Gendered archaeology: a further clarification

Michael Forstadt (forstadt@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU)
Wed, 20 Apr 1994 08:28:07 -0400

Nancy Bowles' response to my posting on gendered archaeology is puzzling.
It is apparent (to me) that she and I are in complete agreement on
questions relating to archaeological interpretation in general and
prehistoric gender studies in particular. Is it because my first name is
Michael that she chooses to misunderstand my argument? I hope not.

On the one hand, Bowles doesn't understand what I mean by gender
CATEGORIES. But later in her response, she seems to accuse me of not
understanding the fact that multi-gendered societies exist (indeed, all
societies are probably multi-gendered). Of course I believe in multiple
gender categories! I am just saying that the *exact* categories of gender
are elusive to us, JUST AS all cognitive categories in prehistory are

I stated that archaeology is constrained by analogy drawn from modern
ethnographic studies. Bowles's sets up a fallacious strawperson argument
here. She accuses me of meaning that *only* gender studies in archaeology
are so constrained. She then enlightens me with the observation that all
archaeology is subject to these constraints, which was my argument in the
first place.

Please let me be clear. Like Nancy Bowles, I also believe that gender is
a *fundamental* aspect of social organization, that we as archaeologists
must strive to elucidate gender relations in antiquity, and that gender
is no more difficult to reconstruct than any other aspect of prehistoric
social organization (i.e., it is very difficult).

Wake up! Gender is *sex-linked*. This is **NOT** to say that gender is
sex-determined. Nothing could be further from my argument. Cognitively,
gender categories are assigned to one of the two sexes. If not, then what
we are talking about are just social categories, not gender categories.
Gender is sex-linked social categorization. Once again, let me state my
position; I believe that gender categories are wholly social
constructions based on *perceived* linkages to biological sex. "Doctor",
"lawyer", "Democrat", "Republican", "homeowner", "Jew", and "black", are
all social categories with perceived archetypes and expectations attached
to them. The are not sex-linked and so are not gender categories.
"Bachelor" and "spinster" are also social categories with perceived
archetypes and expectations attached to them. But these are cognitively
sex-linked. They are gender categories.

Finally, I truly did not believe that I would have to defend my call for
an end to androcentric reconstructions of prehistory. Yes, I *DO* believe
that direct ethnographic analogy is wholly inappropriate to the
reconstruction of gender roles and relations in earliest prehistory,
including human evolution studies. The "man the hunter, woman passive"
myth is but one example of the way this has been operating in
archaeology. I do not believe that we can offer alternates to the
prevailing gender theories in Paleolithic archaeology. However, I do feel
that it would be better to say nothing at all about Paleolithic gender
relations than to continue to espouse antiquated theories on the subject.

I am sorry that I have not answered to all of the charges, but I hope
that my position is a little clearer now.

M. Sandy Forstadt
Department of Anthropology
Harvard University