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Louise Sommer

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Sexism in Archaeology?

 

The 14th of October, 2015, the Hufflington Post published a very interesting article. Despite the pop-smart headline, the article is brilliantly written by Priscilla Frank, Arts writer at the Hufflington Post and addresses the very core of what I wrote in The Hidden Camino; that archaeology and history are soaked with sexism. I suppose most people have considered me 'a feminist', bringing this very important problem to the surface. But as I said in an intervew recently:

 

"...I am not ’harsh’ nor blaming nor being unfair. I am showing reality as it is!"

 

 

Priscilla's article proves just that. Her article begins:

 

"Until recently, majority opinion designated men responsible for the masterful early paintings adorning cavernous walls around the world. There wasn't much science behind the assumption, just that general air of androcentrism that presumes men play a central role in just about everything."

 

Things changed a little, however, in the 1970s and '80s, when male and female archaeologists began challenging the many male-centric inferences throughout science and history.

 

"The point that was made was quite simple," archaeologist Dave Whitley of ASM Affiliates explained to The Huffington Post. "How do we know that the cave artists were males? Frankly, we don’t! The presumption that somehow they must be was just that -- it was speculation, and there was no real data one way or the other that told us which gender was responsible."  You can read the entire article here

 

However, the cave art study was first published in National Geographic in 2009, more than seven years ago. A rather long time, don't you think? Four years later, the research from the cave art was again published in 2013 via Hufflington Post and NBS news. I wonder how much have actually changed during these seven years? 

 

Trying to find an answer, I started searching for academic papers proceeding with this deeply problematic issue of sexism within archaeology and history, but no adequate references were to be found. This doesn't mean that they do not exist, it could just mean, that they are either not published or, as in most cases like this, ignored. I would imagine it's the latter one.

 

 

I think the articles in question are important, but don't be fooled. Pay attention to the details and you will find how anything with women are called 'feminism' and 'early feminist art makers'. Do we use the same terms to describe art made by men? Do we use the same terms to construct men in history? No, we don't. We just acknowledge them in their own rights. Women not so. And still not today!

 

The superficial admission of this sexism provokes a whole series of other questions which I approached in the interview mentioned earlier. The relevant Q&A that occurred, sounded like this;

 

You provide a harsh critique towards historians and archaeologists (in The Hidden Camino.) Some would even say you are blaming these researchers for how women are being portrayed in history. Is this fair?

 

First of all, the way women are being portrayed historically, is the reason we have such a massive problem with women in power and spirituality today. Everywhere you look, you will find how female characters have been distorted and their roles downplayed. In my own Nordic Mythology, women have become nothing but an irrelevant accessory, like Freja, who has become just an object of desire. Why do we need something called Feminist psychology? Why are historical female figures continually described as vicious, manipulative and blood thirsty, like Boudicca and Mary Queen of Scots. And then on the other hand, we have countless historical male personalities like Dick Turbin, who was a downright villain. He’s being portrayed like a Robin Hood. And how many people know that viking women fought side by side with men when going into battle? Druids were both women and men, and the Cathars’ Perfects were both women and men. So why are they still being portrayed as men only? When I started on my Masters Degree, our rector, a famous and highly influencial philosopher of that time, spent a full hour – as his welcoming speech – explaining why women were the root of all the problems in our Western society. I mean, really?! So I am not ’harsh’ nor blaming nor being unfair. I am showing reality as it is!

 

How can this historical distortion of women be rectified?

 

Phew, that’s a good question! Well, the first step is becoming aware, and then acknowledging that a problem exists.  Then we can redefine the traditional way of thinking, describing and analysing. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to say than do… The thing is, if we allow women a fair and equal place in history, we will need to rewrite the history books.

 

Maybe the answers above are some of the many reasons academia doesn't ask those questions, nor proceed any further with those already asked. Another question I think that is important to approach here, is why aren't more scholars seeing this problem? Why isn't there any new research that says, okay, lets look at this historical evidence with a different view on women? What kind of history, and archaeology would we then have? And finally, how will this change our view on women, and men, today?

 

Below is a collection of cave art from Lascaux, France, ca. 20.000BC. Many researchers now believe most of these cave paintings were made by women.

 

 

 

 

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