Monday, 29 August 2016

Madrid National Archaeological Museum - Celts, Celtiberians and Iberians

I have quite a lot of belated museum pics, so let's get started! Today's pic overload involve pieces of the Celtic, Celtiberians and Iberians in the Spanish Peninsula from the Madrid National Archaeological Museum . The first part is mainly about weapons and jewels and the like, because I'm enthusiastic about Celtic and Celtiberian culture here :D. Then, because this is a feminist blog after all, a rant about archaeological gender bias will make an appearance.

Detailed info about the pieces in the catalogues linked above. Click on pics or open in new tab for a bigger size.

  • Brief discussion about potential archaeological sexist bias regarding human iconography:
The following rant about gender bias is a result of thinking about the topic while looking at Celtiberian human figures in pots. Bear with me  xD

It happens all too often that (usually male, probably also female) archaeologists tend to assume that any figure that is depicted in a warlike or active manner is automatically and without any shadow of a doubt a male figure. This of course is a result of sexist bias and gender stereotypes: Men are active, warlike and strong, while women are passive, beautiful and always depicted in 'traditionally feminine' activities. But even though most cultures are regrettably patriarchal and male-dominated, full of these gender roles, depictions of women in warlike, hunting and more active poses do exist, from warrior goddesses and ample female depictions of Victory to Prehistoric huntresses in cave paintings. And if some cultures (like the Celts or Scandinavians) do have evidence of at least some warrior women, why shouldn't they be depicted in iconography as well? Why is that so difficult to imagine? 

Also, it's not always obvious that the figure is male, so bias and stereotypes have more to do in the final decision that 'empirical evidence' - In more than one case, the sex of the figure can seem ambiguous, being depicted in a very schematic way and/or with no genitalia or sexual attributes present, for example. Most people will still assume that the figure is male if shown in a warlike attitude or alongside objects such as weapons (and even in the case of being shown with both weapons and more 'traditionally feminine' objects such as mirrors, the figure will still be proclaimed as male). 
Estela de Solana de Cabañas (Bronze age, Source). In this case, the figure is probably male because males are often portrayed with a straight, rectangular-shaped torso, but you get what I meant. Gender bias usually has no trouble seeing a mirror - a 'traditionally feminine' object - in a male tomb because there's weapons as well and weapons=male. But there are also female tombs with both weapons and mirrors and other personal grooing related objects!
In other cases the sex of the figure can be less ambiguous: There's a tendency in quite a few cultures and artistic choices - the Paleolithic cave paintings, for example- to depict female figures with wide thighs and/or very thin waists with torsos in an inverted triangle shape, for example (males are also depicted with triangle shaped torsos in some cases, though, this is not a 'definitive sign' of the figure's 'femaleness'), while males have straight torsos in a rectangular shape and thinner legs. Even if no sexual attributes or genitalia are shown it can sometimes be reasonable to assume that a certain figure is male or female judging on these body shapes. 

And then there's the case where sexual attributes (such as female breasts) or genitalia are actually shown, which should make it pretty obvious to assume to sex of the figure depicted, right? Wrong!  In too many cases, figures in warlike, hunting or active poses that are very clearly females (breasts, for example) are still labelled and described as being males simply because they have weapons or are in a  warlike or hunting or active attitude - A very clear and graphic example of the power of gender bias.

Some examples: This Celtic female rider is called a 'horseman' in a catalogue:

Many people also seem to find it difficult to identify these Paleolithic huntresses as being female despite the very obvious breasts in some cases, and the very obvious inverted triangle torsos and wide thighs:

As a comparison, these are male hunters, with straight rectangular torsos and genitalia:

 OK, back to the chase. I was reminded of the topic while looking at these two human figures in Celtiberian pots (below, click for bigger pics). Both are labelled as male, and both are probably males (Iberian women's clothing was pretty oppressive, for example, involving veiling and head and body coverings as part of their patriarchal 'modesty mindset'. They wouldn't be depicted with bare torsos or legs. But Celtiberian women were less oppressed regarding clothing, so it could be a possibility).  But I thought about the priorities of the people deciding the sex of the figures. Did they automatically assume that they're males because they're warriors? Or they did study the way Celtiberians drew their figures as well?  Because the way their bodies are drawn are pretty different - While the second figure has a very straight, rectangular-shaped torso, the first warrior has an inverted triangle-shaped torso and pretty wide-ish thighs compared to the second figure, which in quite a lot of cases and cultures is a way of portraying female figures. Males are sometimes also portrayed with trangle-shaped torsos (the geometric archaic Greek period, for example, where both men and women are depicted with triangle-shaped torsos -women are usually wearing dresses and longer hair), so I'm not saying that this figure is female, like it was mentioned before the shapes are not definite signs, but still, there have been a handful of cases where gender bias has ruled over aspects like those.   Warrior women -and definitely warrior goddesses- were not unknown among the Celts and, it is to be supposed, also among the Celtiberians, so I wouldn't automatically rule femaleness out as a consequence of gender bias just because a figure was holding a spear or wearing a helmet, like so many people have done and still do (the example of the old labels of the Athena chariot in the museum shop). 


And to finish, some pics of the book I got at the museum shop: A book about the Druids with a whole chapter for druidesses and prophetesses :D! It also has general info on Celtic women and some images of warrior women such as Scáthach and Medb as well :)

Chapter of druidesses and prophetesses

Irish prophetess and druidess Fidelma

Drawing of Warrior queen Medb on the upper right

Drawing on warrior trainer Scáthach on the bottom left

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Gender stereotypes in IKEA room exhibits

Gender stereotypes being forced upon children and adults in IKEA exhibits :/ Not so sexism-free after all, are they? 

-Left is ‘for women/girls’: Pink, dresses, high heels, cutesy stuff, make-up, kitchen toys (!!), dolls.
-Right is for ‘men/boys’: Basically every other colour! Music! Sports! Comfy shoes! Dragons! FUN!

Stop gendering everything! Colours, fashion and activities should all be unisex, period. Is it really so difficult to create more unisex-oriented room exhibits? Because this is so stereotyped it’s ridiculous. Plus all the messages they’re sending: Girls should be playing with dolls and toy kitchens (preparing for their future roles as mothers and wives, right?) in cute pink bedrooms while boys can play with dragons and guitars in multicoloured rooms. Meanwhile, adult women should be focusing on their dresses, heels, make-up and other appearance-based activities while adult men can enjoy themselves doing sports, playing music and wearing comfy shoes. Since when are sports and music male-oriented only, anyway?? It’s so ridiculous.