Margaret Mead--Fermenting and Forging Women's Rights
March 8th is International Women’s Rights Day, so we thought we’d highlight an amazing woman who not only advocated for Women’s Rights, fought feverishly to challenge gender and societal roles and norms, but advocated for the legalization of cannabis in the United States—going as far as providing testimony to congress about legalization in the late 60’s. Although these few paragraphs that follow can’t possibly sum up the life of this complex and astonishing human, there’s no doubt she marched to her own beat and left an indelible mark on our culture.
She was born at the turn of the 20th century and grew up in a learned household—both her parents were academics and professors. She grew up living on a farm in Pennsylvania, but came of age living and studying native communities in New Guinea. She was a trained anthropologist, earning a PhD in 1929. She held many different teaching positions and earned a fellowship at the Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1948. She worked as the Executive Secretary for the National Research Councils Committee on Food Habits as well. Although she was a well decorated academic and professional, she was not without her share of controversy.
In 1935 she wrote a book titled “Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.” This book became a major cornerstone of the feminist movement, as she claimed that in the Tchambuli Lake region of the Sepik basin of Papua New Guinea cultures were matriarchal without causing any special problems. She discovered that these matriarchal cultures were largely harmonious and free from war and conflict. Of course, this flew in the face of every misogynistic cultural norm at the time in the United States and drew the ire of patriarchal institutions. However, she angered some fellow females, largely mothers of teenagers, when she came out on the side of cannabis legalization in the 60’s—labeled by one mother as a “dirty louse.”
On October 27th 1969, Margaret gave testimony to congress in support of the use of “Marijuana.” She testified and provided some evidence to support that Marijuana had far fewer negative effects on the culture than alcohol. She believed that marijuana was not a gateway drug, and that having to obtain marijuana through illicit means exposed kids to other drugs. She also believed that kids turned to harder drugs, because of the harsh shaming and negativity they received for using cannabis. She stated:
"It is my considered opinion that at present that marihuana is not harmful unless it is taken in enormous and excessive amounts. I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law, our whole law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between the older people and younger people by its prohibition, and this is far more serious than any damage that might be done to a few overusers, because you can get damage from any kind of overuse."
Margaret saw what was dysfunctional about our culture from an extremely unique perspective. She was not afraid to call out the hypocrisy of a male dominated culture and lived her own truths. She could see the problems traditional male dominated attitudes and beliefs could have on a culture having grown up in the US, then saw another, more peaceful, way of living among the female dominated cultures of Papua New Guinea. While she was alive, she did her best to affect changes she believed would have the most impact for the most people in the culture too. She challenged our beliefs about marriage, sexual and gender identities, war, politics and cannabis. Thanks for your contribution to our world, Margaret! And happy International Woman’s Rights Day to all!