The Truth about Margaret Mead
“When I finally met Margaret Mead, she was an old woman. You wouldn’t have known it, but she didn’t have much time left to live. She was still energetic and in firm control of her prodigious faculties. Her eyes darted about and she seemed busy even as she sat to listen to what I had to tell her.
When I finally met Margaret Mead it seemed as if I had been following her all my life. I’d gone to Samoa as a young man after reading her book. In the callow stupidity of youth I’d thought I could take advantage of the sexual freedom she described, and I’m ashamed to say I was disappointed when I couldn’t.
I met Mead in an office a colleague lent me for the meeting. She was on one of her worldwide tours. We had corresponded and she knew what I was about. What she didn’t know was how much I knew. She didn’t know that I’d spent time with the broken and shattered shell of Reo Fortune, her second husband, and he’d told me things. Horrible things. Things that had happened in New Guinea. How she’d reached around to globe to control him, to end his career. But Reo never told me all the secrets he knew. He fell or was pushed down a flight of stairs to his death.
When I finally met Margaret Mead, I’d taken precautions. I let her know right away that I had a hostage– her reputation. I had her first book dead to rights. And when Coming of Age in Samoa went down, the rest would follow. I knew what had happened to others who had crossed her. Not only Reo, but Pliny Goddard. Marie Bloomfield. Even the love of her life, Ruth Benedict, her partner in that strangest of covens. They’d all threatened to expose her and each one had died before their time.
When I finally met Margaret Mead I laid out the facts. She seemed more relieved than anything else. I almost think that whatever it was she was serving, whatever it was to which she had prostituted her science, had turned on her like she had turned on everyone she ever cared for, and she saw me as an ally, she saw me as a way she could get her revenge on that which had promised her everything, only to leave her empty, lonely and bitter at the end.
When I finally met Margaret Mead I saw in her eyes the ashes of everything she told herself she’d cared about, everything she’d tried so desperately to control, I saw the horror of losing everything she loved. She knew that the only man she’d ever really loved, Gregory Bateson, had formed his entire philosophy as a refutation of her very character. She knew that her daughter, Mary Catherine, had run away from her for good at fifteen, never to return.
When I met Margaret Mead she knew that the only thing she had left, the only thing she’d ever really cared about– her fame– would be forever tarnished, that her name would become a byword for shoddy science and that anthropology itself would suffer irreparable damage from which it would never recover as a result of her actions.
And when I left Margaret Mead didn’t deny anything. She asked me only one thing– that I wait until she died. She didn’t seem to feel guilt– in her mind the lies, the fabrications, what I would later cast, generously, as her eager gullibility, were justified by the personal and political goals she’d been pursuing at the time. But she didn’t want deal with the shame. As she left that office in that third-rate university where we met, shuffling off with her comic cape, above the clicking of her forked stick on the tile floor, I heard her say, but of course now, Dr. Freeman, the work has been accomplished. The myth cannot be unmade.”