Women Who Rock: Margaret Mead

March is National Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating by sharing a lady we admire each weekday.

MARGARET MEAD (1901-1978)

Margaret Mead was born in 1901 to Quaker parents, making her the fruit of a sexually repressed culture at a time of great sexual repression. Surprisingly, she not only railed against the mores of the time, but also permanently altered the way Americans viewed sex and gender. Mead studied as a cultural anthropologist with a focus on gender norms of other cultures. When she saw that women in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands seemed content, liberated, and empowered compared with American housewives, Mead dedicated her life to pursuing change in American attitudes toward gender and sex that dominated the era. In turn, her work empowered the women’s liberation and sexual revolution movements of the 1960s and 1970s.By the time of her death in 1978, Margaret Mead had written 18 books and was a well-respected academic figure. She rocked the world of gender stereotypes by pointing out that sexual norms and women’s oppression were by no means universal. In her advanced anthropological studies, Margaret Mead demonstrated that some cultures have gender roles that are the polar opposites of those in America. She liberated housewives by letting the world know that there was more to life than being June Cleaver. Mead’s bold studies in cultural anthropology gave a scientific basis for the pacifist, feminist and sexual revolutions that began in her lifetime.

Perhaps one of Margaret Mead’s greatest accomplishments was her ability to fold motherhood seamlessly into her anthropological studies and revolutionary teachings. Although she was a highly attentive and involved mother — one of the first to promote the idea that children need love and affection more than rigid schedules — Mead was also bisexual, and did not resign herself to an oppressive marriage like many women of the time. She was married three times and was fearless in opposing the marital norms that she found confining.

Further reading:

  • Male and Female by Margaret Mead
  • Sex and Temperament: In Three Primitive Societies by Margaret Mead
  • Margaret Mead: A Life by Jane Howard
  • Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon by Mancy C. Lutkehaus
  • [Photo: AP]