(W)oman does not exist.
I have only time for a quick response to Tim. I am certainly not ignoring post modern feminism. As a Lacanian, post modern (or perhaps more accurately, post-post modern) feminism is what I “do.” The idea that there is not coherent concept of (W)oman is not a denial that societies do in fact characterize people into men and women (The Lacanian concept of woman does not refer to female human beings, but to persons, regardless of their anatomy or sexual orientation who take on the feminine position, which is precisely the position of “not existing” — (The) woman does not exist in the same way that, according to Lacan, the big Other of the symbolic order, and, according to Hegel, God, does not exist. They, instead are essential, they insist. Existence is the static dead status of things and “man” who, in Zizek’s wonderful rewording of Lacan’s point, is a woman who thinks she exists – but that gets into the highly technical analysis of the Hegelian-Lacanian distinction between being and essence).
I also am not in any way implying that specific women (as well as specific men) in traditional societies carve out meaningful lives. I am, however, generally agreeing with Mark’s point that persons in clan societies are not “individual subjects” in the same way as persons in the modern liberal state are (and, they certainly don’t have the legal status as such). In this connection, however, one must remember that words like “clan” “modern state”, etc. are analytical categories. There will always be empirical exception to and within these neat categories.
As an aside, in medieval Europe, a woman who did achieve renown was often referred to as a virago, which was not a reproach, but the compliment that she had the moral strength of, and therefore was a sort of honorary, man (vir) — think of Elizabeth I’s famous speech. (As such, I am told that in St. Jerome’s Vulgate, Eve is referred to as virago before the Fall, and as mulier after — according to St. Isadore’s highly questionable etymology, this Latin word for woman comes from a root that means soft and vulnerable).