Re: gender/archaeology biblio 3
Kelley Hays-Gilpin (KAH2@A1.UCC.NAU.EDU)
Thu, 14 Apr 1994 09:16:00 -0700
Somewhat lengthy post on gender and archaeology
Ongoing thanks to those providing gender and archaeology references. I will try
to conflate the answers to several questions about my gender and archaeology
seminar at NAU in the following outline.
THE TITLE: at the suggestion of my dept. head, I titled the course "Feminist
Perspectives on Prehistory." Mistake, probably (sorry Bob, let's discuss it),
but innocently made. Not even my most devoted male students signed up, so our
discussions are in one important sense one-sided. Fortunately, I did get some
variety in terms of ethnicity, class, and age. As A. Zagarell pointed out to
me, "gender" has become confused with "feminism"--gender is NOT in practice used
to mean what I think it means. I think of gender as a way of classifying
people, things, work, and ideas in a way that is partly based on sex (a
biological distinction from which social and ideological notions are extended).
But "gender " is increasing used to refer to women's concerns (read:problems, I
guess.) Is "feminism" too loaded a term or what? Self-labeled feminists here
at NAU flamed one of students for saying "I consider myself a humanist first,
then a feminist." I myself would have said, "I consider myself a scientist,
then a humanist, then a feminist." But I have been told by archaeologists of
the selectionist persuasion that I cannot be a scienties AND a humanist. Oh
My question for you all: what would you call this course? "The archaeology of
difference" comes to mind but seems a bit pretentious to me. We have been
talking as much about age, sex, class, parenthood, and ethnicity as about
gender, but have focused on gender because 1) gender is a kind of difference
that is "taken for granted" and not sufficiently explored, 2) there is a lot of
good and recent writing on this topic, 3) once a student learns to break down
gender and evaluate methods for addressing gender topics, one can treat class,
age, and ethnicity with some of those same methods and concepts.
Also please tell me if the above ideas (and those below) are threatening to the
males of the species, or if it just the word "feminism" that is threatening to a
lot of men and women, too.
THE MAIN POINT
The main point of the class is to evaluate dualistic classifications used by
archaeologistis to make sense of the archaeology record AND used in everyday
life to make sense of the world. When confronted with any opposition such as
male/female, archaeologist's viewpoint/Native AMerican viewpoint,
sedentary/mobile, academic archaeology/contract archaeology, child/adult,
functional artifact/ritual artifact...one should ask: what other criteria
should be introduced (i.e. if we are looking at male and female burials in a
cemetary, we should also ask about age)? What cases are intergrades? What
cases belong to neither category?
The second point of the class is that archaeologists benefit from listening to
many different voices about understanding the past. Women's points of view
introduce new ideas, as do the points of view of Native peoples (also
potentially children, elderlies, potters and other craftsmen...). This is not
recourse to radical relativism--we still evaluate different interpretations
using scientific methods, but get new hypotheses from diverse sources, some of
which cannot be evaluated with our "customary rigor." We can do better science
by examining the recieved wisdom, the taken-for-granteds, the ideology of our
discipline and our culture.
CONDENSED COURSE OUTLINE
Topic 1: what will be talk about all semester. what is gender? sex is a
classification based on biological criteria. Gender is socially or culturally
constructed, and although based on sex is extended to things and ideas that have
no sex. what is feminsm? 1. tries to rectify male bias in previous body of
work, 2. introduces women's viewpoints and women's experiences and also supports
the introduction of other minority viewpoints, 3. not opposed to science, but
does tend to emphasize "understanding" over "generating predictive models," 4.
an approach that men can and do take, as well as women. This was my working
definition--many others were raised. As in the discussion here about the
definition of culture, I am in the "pragmatic definition" camp. Not "what
is..." but "what is a working definition of .... for .... purpose." How and why
are archaeologists trying to "engender the past"? Here I introduced the various
edited volumes already posted to the list, and we focused on Alison Wylie's
article, "Gender Theory and the Archaeological Record: Why is There No
Archaeology of Gender?" in the Gero and Conkey volume (Engendering Archaeology,
1991, Basil Blackwell, Oxford). We did a close reading of parts of this article
because many of the students found it tough going. I do not take a "sink or
swim" approach to assigning difficult articles, but try to walk students though
a good one and show them how to find the main points, follow the argument, and
discover that many authors DO define their terms without putting up red flags
all over what the intimidated call jargon (of course a lot of it jargon, per
previous anthro-l discussions, but in Alison's case, none of it is jargon,
IMHO). For students looking for material to strengthen their grasp of current
archaeological method and theory, by the way, I recommend anything by Alison
Wylie--her work and lots of other useful material can be found in the New
Directions in Archaeology series published by Cambridge Univ. Press (see volumes
on Ideology, Power, and Prehistory, Symbolic and Structural Archaeology, Marxism
and Archaeology, Archaeological Theory: Who Sets the Agenda?, The Archaeology
of Contextual Meanings, Archaeology as Long-Term History, Critical Traditions in
Topic 2: Sex and the biological basis for behavior.
