Jennifer Glasman
SBS 355
Dr. Mendoza
Final Book Review
Feminism is becoming a more popular topic in archaeology. Researchers have been
becoming more interested in the women experience among past cultures. The reason why
gender is starting to be researched more is first to get a better understanding of gender roles in
the present. However, the problem with this way of thinking is the illusion that gender roles will
never change. Men have always had the upper hand and unfortunately not much has changed.
One reason why feminism is a new topic among archaeologists is the way people viewed
this occupation. Even though there have always been a few women archaeologists, “the
archaeologist’s image of himself, implying that past archaeologists were gendered male”
(Nelson, 2004, p.25). Unfortunately, articles made by women that discussed feminism were
likely not to become published in popular articles. It even got to the point that in the year of
1989 many women did not like to be classified as feminists because of the male dominance
during that time. Fortunately, women were able to start getting work done in archaeology. This
was made possible by women supporting other women’s work and networking with each other.
This led to the acceptance of feminism and women studying this field among all archaeologists
(Nelson, 2004, p. 33).
New Archaeology is the most recent paradigm for archaeology and it has more of a
positivist and materialist outlook. Unfortunately, feminism cannot be studying using this
paradigm because it lacks values and agency (Nelson, 2004, p.35). Since archaeology is
considered a science, it is difficult for most researchers to study the values of pre-historic
communities. Luckily, there are other methods that women can use to research feminism and
the culture of women in the past. One way to do this is by looking at burial sites. Archaeologists
can look at the remains of people to get a better understanding of the life of women. For
example, if many women seem to have much trauma then there may have been a popular
practice of wife battering which can represent the way men viewed women during that period
(Nelson, 2004, p. 43). Many theories do not include the main issues the come with feminism,
however there are many other resources that archaeologists can use to study this issue.
Household archaeology takes a look at a household and compares it with another. This
household contains different genders, age groups, etc. and archaeologists even consider the
dead to still have a connection with this household. Households can have several different
meanings in different cultures, but it mostly has to do with the family. In fact, in China the word
for household, jia, is the same word for family (Nelson, 2004, p. 89). Gender can be used to
study the types of roles men and women took on in their house and how they interacted with
each other. For an example, archaeologists have found that by studying the types of jobs
women had in the community and how much money they brought in said a lot about that
Kinship is another topic that can be discussed with household archaeology. Kinship can
show the relationships among the family members and how they interacted with each other
according to gender. The roles women play in the family have not been studied much, because
they seem to be a given. However, the role of a mother is so vital for a society. Without the
mothers, a community will no longer be able to continue their legacy.
There are three different types of powers that women can have in a society: matriarchy,
“a system in which women systemically rule”, matrilineality, “a system in which membership in
the clan is traced through the female line”, and matrilocality, “a system in which a women stays
in her family’s house at marriage and her husband moves in with her” (Nelson, 2004, p. 92). It is
thought that these type of societies do not exist, when in fact they do. Cultures that gave
women these types of powers only occurred in those where women did not have to solely rely
on their husbands. Even in these matriarchy communities, many archaeologists like to believe
that men played bigger roles. However, this way of thinking was brought out by the sexism that
was present among most archaeologists. An example of this way of thinking comes from a
quote made by Robin Fox. “… In this the women would hold the property and the power, men
would be of no account and would be used for breeding purposes only. Such a sinister practice
exists only in the imagination” (Nelson, 2004, p. 95).
The roles of men and women seem to be the same through each and every generation.
It has also been thought that the man was the leader of the household and public affairs and
the woman had her domestic duties. After much research, archaeologists and anthropologists
have figured out that women have had some sort of power in the public (p.106). Unfortunately,
the women that have taken on these roles have been discriminated in some sort of way. Much
like today, the women who take on these public positions are looked at as a mistakes. However,
the fact that women have played these roles in past societies has showed archaeologists that
women have played bigger parts than they have before.
One way that archaeologists have gotten a better understanding of how women were
treated is by looking at the various roles women play in society. Since men were the most likely
candidates for owners of land, they had the job of passing it down the family line. This made
men believe that they could treat other aspects of their lives as property, for example their
women. One way that men could do this is by ensuring the virginity of a woman. Women were
also treated as prizes that men have rightfully won. This meant that a man was given a woman
as a wife without the woman’s consent. Unfortunately, these actions were just a shift in the
history of women’s rights. Archaeologists have noticed a change from kinship to territory.
However, this change only occurred in states where gender determined social structures rather
than a socio-economic level (Nelson, 2004, p. 103-104).
One reason why feminism has not been a popular subject of study is because many
archaeologists question who will benefit from this type of research. Women have been pushed
aside and made invisible for quite some time especially in this community. However, the
women will be the ones benefiting from this research. Women have always played some sort of
part, even smaller roles, in every community. In order to get a complete understanding of the
past, each aspect of the society must be looked at. Against popular doubt, feminism will only
help not hurt, archaeologists figure out the mysteries of the past.
Works Cited
Nelson, S. M. (2004). Gender in Archaeology: Analyzing power and presige. Plymouth: Altamira Press.
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