Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly [GPQ 8 (Summer 1988): 158-171].Copyright 1988 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska—Lincoln.


Early anthropological studies addressed the economic position of women as one component of women's "status"-a construct used to examine a variety of gender-based social distinctions. These distinctions were conceptualized as the opposing domains of "domestic" and "public." The association of women with the domestic domain was viewed as the critical factor in understanding asymmetrical relations of power and authority. Since status has generally been defined in terms of participation in the public, economic, and political sectors dominated by men, anthropologists have proposed alternatives to the strict association of power with public roles. They used the term "influence" to mean the manipulation of males who had power; "informal power" referred to the domestic sector, which could be viewed as the most significant decision-making social unit; and "autonomy" denoted power that derived from a woman's control over her own person and activities and those of others. 1