“I Didn't Say That”: Margaret Mead on Nature, Nurture, and Gender in the Nuclear Age

Modern Intellectual History:1-21 (forthcoming)

E. J. Coffman
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
The anthropologist Margaret Mead is widely known for stating that human nature is “almost unbelievably malleable,” meaning that individual identity—including gender—is shaped more by culture than by biology. Many feminists, notably Betty Friedan, seized on this idea as a tool for dismantling sexist biases but were dismayed when Mead's later work seemed to relegate women to a biologically determined, maternal role. Mead, however, argued strenuously in print and correspondence that she never intended to set nature against nurture, for she believed that identity grew from the interplay of the two. The historical context for Mead's thinking changed, as the menace of eugenic politics in the 1930s yielded to the existential threat of nuclear annihilation after 1945, but Mead never fundamentally changed her mind about the production of gender.
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DOI 10.1017/s1479244319000234
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Continuities in Cultural Evolution.Margaret Mead - 1965 - British Journal of Educational Studies 14 (1):106-106.
Childhood and society.E. H. Erikson - 1955 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 145:87-88.

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