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The Invisible Hands of History

19 Aug

As I read the 1971 “pink issue” of Dialogue, much like Elizabeth I was jarred by the intimacy of the articles. I guess I’d expected treatises on women and the priesthood, discussions of the Mother Goddess, and perhaps more of a bitter, academic edginess. Instead I found that the most subversive element (besides the sometimes odd juxtaposition of handwritten quotes or drawings throughout the issue) was that many of the contributors merely described the pedestrian details of their own lives in straight-forward, engaging, and distinctive voices. Reflecting on Claudia’s earlier post, it seems like perhaps such a collection of ordinary, honest accounts by LDS women is the best defense against what Leonard Arrington terms “the male interpretation of Mormon history.”1

In a lengthy volume on the futility of social science research, John Elster warns against the danger of trusting experts in any field: when dealing with experts, we can’t always separate out fact and evidence from the unquestioning assumptions of our informant.2 To illustrate: while grappling with the evolution of present day gender roles, feminist writers are often tempted to suggest that the modern [i.e. Western] organization of the sexes stems from more or less unfair prehistoric practices. Indeed, paleontological literature tends to reinforce the stereotype of the Man-as-Hunter, Woman-as-Weaver-Gatherer. However, this has much more to do with paleontologists’ reliance on personal preconceptions for explaining the past than anything implied by the fossil evidence. If a hominid skeleton is found alongside sharp objects or tools, it is generally assumed to be male; if it is small, it is assumed to be female, although generally it might just as well be a smaller or younger male. Some paleontologists concede that the tiny skeleton of the famous “Lucy” could just as well be remonikered “Lucifer.”3

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