Gender and feminist studies have become an important research framework to a variety of disciplines in the past few decades. Although Gender is a discipline in its own right, it can be applied and used in combination with disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, history, biology, and others. Similarly, conservation can be gendered in multiple ways. The gendered connotation of the objects themselves, the public interest in gendered objects, and the gender divide within the field of conservation. Gender is also a cultural construct. In regards to conservation, the cultural constructs of gender are influenced by a few things: the culture of the viewer and the culture of the depositor. Furthermore, gender influences the profession of conservation, from its demographics to its target audience.
The most basic and present issue in gender and conservation is the cultural values concerning those doing the actual conserving. Field work, although strides have been made to reach some sort of gender equity, is still gendered as a masculine job and Conservation is connoted as a feminine job, as women make up the majority of conservators (Mathias 2003). Field work is still gendered as a masculine job, although strides have been made to reach some sort of gender equity. Historically speaking, women’s jobs are valued less than men. This is apparent in a look at wages. Teaching was originally considered a male profession, but as more women became teachers the wages began to drop (Blau and Kahn 2000). The only exception to this is nursing, but for other jobs it holds true. Furthermore, we often see women as being able to navigate masculinity and men unable to be associated with femininity. This can be seen in the acceptability of girls to play with boy’s toys, but not vice-versa (Kane 2006). By existing in a patriarchal society, these gendered job connotations create a hierarchy between conservation and other aspects of archaeology. This gendering of the job itself becomes more complicated once the gender of the objects themselves is taken into consideration.
Historical archaeology began by focusing on famous people within history. Given the history of gender roles, this was often men. For example, one of the first historical excavations took place at Abraham Lincoln’s house (Orser 2004). It was not until recently that historical archaeology began to focus on the rest of humanity. Ergo, many of the objects that exist to conserve are men’s objects. In the case of prehistoric archaeology, research questions have shifted towards gender recently, but preservation has made some of this difficult. For example, research in the archaic period focused mainly on hunting, a male activity, as stone tools were often the only material remains from sites in this period. Rarely a site was preserved well enough, like in the case of the Paleoindian site Dust Cave, to gain insight into women’s roles (Hollenbach 2007). Prehistorically, material culture associated with men is preserved better, as well as given more importance by the archaeologists themselves (Conkey and Spector 1984). This results in a gendered bias in what objects are available to conserve. In the past two decades, this focus of research has shifted towards women’s roles, but the disposability of their activities still makes it difficult to have a significant amount of material remains.
Even if more of women’s material remains could be recovered and conserved, what the public finds interesting is culturally dictated. In the United States, battleships are popular tourist attractions, an example being the USS Arizona in Hawaii. These battleships are impressive feats of engineering and important to the country’s history and they would be gendered as masculine. Countless cultural attractions in the United States are directly focused on or considered to be masculine. Alcatraz, Mount Rushmore, the Washington Monument, and numerous other popular attractions are associated with men. The most widely known feminine attraction would be the Statue of Liberty, but that is not representative of women’s lives. Rather, the gender of the statue is used to invoke associations between the United States and maternal feelings to those entering the country (Silverman 1988). The popularity and knowledge of cultural heritage such as these show a clear proclivity towards men’s, rather than women’s, work. Although a debate could ensue about whether the popularity is actually representative of cultural values or simply a lack of women’s objects to conserve, the popularity and focus on men’s achievements create a status quo of objects to conserve and display
In conclusion, gender is an integral part of conservation studies. From the objects to the conservators, effects of cultural gender expectations reverberate throughout the discipline. Addressing these issues and attempting to change the cultural connotations to make conservation a more inclusive discipline, as well as the disciplines surrounding it, is a laudable goal for the discipline. With a more well-rounded gender distribution, the ultimate goal of conserving a protecting cultural heritage can be more fully completed.
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Kane, Emily W. 2006 “No Way My Boys are going to be Like That! Parental Responses to Children’s Gender Nonconformity”. Gender and Society (20) 2:149-176
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