Gender and archaeology

Alex Barker (abarker@SUN.CIS.SMU.EDU)
Tue, 19 Apr 1994 08:47:31 -0500

I'm not sure Bonnie's concerns can be wholly addressed by suggesting she
read a given set of references. The problem of identifying genders in the
past is an extremely difficult one, and remains largely unresolved.
There's a real difference between helping us "see" genders in the
past--which much recent literature has done--and identifying genders.
Much of the cited literature is aimed at "sensitizing" us to questions of
gender. While that's laudable at one level, I would suggest it really
doesn't resolve the core problem. How do you identify genders in the past
without simply recapitulating gender relationships assumed or projected by
the analyst?

I am well aware that some have dismissed the importance of this
methodological difficulty, so please don't point me to Alison's article in
_Engendering Archaeology_ and such. But in the absence of the direct
historical method (nod to Kelley)(or in cases where we might question the
assumption that where archaeologically recoverable behaviors are the same,
so are gender roles), how do you meaningfully examine gender? Alison's
dismissal seems a bit facile to me. I'm not questioning the importance of
gender either as a cultural construct or as a topic for archaeological
research, but the "operationalization" of the concept (sorry, I hate the
term too) is still a bit tricky.

I'd be interested in posts describing how people are tackling this
problem. Anyone?