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Dangerous Wives and Sacred Sisters: Social and symbolic Roles of High-Caste Women in Nepal

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Product ID: 0-231-04664-2

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Author: Lynn Bennett

Description:

This comprehensive study explores the ways in which the social and symbolic roles of high-caste Brahman-Chetri Nepali women combine to define their position in patrilineal Hindu society. A multilevel interpretation of the Hindu perception of women, the work examines the social, mythic, and ritual structures of the society with reference to a particular Hindu community and then details the ways in which individual women live within the ambivalences of their status and make their choices. The unit of study is the family as it operates within the kinship network. Themes of cultural opposition are delineated throughout and provide the framework of analysis. Purity versus pollution, asceticism versus fertility these are reconsidered as they are articulated in the symbolic conception of the female body and female reproductive processes. Bennett demon­strates how the Hindu valuation of asceticism and celibacy creates a negative status for the married woman while the same womans status as sister accentuates her ritual purity and creates positive status. The life cycle events and daily activities of women are analyzed within this perspective. The richness of Dangerous Wives and Sacred Sisters lies in the range of methodologies used and the intimacy the author established during her ten-year contact with the families and with the community in which she lived as participant observer. Genealogies, surveys of marriage patterns, rituals, and religious beliefs are also utilized to elucidate both the broader and finer details of the status and concerns of women. Especially valuable are the in-depth life history interviews conducted with a degree of privacy rare in the village context, and the symbolic analysis of two literary texts to illuminate male and female views of the goddess Devi in the village. All the analyses demonstrate a cultural belief embedded in the patrifocal system, that the potential of a woman’s sexuality can be used positively to produce offspring for the patriline or negatively to lure her husband from the agnatic group. These are the powers and choices a woman has. To what degree she will submit these powers to patrifocal control is a question which is at the root of the pervasive ambivalence toward women. Dangerous Wives and Sacred Sisters is a valuable contribution to the literatures of a variety of disciplines. Bennetts volume provides an exceptionally interesting ethnography in the best anthropological tradition, while also offering special insights for womens studies and the analyses of symbol systems and kinship networks