In retrospect, it would have been great to spend more time on this topic than I
did. I relied on sources discovered in the articles and annotated
bibliographies in Sandra Morgen's edited volume on introducing gender into
anthropology courses, published in 1989 by the AMerican Anthropological Assoc
(still available by calling the AAA). Several kinds of evidence were discussed:
1. ethnographic evidence: how many sexes are recognized in different cultures
and what criteria are used? Usually 2, and almost always genitalia. But what
do different cultures do with the rare sexual intergrade who has some
characteristics of each and is usually reproductively sterile? We surgically
alter them because they must be one or the other in the dominant Euro-American
culture. Others classify them as male, female, a sanctified intergrade who
crosses boundaries of sex and so perhaps can cross other boundaries as well.
Others persecute them or kill them at birth.
2. primate evidence: are there behaviors shared by all female primates or all
male primates such as aggression, nurturing, etc. Anwer (already noted on this
list): No. Sex differences in primate behavior depend on ecology, predator
threat or lack thereof, group size, age, reproductive status, kinship status,
etc. etc. etc.
3. fossil evidence and arguments about the importance of hunting in human
4. evolutionary theory--sex selection and such
I was really weak on these last two--thanks to all who are posting references!
bottom line as far as I could glean from less technical sources: the biological
basis for sex-linked behavior is equivocal and most of what has been taken for
granted, particularly in teaching introductory archaeology/human evolution, is
problematic--at least questionable, possibly demonstrably wrong.
Topic 3: division of labor
bottom line: depends more on economy (dare I say mode of production too) than
biology, the way humans divide labor is very flexible, so although there are
"statistical laws" the exceptions are as interesting as the "rules"
Topic 4: Gender and ideology
At least two issues here. 1. The earth, the sky, celestial bodies, colors, holy
beings, abstract ideas--none of these have sex but they are given gender. 2.
What is the relationship between the gender of deities and the actual statuses
of earthly men and women? We first examine the link between evidence for
goddess worship in Europe and the Mediterranean, and and postulates about
Here I focused on competing ideas about "Goddess religion" in Old Europe, using
Marija Gimbutas's work, which the class found interesting but we decried her
lack of methodological explanations. On the one hand, I presented a lot of
actual data from Catal Huyuk showing that Mellaart's interpretation changed
considerably between the preliminary excavation reports and his final popular
volume, then we looked at how recent authors of popular eco-feminist goddess
books cite and further exagerate Mellaart's interpretation and make
scientifically dubious links across millennia and many otherwise completely
With this topic, I wanted to introduce the students to European prehistory--from
whence comes much of what makes Euro-American culture.
Another good topic would have been Upper Paleolithic art, from Leroi-Gourhan to
Meg Conkey. Back to the first point above, on the extension of gender to
sex-less objects, ideas, and spaces, I also assigned one of my own papers on a
spatial and stylistic analysis of artifacts, architecture, and rock art from a
seventh century habitation site in NE Arizona (Broken Flute Cave)--my
conclusions had to do with gender ideology and tie in to historic Puebloan
religion (and probably ultimately with a ritual complex that spread north and
east from Mesoamerica with maize agriculture).
Topic 5: Gender and Mortuary Studies
One of the students led this session. The most interesting article she assigned
is in the already cited Walde and Willows edited volume, the proceedings of the
recent Chacmool Conference titled _The Archaeology of Gender_ (still available
from the dept. of archaeology, University of Calgary). Wendy Eisner re-examined
the analysis of burials at cemetary in Oudenberg, Belgium. Skeletons were too
poorly preserved to sex, so the excavators used artifacts to sex the burials.
Eisner questions that gender accounts for the patterning in the artifact
distribution, arguing that a military/civilian distinction is most plausible.
All (surely most) of the graves with military accoutrements can be inferred to
be male, but graves lacking military insignia could be male or female. Thus,
just as we cannot assume that our notions of male and female can be extended to
past times and other places, we cannot assume that gender is always the most
important category of difference. Phil Duke has a wonderful paper title in the
same volume: "Recognizing Gender in Plains Hunting Groups: Is it Possible or
Even Necessary?" Our answer to those feminists who argue that gender is always
the most important kind of classification, is that it isn't.
