvantages regarding the ethnographic process, and many other factors, such as the society being studied, also come into play when these projects are carried out. What can be concluded, however, is that the rising number of female anthropologists has helped the field of social anthropology develop and expand as more points of view and experiences are now being expressed from their side instead of the past male-dominated view. Through the description of different cultures by women, readers of ethnographies are now able to form opinions through more detailed and varied study, benefiting both the field of social anthropology and general society.