Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist and popularizer of anthropology who studied and shared her experiences in cultural anthropology and sexuality with the world. As a trailblazer of cultural gender dynamics, her lessons and findings have left a lasting impact on society. Proving to be a leader in reclaiming cultural and sexual norms, Mead has become a person that can be credited with helping to think of gender and identity, as well as shaping our current sexuality education.

Early Life

Born in 1901 to Emily Fogg Mead and Edward Sherwood Mead, Margaret spent her formative years growing up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Her father was an academic (a professor of finance) who published several books, and her mother had been a sociologist and teacher at the University of Chicago. Religion played a significant role in Margaret’s upbringing, even though religion was steeped in traditions that are contradicted by her later works.

Education and Early Work

Mead attended the now private liberal arts college called, DePauw University. Graduating in 1923 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she then went on to attend Columbia University in New York. Majoring in psychology and anthropology, Mead graduated in 1929 and joined the faculty of the American Museum of Natural History. From there, she headed five different expeditions, and had an incredible field experience discovering and exploring culture of Samoa, as well as in various other cultures around the world. She wrote several books that have become classic texts in American Anthropology, such as Coming of Age in Samoa, her first book.

Coming of Age in Samoa

Mead’s first book, Coming of Age in Samoa, was published in 1928, paving her way to become an established author. Through her research, she found that Samoan girls experienced less stress and turmoil regarding puberty. The culture removed the hate and prejudice often associated with teenage girl’s sexual identity and physical body transformation. This was within the framework of a relaxed and accepting societal culture centered around and celebrating interpersonal relationships, regardless of gender differences.

Her book challenged previous anthropological conventions and how society viewed gender roles. She showed how different cultures did not always follow the strict sexual norms of Western societies. The book also re-examined common notions of girls’ behavior within the cultures. As a result, Mead’s book performed the dual roles of attempting to explain how culture defines and shapes young girls’ sexual identities, while also questioning the sexual taboos of mainstream society.

Mead’s Later Publications

Mead’s later publications included Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies in 1935, and Growing Up in New Guinea in 1930. In both of these books, she once again explored and analyzed the gender roles of primitive to modern societies. Growing Up in New Guinea provided a comprehensive look into the complexity of gender roles in a primitive society, and it shows a great deal of insight into the general complexities of gender roles. In Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, Mead further discussed cultural gender norms and drew a great deal of attention to the fact that women were, and are, considered to be sexual equals in “primitive” societies, offering a new perspective on the roles of women in society at the time.

Margaret Mead as a Pioneer for Sexuality Education

Mead was one of the early pioneers in shifting sexual understandings, such as the falsification of the idea that only men were allowed to be sexually engaged. As a result, Margaret’s books and her reputation as an anthropologist led to her involvement in several different social justice campaigns and projects.

Mead believed that to educate people about sex, you had to be open and honest with young people, which was an idea that went against the grain at the time. She preached sex education in America not to just adults, but also to adolescents. She was an advocate of sexual health and of normal conversations in the classroom setting. Her books explored topics like gender roles, relationships, and sex. She was also a proponent of the idea that contraception should be available, a view which was widely criticized at the time.

Mead had an affinity for research that focused on teenage development which allowed the shaping of a more compelling point of view in regards to sexuality. She collaborated with several researchers to contribute to the scientific research on adolescent psychology and development. Her writings were used as the foundation for multiple studies that went on to revolutionize the world of sexuality education.

Mead’s work opened up wider conversations about gender, sexuality, and reproductive health, resulting in her influence as a cultural icon and notable figure on how conversations about sexuality education and the exploration of gender roles are viewed today. Through her profound combination of scientific research, personal observations, adventure and collaboration, Mead has been heralded as a revolutionary. She provided a unique perspective on expectations, roles and empowerment that connected with communities around the world and has left a lasting impact on all aspects of our lives.