We also noted in the literature that introductory texts and even many excavation
reports imply that the sex of a skeleton is rather obvious. But alas no,
physical anthropologists use several techniques involving crania and pelves, and
have to generate statistical norms and spans for various metric criteria,
sometimes using different criteria for different known populations.
Topic 6: Gender in heirarchical societies
what happens to women's access to the means of production in state societies?
why? when does class overtake gender as a major determinant of what an
individuals rights and privileges will be (in specific societies and also in
terms of general conditions)? We focused on chapters in the Gero and Conkey
volume, Engendering Archaeology. We cannot actually answer these questions at
this time, however. If you can, we'd love to hear from you. Here I also let
students pick the readings (another rather feminist approach--who gets to set
the agenda? I comprimised with them--I set about 3/4 of the agenda), and we
focused on South America, especially Christine Hastorf's article in the Gero and
Conkey volume. I would like to find some more radical and general
material--perhaps of a Marxist bent.
Topic 7: The social construction of gender and difference
focusing on ethnology of Native North American societies for evidence, how do
different cultures weigh different criteria in constructing gender norms? HOw
much deviation from the norm is allowed and how are deviants treated?
Euroamericans seem to value sex (based on genitalia) highest, followed perhaps
by sexual preference (somehow homosexual men are evaluated as
less-than-men/more-like-women, and lesbians vice versa). Many Native AMerican
cultures rank work highest, so that a biological male who prefers work defined
as female (farming, hide processing, food preparation, certain crafts) can
decline to participate in men's work (such as hunting and warfare), and can take
on a female gender identity (berdache). Less often, women can cross-dress and
"cross-work." Individuals such as the Manly-Hearted Women of the Plains can
take on aspects of both roles by taking part in the work of both. Some cultures
rank reproductive status very high--one is not-quite-a-real-women if one has no
children--sometimes this means they don't know what to do with a barren woman
and she loses rights and responsibilities. Sometimes it means she can take on
some tasks usually reserved for men.
And so on.
We had trouble coming up with cases where differing role criteria and
flexibility vs. rigidity of roles is visible archaeologically. Burial
assemblages seem to be a likely candidate, but for example, documents show that
at death and burial, berdaches were often interred with tools and garments
appropriate to their biological sex, and so divested of any evidence of
cross-dressing. It comes back again to the question of why some cultures make a
big deal of gender distinctions and signal them with different art styles,
artifacts, clothing, and so on, and other cultures allow a good deal of
flexibility, and yet others emphasize age or ethnicity more than gender. For
archaeologists, this may not be a viable line of inquiry, but it is necessary to
know that these criteria and the breadth of the role definition vary
considerably in living societies, so they probably varied in the past too.
Alas, another interesting cautionary tale.
Topic 8: women's careers in archaeology
I left this one for last, because it seemed that the literature on gender and
archaeology was focusing too much on the gender of archaeologists and not enough
on gender as an axis of social difference. While pay equity and equal
opportunities for tenure track positions are extremely important, this was NOT
the main point of this course. Still, I felt that since there has been a lot
written about this, it would be a good idea to have a discussion about it so the
students would be prepared for the sometimes subtle forms of discrimination
women encounter. Anything I have to say about this has been better said
I would like to recap an amusing part of the conversation, however. We
discussed Joan Gero's article on division of labor and division of the
production of archaeological knowledge along gender lines (in the Chacmool
volume). She discusses lithic analysis (men make tools, women study how they
were used with the wonderful yet unpublished exception of my supervisor, Miranda
Warburton, flintknapper extraordinaire--but I digress, these were statistical
laws being cited), faunal analysis (men have a monopoly on bison hunting
studies), and paleoethnobotany (women identify the seeds, men do grand
syntheses). The article did not mention ceramic analysis, my specialization,
where I do not see any of these patterns (no doubt, being loathe to resort to
statistics and questionnaires when I could be enjoying my clay samples). I
talked about one of my heros, Anna O. Shepard, who pioneered the use of optical
petrography in ceramic analysis and also collaborated with Pueblo potters,
learning about traditional techniques from them and sharing scientific
techniques of reducing pyrotechnic risk etc. (the potters weren't interested in
kilns as it happens). I asked if working in a lab, as she did and as I do, was
accepting a subordinate and less prestigious position than if I had pursued a
tenure-track teaching position or a fieldwork-oriented position. Should we not
have tried to compete according to the standards of the profession as set by
males? My students said NO! You make your own definition of success, your own
definition of prestige, set your own goals and GO FOR IT! Bless them, they are
terrific, and you too for reading to the end of this.
Navajo Nation Archaeology Dept. at Northern Arizona University