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Gender: evidence from settlement sites: living(-space) and working(-space)

The variety in the ethnographic record warns against taking anything for granted in reconstructing the engendering of space.

With evidence spatially removed from physical bodies, it becomes especially difficult to avoid assumptions. For example, in studying the architecture of a house, reception rooms may be identified as 'male', and the bedrooms as 'female'. There may be grounds for interpreting house groundplans in this way, for example inference from the written record, but such interpretation builds heavily on our assumed norms with the culturally specific modern opposition of public/private. Sørensen argues that, rather than identify one or other area as 'male' or 'female', we should investigate how the socially constructed genders operate across all areas.

There is also great danger in reconstructing the Ancient Egyptian engendering of labour within the variously negotiated living spaces. An archaeologist may find evidence for specific tasks such as weaving or cooking, but no clear evidence for determining which persons in the social group undertook those tasks.

Many specialised tasks belong to processes involving along the way many different subsets of the group. For an example of separable tasks in one central operation, grain production, see the path sketched by Murray 2000: 506. Then compare with the list of Egyptian crops by the same author there on pp.612-3. Consider these in the light of the diagram of annual farming activities in a different setting, early modern Sweden, cited in Sørensen 2000: 111. This undermines the simplified sexual division of labour of the type 'men hunt, women weave' etc. See Ströbeck 1999: 161-172, for the problems of 'studying asymmetry, without implications of hierarchy': she proposes 'gender studies of task differentiation which notice age-linked sexual differentiation, [kinship-] group activity, co-operation between men and women, and the existence of non-gendered tasks and activities'.

Following Sørensen, when gender researchers examine the archaeological record for production and consumption of food and drink, they should work not on assumptions of who did what, but on the observation of differences. In place of the assumed and fixed male/female opposition, the object of research becomes the particular classification system and its operation in social space over time. Key aspects of any such system are performance and negotiation.


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