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COSWA Corner

Rita Wright and Mary Ann Levine


In this column we call attention to the persistence of androcentric imagery in popular representations of archaeologists, and the consequences of and remedies for this common misperception.

Masculinist Images of the Archaeologist: Most archaeologists, whether at a cocktail party or in the classroom, have had to confront the popular image of the "archaeologist" Indiana Jones, blasting his way across continents in search of a spectacular find. Indy's tomb-raiding tactics simultaneously contradicts the discipline's aspirations to science and ignores the increasing numbers of women entering the profession. Women have, in fact, been present in Americanist archaeology since the late 19th century although their contributions are underrepresented in our standard disciplinary histories. While women faced a limited welcome in archaeology and were marginalized from the professional mainstream, they often resisted such impediments and pursued careers in academia, museums, and several other diverse settings (1994, M. A. Levine, Creating their Own Niches: Career Styles among Women in Americanist Archaeology between the Wars, in Women in Archaeology, edited by C. Claassen, pages 9­40, University of Pennsylvania Press). Despite the long history of overcoming barriers to women's full participation in the discipline, women are still a minority in many segments of the profession, but an increasingly large one. At the latest count, 36 percent of professional archaeologists are female. Given the increasing number of women in certain archaeological settings, how pervasive is the image of the archaeologist as masculine?

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A recent article by Warren R. DeBoer, published in Anthropology News [1999, 40(7): 7­8], assists greatly in answering this question. Since many SAA members are not AAA members, we requested and received the author's permission to reproduce some of the images and statistics he collected. DeBoer asked the 76 students in his undergraduate introductory course at Queens College to draw an archaeologist. Thirty-three of his students were female and forty-three, male. All but two of the male students drew a male archaeologist; one drew a female figure and the other is of unclear sex (DeBoer 1999: 7). Female students drew 20 males and 10 females; the sex of three was unclear. Not surprisingly, one student firmly subscribed to the Indiana Jones image (Figure 1); while others drew a more somber male (Figure 2) and yet another a female (Figure 3). The drawings also show that archaeologists at work spend most of their time in the field, where they engage in apparently tedious work. One is involved in meticulous excavations involving a toothbrush (Figure 4); another holds a pick and shovel and laments the small number of finds at his feet (Figure 5); and yet another has had better luck (Figure 6). With the exception of the latter, who appears to be engaged in pot-hunting (though dressed appropriately), the desired, scientific image remains intact. These, and other images drawn by DeBoer's students, project an image of the tools of the trade that are dominated by earth-moving equipment (trowels, picks, shovels, brushes).

In another article recently published in Anthropology News [1999, 40(9): 9­10], S. Elizabeth Bird and Carolena Von Trapp report on a questionnaire distributed to 100 students who had never taken an anthropology course. When asked to define anthropology, 58 percent of respondents defined the discipline in terms of archaeology and physical anthropology. Furthermore, when asked what anthropologists look like, 24 percent of those who answered the question described what Bird and Von Trapp (1999: 9) call "the Indiana Jones type."

Consequences of Androcentric Imagery: Such studies force us to confront the issue of whether or not it matters that the prevailing image of the archaeologist is male. In Women's Science: Learning and Succeeding from the Margins (1998, M. Eisenhart and E. Finkel, University of Chicago Press) the authors argue that the image of "scientist as male" inhibits the participation of girls in science beginning in elementary school and continuing into college. They also contend that these images may in fact lead women in science careers outside what is perceived to be typical research settings. Could this phenomenon be affecting women in archaeology?

Remedying the Indiana Jones Stereotype: By ignoring the stereotype, archaeologists inadvertently cultivate the image. There are a number of ways to set the record straight and introduce young girls and college-aged women to non-masculine images of archaeologists. Education is a powerful tool in altering perceptions and sufficient revisionist histories of archaeology are now available to make undergraduates more aware of women's participation in archaeology. For example, the use of introductory archaeology texts that expose students to the first generation of female archaeologists and women working at archaeology now in Chapter 1 (i.e., 1998, D. H. Thomas, Archaeology, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace) can potentially nurture an interest in archaeology in college women. Now that full-length books are available on individual women (i.e., 1991, R. Bishop and F. Lange, The Ceramic Legacy of Anna O. Shepard, University Press of Colorado) and their contributions to both the New World (i.e., 1999, N. M. White, L. Sullivan, and R. Marrinan, Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States, University Press of Florida) and the Old World (i.e., 1999, W. Davies and R. Charles, Dorothy Garrod and the Progress of the Paleolithic, Oxbow Books), upper-division courses can easily explore the gradual feminization of the discipline. While such suggestions for curricular improvement cannot remedy all issues pertaining to the status of women in archaeology, they can help us combat imagery that continues to prevent the full participation of women in the discipline.



Rita Wright, chair of COSWA, is associate professor of anthropology at New York University. Mary Ann Levine, member of COSWA, is assistant professor of anthropology at Franklin and Marshall College. The figures are reproduced by permission of Warren R. DeBoer.


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