As a female anthropology student, I always get a bit excited when I see other women’s names stamped onto studies and publications. Although anthropology has been traditionally a man’s vocation through the last couple centuries, there are many women who stand out as incredible role models for all anthropology students. I think having someone to look up to is important no matter your interests or profession. So, here I will talk about three of my favorite female anthropologists and the impacts they have made on my education and worldview.
Dame Jane Goodall (1934 – Present)
Goodall is a primatologist (a scientist who studies primates – she focuses on chimpanzees). When she started her chimpanzee research in the 1960’s in Tanzania she did not have much formal training, which may have been what allowed her to think outside the box and make observations that had gone unnoticed by more experienced primatologists. For example, she would give the Chimpanzees names, such as Frodo, instead of numbers. Thanks to her we now know that chimpanzees make and use tools and have complex social orders, which gives us insight into our own human behaviors. She also has been a dedicated environmental and animal-human rights activist her entire life. She paved the way for many women primatologists and anthropologists and advocated for engaged and participatory anthropological methods. For me, the greatest impact Dame Jane Goodall has left on me is to stick by what you know is right and to always treat people, animals, and the earth with kindness.
Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978)
If any of you have taken an introductory anthropology or sociology course, you will probably have heard of Dr. Mead. She was a revolutionary cultural anthropologist. She faced discrimination from her peers and the general public as a bisexual woman in the 20th century, but the quality of her research and person rose beyond those biases. Many tenets of today’s intersectional feminist theories on gender, sexuality, and personality stem from her study of cultures in Samoa, New Zealand, and the US. Reading Mead’s work has taught me to truly listen to the stories that other people tell and try to put myself in their shoes.
Ursula Le Guin (1929 – 2018)
Technically, Ursula is a writer, not an anthropologist, but she has made a huge impact on my life and my education. Her parents were renowned sociologists and anthropologists so many of her writings contain a certain cultural depth. She is mostly known for her science fiction pieces. The first piece of literature I read by her was The Carrier Bag of Fiction. In it, she discusses her approach to science fiction writing, which is to say she tells “real life” instead of tall tales about the heroes. From her, I learned to celebrate everyday stories, because within them are the solutions to a lot of big problems.
Photo Source: Unsplash | Kelli Tungay