76. The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory - Adovasio, Soffer, and Page

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Big, brutish cavemen dragging women by their hair. Groups of grunting, heavy browed hunters standing triumphantly over their fresh kills, women and children nowhere to be seen. A lone male hunched over a pile of kindling, sheltering it from the rain, banging some rocks together trying to light a fire as his mate and offspring cower helplessly in the background. These are the images we're often presented with when it comes to gender roles from the dawn of humankind. We've all seen them. Whether it's the cheesy dioramas in our museums, films, popular novels, or even on the Flintstones, women are often relegated to the background incapable at times of anything more complicated that having sex, giving birth, and cooking food on a stick. In The Invisible Sex, Adovasio, Soffer, and Page attempt to overturn these widely held beliefs on gender roles in prehistory.

The book looks at a number of scenarios in which we're often presented as the men being the dominant, if not only, participant (eg: food provider, tool maker, guardian, inventor, shaman, leader) and present the reader with substantial arguments showing how these are quite possibly not true. There are even a number of chapters dedicated to giving the reader a crash course on the evolution from ape-like ancestor to anatomically modern human, and how many of the theories surrounding the remains found might, in fact, be just a tad bit sexist.

Even though I'm not as current on prevailing theories in the archaeological community as I would like to be, I feel that I can safely say these types of stereotypical views on the role of women in the distant past have begun to change (at least in the academic world). During my time in university, oh so many years ago now, we were often presented with the idea that women were not passive wall flowers, waiting for their big strong menfolk to take care of them and their offspring but rather could easily (and quite probably) were active participants in the development of stone tools, culture, community, and language, and ensuring they and their offspring survived.

Personally, I didn't feel as though Adovasio et al. provided much in the way of new information and their book does little to add to our knowledge of exactly what gender roles may have existed - and how can they? That is the nature of the archaeological record; it can't tell us the kinds of things the authors set out to explain as we are led to believe by the title of the book. They haven't really "uncovered" anything. The book, however, is an interesting examination of what the role of women in prehistory might have been. It is written as a "popular" book, meant for the general public and not necessarily for those in the fields of archaeology or anthropology. As such, it would make for an interesting read for the average joe (or jane) although the chapters on evolution could easily confuse many readers.

All in all, Captain recommended.

1 comments:

Wandering Coyote said...

Good review. I'm not surprised at all that women have been relegated unnecessarily; there is a lot of evidence from bronze/iron etc. ages that indicate women were powerful, so I'm not sure why anyone would assume that as neanderthals they'd have less power or position.

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