Monday, 19 March 2012 08:29

Margaret Mead: Women of Ideas

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Margaret Mead (1901-1978) was an American anthropologist. She did her field work in Samoa, in the Asian Pacific and wrote up her findings in a book called Coming of Age in Samoa.

Her whole academic reputation rests on her findings during her field work in Samoa and the information she reported in the ensuing book.

She claimed that the teenage girls of Samoa and their culture had a different attitude towards sex from what obtained in the West. Whereas in the Western world, the Judeo-Christian religion teaches abstinence from sex until a girl is married, Mead said that the Samoan society encouraged unmarried teenage girls to have sexual relationships with young men before they eventually married. In other words, not much ado is made of sex. Sex is not a big deal. Girls want to have sex and had sex and nobody frowned on it.

Since Margaret Mead did her research in the early 1920s, and there was no contraceptive, one wonders whether those wild girls ever got pregnant.  And if they did, did their future husbands marry them, pregnant and all? 

There is no doubt that Margaret Mead had a hidden agenda in her work. Her goal was to show that sex is culture determined and that whereas the West has a puritanically rigid attitude towards sex that some primitive societies did not make much ado about sex.

Her intermediate goal was to teach the West that it ought to copy natural cultures where sex is not made a great deal of and not restrict sexual activities in girls and women. In other words, she was on a mission to teach sexual freedom. It is said that she influenced the 1970s free sex movement in the West.

And she was not only teaching the acceptance of heterosexual sex but all kinds of deviant sex.  She is reported to have lived with women in lesbian relationships though she was married to men three times. Apparently, the lady’s ultimate goal in doing her work was to produce a culture that allowed her to have sex with whoever she wanted to have it with.

Was it true that the women of Samoa were encouraged to have sex with members of the opposite sex before they were married?  Later researchers have gone back to talk to the women that Margaret claimed to have talked to and who told her of their sexual freedom and they denied ever telling her such a thing.

Derek Freeman wrote a book called Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. In his book, he claimed that Margaret Mead made the whole story up.

Defenders of Margaret Mead claim that the women now deny telling her what they told her because they were later socialized to Christianity and no longer believed in free sex. This is interesting defense.

Let us see. From what we know about other so-called primitive societies where there were no contraceptives and women died in childbirth sex was tabooed until marriage. Even in marriage traditional societies did not approach sex as a pleasurable thing but as a means of producing children. For one thing they did not have the time and luxury to lie around and have sex; they worked from sun up to sun down.

Drawing from so-called primitive societies and their restricted sexuality, the chances are that the women of Samoa were not the sexual libertine that Margaret Mead told us that they were. It is safe to say that her research finding is bogus.

I believe that much of what western anthropologists say about so-called primitive societies are fraudulent, are made up stories, and fictions of their own imagination. Until we hear from the Samoans themselves one is not inclined to accept what some Western anthropologist tells one.


Margaret Mead. Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)

Margaret Mead. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. (1935).

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176