Gilchrist, Roberta. Gender and Archaeology: Contesting the Past. New York: Routlege, 1999.
(these are notes only -- rather less well organized -- and no evaluation of the book is offered!)
Feminism advanced in easily-identifiable stages. The first wave, 1880-1920, was composed of suffragists. The second wave, in 1960, was concerned with the patriarchal social system. The third wave is a more eclectic grouping of post-moderns, and its members are interested in the subject as it is created through discourse. Among the second-wave were members who felt the patriarchy oppressed women via the family. Marxist feminists, for example, believed that the division of labor and the objectification of women as private property were important issues. Also, "standpoint feminism" as a theoretical position was proposed: women, as women, had a different perspective which informed their theories and the questions that they wished to ask. The post-moderns focus not on equality, but on difference. They engage in psychoanalysis, discourse analysis, and deconstruction, and they argue that there are no universal laws of human experience. Luce Irigaray (France) and Judith Butler (USA) are representative. Third wave social constructivists distinguish sex from gender. Can sex and gender both be constructs? Sex is not treated as a construct very often: for instance, cognitive science notes dimorphism in brain processing areas as well as differences in skills (verbal and visual). And skeletons are sexed (without controversy over the idea of sex). However, if gender is practice, and it is not rooted in the body then some avenues for exploration open up. Chapter 2 presents a feminist critique of archaeology. Chapter 3 discusses gender roles, female agency and sexual division of labor. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on 3rd wave feminism: Chapter 4 discusses how the subject is constituted through sex and the body, and Chapter 5 covers the cumulative properties of gender in age and society. Chapter 6 concluded in the high-ranking medieval woman's garden.
There have now been many challenges to the idea of evolutionary sexual passivism. Women hunted, were active, gathered perhaps 50% of the food for example, North American Woodland women were active cultivars. These theories (woman the do-nothing; woman the gatherer; woman the hunter) sprang from primatology, which promulgated specifically ungrounded stereotypes and/or pushed women into an unwarranted invisibility. Turning to the present, a brief survey of the types of writing done by men and women show that women tend to study and question differently than men. But archaeology tends to resist female epistemologies, gender studies (content and symbolism), preferring the safety of biology and empiricism. For their part, feminists tend to reject theories leading to extreme relativism because it denies reasons to choose between interpretations.
Gilchrist glosses three important views: feminist empiricism, standpoint theory and postmodernism. Examples include Sandra Harding, who supports standpoint theory - the idea that our position as women gives us better insight. Alison Wylie links feminism with processualism and asymmetrical relations of power. In general, women tend to write local and micro-analyses of power and production. Gender archaeology can be broadly applied to relations of production; identity; representation; experience; the body and sexuality.
Is gender all about organizing labor? No, gendered values are embedded in the processes and relations of production. Are women mostly devalued and domestic? Men are figured as hunters, warriors, elders, but women are figured in relation to men: wives, sisters, mothers. All of these ideas have been challenged by specific examples from Western and non-Western societies. (Gilchrist pauses to note that ethnographic analogies should be used cautiously.) In general, universal assumptions about women are eschewed. Women worked, and provided for their families. They defined their roles through work as well as through their kin relationships. Women developed their own tools for their work; the labor of men and women is distinct, but status is accorded to each. To indulge in forbidden generalizations for a moment, Americans are more interested in production and hierarchy; Europeans are more interested in identity and cultural construction.
Technology is a set of social relations. So instead of saying "spindle = female" one might say "wool production = exchange of tasks and work." Again, a series of studies are cited. When an ethno-historical or a historical approach is impossible, bodies can be examined for signs of lifestyles. During the change to agriculture, the bodies of both sexes changed. How about storage, diet, distribution and the cooking of food? This is surely gendered? Yes, apparently. Again, one can check skeletons or iconography. Historically, one can track women/domestic vs. male/public in the activity of weaving. The value of tasks is relative and socially constructed. Gilchrist suggests that a contextual framework and multiple lines of data are better when discussing gender.
Sex, gender and the body are also constructed, unstable, a practice. Pre-Enlightenment, fewer physical sex difference were emphasized (women were interiorized male bodies). Post-Enlightenment, the categories "hardened." Some questions have assumed new importance. First, is sexual preference equal to sexuality? Are there 2 or 4 or more genders? There are many theories of body physiology which structure the discourse around this question. Gilchrist offers three examples of cross-gender: the hirja (Indian), the Byzantine eunuch and the Native American 2-Spirit (berdache), illustrating various embodiments of alternate genders. Genders are indicated by grave goods - but with some complications. Some women bear cross-gender identification, especially warriors. There are also tattoos and clothing - "add-ons" - to consider.
Gender is also expressed in and through age-groups in a lifecycle; women have age and gender cohorts. People engage in longer cycles of time as well as their own personal experiences. Gender, says Gilchris, inhabits habitus/hexis. In a somewhat unusual example, she cites cathedrals, with time and life, sacred and secular, heaven and hell all built in the structure. One engages personally in time-eternity through chapels and graves and extra masses. Some cultures gave women larger and longer control over time. Does gender calcify with age? To return to the question of cohorts, there are transition ceremonies which can range from markers around age (12), or event (birth, menses) and spiritual seeking (secret visions). Female imagery is often used in public ceremonies to indicate rebirth. Having reached a certain age, women may (not always!) receive higher status and take on significant social roles.
The final chapter brings us to Gilchrist's contested garden. She has made extensive study of the medieval castle, and argues (in good company) that the medieval castle embodied many ideas, including that of gender, through space/time. Women were secluded in the very center to protect patrimony and to enforce power. Briefly reviewing medieval culture, Gilchrist tells us that there socially structuring ideas such as the 3 estates (priests, warriors, peasants), and also there were physical theories like the 4 humors. Women were, by this system, cold and changeable, close to decay, lustful and needing control. Women were segregated in public (but the lower classes not). Courtly love rituals gave women power over their lovers, but in practice women of upper ranks married much earlier than their peasant counterparts. The castle, then, was for display and defense and hospitality (at the right time, for the right people!). Rooms for specific functions were organized, with the most powerful male occupying the center space, and his retainers and households positioned around him. High ranking people were difficult to access, and the most difficult of all was the high-ranking woman. She had her women - relatives and servants - gathered around her. Often a secluded garden was built at her request so that she might relax, or exercise or possibly grown medicinal herbs. Gilchrist gives six examples of castles with women's areas. Women had upper-level site lines across public spaces, and private access to chapels. Women's bodies were themselves figured as well-defended castles and gardens. But dead bodies, by contrast, could be publicly displayed or paraded. Prohibitions changed with event, age, and class.
Women have become visible and meaningful participants in archaeology. Gender and sex are not "all society" nor are they "all body." Gender is expressed by living in the body and performing gendered acts. There may be more than 2 sexes, says Gilchrist, and the questions around these multiplicities might be "who chooses genders, when and why." Gender may also be explored in its aging and life-course aspects.