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Margaret Mead Quotes Challenging Societal Stereotypes

With her controversial views on society, gender roles, and parenthood, American anthropologist Margaret Mead knows how to start a conversation. Below are some of Margaret Mead’s most thought-provoking quotes. 

What have you learned about Margaret Mead in the past?

As a cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead’s insightful stereotype-bashing criticisms connected with millions during the 1960’s cultural revolution. Some of Margaret Mead’s most intuitive books include Coming of Age in Samoa, a study about girlhood in early 20th century Samoa, and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, a study exploring gender roles in Papua New Guinea. 

Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into Margaret Mead’s most insightful opinions. 

Don’t forget to also check out our selection of Zora Neale Hurston quotes on love and writing.

Margaret Mead quotes on society

1. “Never ever depend on governments or institutions to solve any major problems. All social change comes from the passion of individuals.” – Margaret Mead

2. “Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.” – Margaret Mead

3. “Our humanity rests upon a series of learned behaviors, woven together into patterns that are infinitely fragile and never directly inherited.” – Margaret Mead

4. “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.” – Margaret Mead

5. “I have a respect for manners as such, they are a way of dealing with people you don’t agree with or like.” – Margaret Mead

6. “Thanks to television, for the first time the young are seeing history made before it is censored by their elders.” – Margaret Mead

7. “We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.” – Margaret Mead

8. “We talk about our high standard of living in this country. What we have is a high standard of work. Usually the peaks of civilization have been periods when a large proportion of the population had time to live. I don’t think we’re doing this today. I think the people who could live are still spending their time and supplementary resources on making a living.” – Margaret Mead

9. “An ideal culture is one that makes a place for every human gift.” – Margaret Mead

10. “Our first and most pressing problem is how to do away with warfare as a method of solving conflicts between national groups within a society who have different views about how the society is to run.” – Margaret Mead

11. “A city is a place where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again.” – Margaret Mead

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Margaret Mead quotes about humanity

12. “You know my fury about people is based precisely on the fact that I consider them to be responsible, moral creatures who so often do not act that way.” – Margaret Mead

13. “As long as any adult thinks that he, like the parents and teachers of old, can become introspective, invoking his own youth to understand the youth before him, he is lost.” – Margaret Mead

14. “I have a respect for manners as such, they are a way of dealing with people you don’t agree with or like.” – Margaret Mead

15. “It is an open question whether any behavior based on fear of eternal punishment can be regarded as ethical or should be regarded as merely cowardly.” – Margaret Mead

16. “Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation.” – Margaret Mead

17. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

18. “I do not believe in using women in combat, because females are too fierce.” – Margaret Mead

19. “One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night.” – Margaret Mead

20. “Women want mediocre men, and men are working to be as mediocre as possible.” – Margaret Mead

21. “It’s easier for a woman to go into a strange village than a man. If a strange man wanders in, the natives are afraid he’ll take their wives away, but a woman can work with the mothers and children.” – Margaret Mead

22. “Laughter is man’s most distinctive emotional expression.” – Margaret Mead

23. “If the future is to remain open and free, we need people who can tolerate the unknown, who will not need the support of completely worked out systems or traditional blueprints from the past.” – Margaret Mead

24. “It is easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet.” – Margaret Mead

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Margaret Mead quotes about success and work ethic

25. “The way to do fieldwork is never to come up for air until it is all over.” – Margaret Mead

26. “I measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her fellow human beings.” – Margaret Mead

27. “I was brought up to believe that the only thing worth doing was to add to the sum of accurate information in the world.” – Margaret Mead

28. “I learned the value of hard work by working hard.” – Margaret Mead

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Margaret Mead quotes on parenting and children

29. “The pains of childbirth were altogether different from the enveloping effects of other kinds of pain. These were pains one could follow with one’s mind.” – Margaret Mead

30. “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” – Margaret Mead

31. “And when our baby stirs and struggles to be born it compels humility: what we began is now its own.” – Margaret Mead

32. “The solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measures upon how our children grow up today.” – Margaret Mead

33. “We’re bringing up our children in one-class areas. When they grow up and move to a city or go abroad, they’re not accustomed to variety and they get uncertain and insecure. We should bring up our children where they’re exposed to all types of people.” – Margaret Mead

34. “I like to handle babies. You can learn a lot from the way they respond, the way they slide down your hips, the way they trust you. The first thing a child must learn is to trust.” – Margaret Mead

35. “We have refused to recognize the creativity of youth. We don’t want our children to write poetry or go to the stars. We want them to go steady, get married and have four children.” – Margaret Mead

36. “Instead of needing lots of children, we need high-quality children.” – Margaret Mead

37. “Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.” – Margaret Mead

38. “There is no greater insight into the future than recognizing…when we save our children, we save ourselves.” – Margaret Mead

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Powerful Margaret Mead quotes

39. “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” – Margaret Mead

40. “Sooner or later I’m going to die, but I’m not going to retire.” – Margaret Mead

41. “It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.” – Margaret Mead

42. “Even though the ship may go down, the journey goes on.” – Margaret Mead

43. “The notion that we are products of our environment is our greatest sin; we are products of our choices.” – Margaret Mead

44. “My grandmother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school.” – Margaret Mead

45. “It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good.” – Margaret Mead

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46. “What I am demanding of other people is what I am demanding of myself.” – Margaret Mead

47. “I was wise enough never to grow up, while fooling people into believing I had.” – Margaret Mead

48. “We are continually faced with great opportunities which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.” – Margaret Mead

49. “You know you love someone when you cannot put into words how they make you feel.” – Margaret Mead

50. “Be who you really are, do what you want to do, in order to have what you really want.” – Margaret Mead

More Margaret Mead quotes and sayings

51. “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead

52. “Where we choose to put our attention changes our brain, which in time can change how we see and interact with the world.” – Margaret Mead

53. “What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.” – Margaret Mead

54. “The most intractable problem today is not pollution or technology or war; but the lack of belief that the future is very much in the hands of the individual.” – Margaret Mead

55. “Manners, really good ones, make it possible to live with almost anyone, gracefully and pleasantly.” – Margaret Mead

56. “No one will live all his life in the world into which he was born and no one will die in the world in which he worked in his maturity.” – Margaret Mead

57. “Contentment can be bought at a price that one can not possibly pay.” – Margaret Mead

58. “Sometimes, instead of helping people to advance, a discovery or an invention holds them back.” – Margaret Mead

59. “You can no longer save your family, tribe or nation. You can only save the whole world.” – Margaret Mead”

How have stereotypes affected you? 

Much of Margaret Mead’s work was highly criticized, especially during the 1960s. Her views reflect the rise of counterculture and stereotypical Western ideals being turned upside down. The views of Mead, and many other prominent female anthropologists of the 20th century such as Zora Neale Hurston and Elsie Clews Parsons, have inspired multiple generations of women to fight for a world of equality. 

Although the overbearing force of tradition and societal norms loomed over Margaret Mead’s head, she wasn’t afraid to remain an influential force in the field of anthropology and 1960’s media. 

What’s your favorite quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead? Who else should we feature on Everyday Power? Tell us your thoughts below!

Nia Simone McLeod
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