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 Post subject: GMAT Verbal Reading Comprehension
PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2011 3:44 am 

Joined: Mon Oct 10, 2011 1:25 pm
Posts: 7
Within the field of anthropology, the quest to understand and change the status of women has generated a number of important questions. Perhaps the most important of these is whether there are societies in which women are or have been publicly recognized as equal to or more powerful than men. This question was addressed by nineteenth century writers such as Bachofen and L. H. Morgan, who suggested that at an earlier stage of human development, the social world was organized by a principle called matriarchy, in which women had power over men. Although this view has interested several recent feminist writers, most academic anthropologists have dismissed it out of hand. The matriarchal arguments draw on several kinds of evidence, including data from contemporary societies in which women make the major contribution to subsistence, myths of ancient rule by women, and archeological remains suggesting that there have been female goddesses, queens or a tendency to kill infant males in certain earlier societies.

Whereas some anthropologists, such as Leacock, argue that there are or have been truly egalitarian societies, and all agree that there are societies in which women have achieved considerable social recognition and power, none has so far observed a society in which women have publicly recognized power and authority surpassing that of men. Everywhere we find that women are excluded from certain crucial economic and political activities. It seems fair to say then, that all contemporary societies are to some extent male dominated, though the degree and expression of female subordination vary greatly.

The archeological data are more problematic, since they have to be interpreted in terms of a set of assumptions based on our knowledge of existing cultures or on some assumed but not presently observed pattern. Female sculptures may represent goddesses, but there are historically documented and well-studied contemporary societies that manifest female fertility cults while at the same time placing power in the hands of men. Similarly, myths of primordial female eminence are found today in male-dominated societies, but most anthropologists believe that such myths, rather than reflecting history, are expressions of a culture’s dreams or fantasies, or validations of political alignments in the societies in which they are told. Neither type of evidence lends much support to an argument for matriarchy, offering little reason to believe that early sexual orders were substantially different from those observed around the world today.

Which of the following best summarizes the central idea of the passage?

A. There is a distinction between recognizing importance in a society and granting power within that society.
B. Feminist writers rarely evaluate the data that academic anthropologists use, so their views should be dismissed.
C. There is little support for the belief that some ancient societies were organized around the principle of matriarchy.
D. Societies that worship women may not grant very much power to women.
E. Given that anthropologists must interpret archeological evidence in light of assumptions based on present-day societies, making concrete claims regarding these societies is difficult.

(C) Consider the structure of the passage. The first paragraph presents a dated opinion that some cultures were matriarchal, but immediately casts doubt upon it. The following paragraphs describe more recent research and the ways in which it casts further doubt on the matriarchal hypothesis. This leads us directly to choice (C), which is correct. (A) is incorrect because it fails to address women or matriarchy; similarly, (B) discusses feminists but not the role of women. (D) is a detail given to support the author's main idea. (E) is far too broad for the scope of the passage.


Could you explain why (E) is wrong?

 Post subject: Re: GMAT Verbal Reading Comprehension
PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:58 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 27, 2012 8:22 pm
Posts: 26
The question is asking us for the central idea of the passage. In other words, what is the main point the author is trying to communicate? In this passage the author's main point is that ancient societies were not likely matriarchal. This is a very specific point. In contrast, choice (E) makes a very general statement about the difficulty of making concrete claims about old societies. Choice (E) does not even mention matriarchy.

While the author might agree with the statement made in choice (E), that is not the question we are asked. We are asked to find the central idea of the passage, and only choice (C) captures it.

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