The subfield of Feminist Anthropology emerged as a reaction to a perceived androcentric bias within the discipline (Lamphere 1996:488). Two related points should be made concerning this reaction. First of all, some of the prominent figures in early American anthropology (e.g. Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict) were women, and the discipline has traditionally been more gender egalitarian than other social sciences (diLeonardo 1991: 5-6). This observation nothwithstanding, however, is the fact that the discipline has been subject to prevailing modes of thought through time and has certainly exhibited the kind ofandrocentric thinking that early feminist anthropologists accusedit of (Reiter 1975: 13-14).
There are three waves of feminist anthropology, just as there are multiple movements of feminism in general. However, these currents of thought are not strictly chronological, with one ending as the other began. In fact, theories from second wave feminist anthropology are still relevant today despite theories representing third movement in feminist anthropology. Yet it is still useful to present the three waves in terms of their foci (Gellner and Stockett, 2006). The first wave, from 1850 to 1920,sought primarily to include women’s voices in ethnography. What little ethnographic data concerning women that existed was often, in reality, the reports of male informants transmitted through male ethnographers (Pine 1996: 253). The second wave, from 1920 to 1980, moved into academic spheres and separated the notion of sex from that of gender, both of which previously had been used interchangeably. Gender was used to refer to both the male and the female, the cultural construction of these categories, and the relationship between them (Pine 1996:253).The definition of gender may vary from culture to culture, and this realization has led feminist anthropologists away from broad generalizations (Lamphere 1996:488). In addition, second wave feminist anthropologists rejected the idea of inherent dichotomies such as male/female and work/home. Trends in research of this wave developed along a materialistic perspective. Marxist theories about social relations made research about women, reproduction, and production popular. Several of the scholars who follow this perspective focus on gender as it relates to class, the social relations of power, and changes in modes of production.
Contemporary feminist anthropologists constitute the feminist approach’s third wave, which began in the 1980s. Feminist anthropologists no longer focus solely on the issue of gender asymmetry, as this leads to neglect in fields of anthropology such as archaeology and physical anthropology (Geller and Stockett, 2006). Instead, feminist anthropologists now acknowledge differences through categories such as class, race, ethnicity, and so forth. Archaeology lags behind cultural anthropology, however, since the differences between sex and gender were not considered unti lthe late 1980s and early 1990s (Conkey and Specter, 1984).
The focus of contemporary scholars in third wave feminist anthropology is the differences existing among women rather than between males and females (McGee, Warms 1996:392). However, this also encourages considerations of what categories such as age, occupation, religion, status, and so on, mean and how they interact, moving away from the issue of male and female. Power is a critical component of feminist anthropology analysis, since it constructs and is constructed by identity. Studies include those that focus on production and work, reproduction and sexuality, and gender and the state (Lamphere 1997; Morgen 1989). This has resulted in a highly fragmented theoretical approach, which is necessary for its growth since it is based on a fragmented subject (Geller and Stockett, 2006).