This essay is one of more than a dozen in this volume to honor the late Mary Margaret Steedly. The paper’s theme is “gender.” Even when gender was not at the center of Steedly’s analytical frame, it was. Steedly saw a world of intersecting lives, forces, and things. Hers was a world of relationships, and Steedly’s analyses often included gender even when her informants did not consider that to be at the core of their own stories. With Steedly, gender was always a point of view. This is most evident in her concept of “the social production of ephemerality,” in which the feminine was consistently, but not inevitably, pushed to the edges of respected life. This ephemerality was marginalizing, devaluing, and in some respects impossible to escape. Yet Steedly never stopped there. She gave us the joy, pride, and accomplishment her subjects also experienced, by way of theorizing experience itself. By studying the edges of life, the excess that social disorder produced, she argued that we could more clearly see the partiality that undergirds the illusion of order emanating from stories told by those at the center of the action. By visiting a world where subjects were perpetually at risk of exceeding boundaries of propriety, where spirits and people merged, where people, things, or animals needed each other, Steedly also captured an important fact: that we are always touching each other, that we are split, relational selves that cannot exist without others. This has been a core concept in feminist theory, yet Steedly found a way to convey that fact through refusing the binary nature often ascribed to gender.
Volume & Issue:
Page range: 45-50
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program
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