Elevate Difference

The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory

Quick, name the world's oldest profession! It's not what you think, say the authors of The Invisible Sex. The world's oldest profession is, most likely, midwifery. The combination of larger brains and narrower pelvises required adaptations that led to women no longer being able to give birth solo. The book's title itself illustrates the thesis: were women truly invisible in societies of the past, or did they become so because of anthropologists' biases? Is the notion of worldwide patriarchy truth or, as everyone's favorite misogynist might say, projection? And what is "woman," anyway? Not all "women" are biologically female; the reverse is more rare, but also happens

It seems that each time a co-author is added to the roster, the resulting tome becomes vastly more unreadable. At 279 pages dense with information, The Invisible Sex is not for the faint of heart, but still very readable. It should be a required reading for those interested in anthropology and feminism. The authors pile on example upon example of unfounded assumptions that seemed self-evident to (male) anthropologists in the past. The skeletons that archaeologists unearthed and proclaimed to be female or male are not thus stamped, and the assumptions on which this determination was based (i.e. males are bigger or females don't hunt), in retrospect, seem flimsy. It is unlikely that women stayed in the cave awaiting the man who "brought home the bacon," yet that is the image most people have of prehistory. Maybe this is why we say, however jokingly, that prostitution is the world's oldest profession. Feminism did not explode the assumptions of prehistoric archaeology until 1984; fortunately, great strides have been made since then. This book is one of them.

Written by: Vita Foster, April 8th 2007

I'm very excited about this - definitely a summer read for me.