Review of ‘Gendered Archaeology’ edited by Jane Balme and Wendy Beck

09th January 2014

‘Gendered Archaeology’ edited by Jane Balme and Wendy Beck, 1995, Research Papers in Archaeology and Natural History, 26, Division of Archaeology and Natural History, RSPAS, The Australian National University, 113 pp. ISBN 0-7315-2174-9 (pbk).

Review by Stephanie Moser

This is the second publication resulting from the now biannual Australian Women in Archaeology Conferences. Like the first volume of conference proceedings this book demonstrates that Australian scholars are making an important contribution to the general research area of gender and/or feminist archaeology. Above all, several papers in this volume demonstrate that a tradition of critique and critical analysis regarding the history and contemporary practice of the discipline is being developed. Contributions to this volume have been organised into three areas, including women as archaeologists, critical debate, and engendering the past. The papers from the first section, ‘women in the workplace’ provide some useful information on the distribution of women and men in the profession and the nature of their contribution to various research areas. Smith and du Cros present the results of their analysis of questionnaires given to participants of the first Women in Archaeology Conference. They address the issue of why feminism has become an issue in Australian archaeology in the 1990s and show that women were motivated to attend the initial conference because of political concerns. McGowan’s paper looks at men’s and women’s experiences in the Cultural Resource Management (CRM) context based on a case study of the Tasmanian Public Service. It is useful to see the situation of archaeologists/managers discussed in terms of current debates regarding working conditions for women in occupational sectors. Amongst her observations are that when women are ‘successful’ it is in terms of salary and attaining senior positions in CRM. She explains that once women are promoted to senior positions they stay there, unlike men who are more mobile in the public service management hierarchy. The paper by Zarmati looks at the literary archetype of the hero and its parallels to stereotypes of archaeologists.

An excellent study of the socio-politics of gender/sex and Cypriot archaeology is presented by Webb and Frankel. They examine how women have participated in Cypriot archaeology over a 70 year period, by looking at the history of research, publication statistics, and women’s role in field projects. They note that women’s participation has been increasing in general but that there is not an equal distribution of women and men in the research areas. They identify sex based differences in subject selection, where women tend to work on small scale iconographic and miscellaneous artefact studies, and where men tend to do research on theory, method, quantitative analysis, metallurgy and archaeozoology. Their main concern, however, is that women are very poorly represented in the hierarchy, especially in field directorships. The result of this is that men dominate and control the primary data and the setting of research agendas. This is interesting considering that a recent advertisement for a lectureship in classical archaeology in an Australian university stipulated that the appointee should have excavation experience. In seeking to explain why women do not take an active role in fieldwork Webb and Frankel argue that women have domestic responsibilities and that women are consistently less able to make the elaborate set of personal adaptations necessary to successfully run a long-term field project and often face additional financial and emotional constraints. It may be, also, that women have different ambitions and are less inclined to view directorship as the pinnacle of a career (p.40).

While this suggestion is contentious and requires some elaboration and explanation, it provokes a host of interesting and important questions. Perhaps we should also consider the idea that it is in the area of field directing that women are actively and most explicitly marginalised because of sexist ideas about women’s capabilities. Webb and Frankel have demonstrated that we need to examine women’s participation at all levels, what we also need to do is examine how certain areas are perceived and valued by women and men. For instance, do women tend to work in particular areas because they choose to, because they are encouraged to, or because they are denied access to others?

The second section – ‘Critical debate’ – includes a diverse collection of papers which address a range of issues concerning feminist enquiry. Dobres achieves much in the way of clarifying the terminological and conceptual confusion still characterising the field. She basically makes a clear distinction between an archaeology of gender, engendering archaeology, and feminist archaeological practice. Dobres also produces a very useful and insightful discussion on how engendering prehistory creates new research questions, changes analytical scales, makes inseparable and complex the material symbolic- socioeconomic reproduction of prehistoric society, and reframes traditional research domains. In another thought provoking paper Smith challenges the tendency of post-processual writers to incorporate feminism within their orthodoxy. She rightly points out that such writers have not seriously addressed the political dimensions of feminism but rather, have been happy to appropriate the ‘topic’ of feminist archaeology. She concludes that while post-processual debate provided a much needed space for discussion about feminism, it should not be seen as a branch of post-processualism. Following this is Lydon’s review of historical archaeology in Australia and her account of why the subject was neglected. According to her, part of the explanation is that there was a lack of general discussion regarding theory. The topic of gender was also inhibited because the theoretical frameworks that were used neglected social relations. The final paper by Anderson is a critique of Connah’s recent book on historical archaeology in Australia.

The final section – ‘engendering the past’ – includes papers by archaeologists exploring gender in prehistory. Gorman’s research on the Andaman Islands provides some useful insights into the differing use of stone and how gender structures this. In her research on rock art McDonald has related ideas about defining social boundaries, to gender. She seeks to identify the various audiences of different types of rock art and shows how certain types of rock art convey the presence of women. Gleeson looks at the different use of it by women, men and children in Aboriginal communities, and finally Drew reports on her study of the depictions of women in rock art.

In conclusion, this volume addresses a variety of issues which generally come under the heading of gender and feminist archaeology. Not only does it provide new ideas for approaching research, but it indicates that there is still much to do. Hopefully researchers will take up some of the problems raised here and contribute to ongoing debate on the subject.

Moser, S.
Review of 'Gendered Archaeology’ edited by Jane Balme and Wendy Beck
December 1996
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