Respect <debate> <long>

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 5 Mar 1996 09:42:42 +0900

Elaine Hills writes,

"I agree that older women aren't particularly respected in U.S.
culture, but couldn't you say that for older men here as well?"

Could it be, in fact, that gender is involved indirectly? There is a
wonderful moment in Robert Parker's _Double Deuce_ where
Spencer and Hawk, the two incredibly tough and violent heros, are
confronted with a gang of teenage drug dealers who will, if they
fight with our heros be wiped out. Nonetheless they refuse to back
down. Later Spencer turns for an explanation to Hawk, who grew
up in a similar neighborhood. Hawk explains that everybody needs
respect. Some of us get it for things we own. Some of us get it for
things we know. But can you do if you don't own anything that
anyone else wants? or know anything that anyone else wants to
know? Backing down from violent confrontations means that you
lose everything. You've got to have respect, and physical violence is
the only way you can get it.

I've thought about this passage a lot in pondering places like Bosnia
and Northern Ireland and worrying about a world in which too
many people don't own anything that anyone else wants or know
anything that anyone else wants to know. It has been one mission
of anthropology to insist that everyone knows something worth
knowing. This, I take it, is the heart of cultural relativism. A world
saturated with information may, alas, be indifferent to our claims.

On EASIANTH I've asked why it is that there is no anthropological
"classic" dealing with East Asia that every anthropologist has to
read. One especially striking reply suggests that China and Japan are
important per se. In contrast, nobody cares a rat's ass about the
Trobriands, say, or the Nuer. They are only important as examples
of anthropological theory. Thus, besides the time we spend on
languages, histories, etc., East Asianists don't have to bother with
theory. People will want to know what we write about China and
Japan, because it's about China and Japan. If it weren't for the Kula
and segmentary lineages, the Trobrianders and Nuer would be as
easily ignorable as dozens of other peoples in New Guinea or

Returning then to our discussion, suppose that Hawk is right.

It is then a predictable consequence that neither men or women
will automatically win respect with age. If respect is commanded by
property, knowledge and physical force, the last, at least, will
automatically decline as people get older. What's left is property
and knowledge and how they get distributed. Here feminists have
done a good job of reminding us all of how much harder it's been
historically for women to own as much or acquire as much highly
valued knowledge as men. Fortunately, one hopes, that situation is
changing. What may be harder to bear is that only a minority of
women will join the minority of men with property and
knowledge worth fighting over. That makes this a dangerous

John McCreery
March 5, 1996