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Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica

Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica

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  • Book Info
    Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica
    Book Description:

    Gender was a fluid potential, not a fixed category, before the Spaniards came to Mesoamerica. Childhood training and ritual shaped, but did not set, adult gender, which could encompass third genders and alternative sexualities as well as "male" and "female." At the height of the Classic period, Maya rulers presented themselves as embodying the entire range of gender possibilities, from male through female, by wearing blended costumes and playing male and female roles in state ceremonies.

    This landmark book offers the first comprehensive description and analysis of gender and power relations in prehispanic Mesoamerica from the Formative Period Olmec world (ca. 1500-500 BC) through the Postclassic Maya and Aztec societies of the sixteenth century AD. Using approaches from contemporary gender theory, Rosemary Joyce explores how Mesoamericans created human images to represent idealized notions of what it meant to be male and female and to depict proper gender roles. She then juxtaposes these images with archaeological evidence from burials, house sites, and body ornaments, which reveals that real gender roles were more fluid and variable than the stereotyped images suggest.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79835-9
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Gender, Performance, Power, and Representation
    (pp. 1-18)

    When European observers came face to face with the pristine societies of Central America in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, they began a process of reinterpretation of the exotic and unintelligible features of those societies intomore comfortable concepts with which they could govern their new colonies. Native peoples acted as collaborators in this radical reformulation, first of the concepts of their own societies, and then of the institutions and ways of life that shaped those societies. Anyone trying, from the vantage point of the late twentieth century, to recover some of the quality of precolumbian society faces a...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Negotiating Sex and Gender in Formative Mesoamerica
    (pp. 19-53)

    While the antiquity of the earliest people in the territory that today is Central America is still strongly debated, unequivocal evidence of populations scattered throughout the region is clear by 8000 B.C. However, it is only with the advent of larger permanent villages, marking the beginning of the Early Formative, that we have sufficient archaeological evidence to begin to address questions about the formation of individual identity, the importance of material media in fixing performance, and the relations between emerging social divisions—including gender—and the exercise of power.Once Early Formative villages appear, they immediately provide a wealth of material...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Narratives of Gender among the Classic Maya
    (pp. 54-89)

    The patterns of Formative Period life discussed in the preceding chapter created a distinctively Mesoamerican tradition through the formation and exercise of authority and the accrual of power within the small-scale contexts of the house compound and village and the larger-scale, nonlocalized networks of exchange and alliance that spanned Mesoamerica. The use of jade and other goods as valuables crystallized during this period. Segregated spatial settings employed a common set of architectural forms—the platform mound, the plaza, and the ballcourt—throughout Mesoamerica. These spaces were further delimited symbolically by the installation of monumental images that brought cosmological significance into...

    (pp. 90-132)

    Classic Maya society is today perhaps best known for its instability, resulting in the abandonment of themajor Maya city-states and their conversion back to tropical forest before they came to the attention of European andNorth American society once again in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. What is less often stressed is that the collapse of Classic Maya states was far from unique; within a few centuries, between A.D. 700 and 1000, the major political centers of Classic Period Mesoamerica fragmented, failed, and were replaced by the ancestors of the states observed by Europeans in the sixteenth century.Monte Albán was...

    (pp. 133-175)

    Although Christopher Columbus touched briefly on the coast of Honduras in 1502, it was two decades after his initial voyage to the Americas in 1492 before Europeans began to enter the Mesoamerican world. When other Spanish expeditions followed an ill-fated crew—shipwrecked in 1511—to Yucatan, they were turned back by Postclassic societies used to resisting invasion by neighboring groups of noble raiders. It was only after moving up the coast to the Gulf of Mexico, the edge of the Aztec tribute state, that the Spanish in 1519 were able to advance into Mesoamerican territory. Here, within the largest, most...

    (pp. 176-200)

    Far from simply reiterating a universal story of struggle for dominance between two sexes, male and female, themselves the simple reflection of natural biological facts—a story that often portrays women as inevitably losing power, becoming symbolically identified with the negative poles of allmannerof other dichotomies, and finally coming to represent the undifferentiatedmass of nature—the preceding chapters’ unraveling of threads connecting concepts and practices of gender in prehispanicMesoamerica leads to the shadowy outlines of a radically different view of human nature and its relations to possibilities of power and authority. In tracing the history of thisMesoamericanway of becoming and...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 201-214)
  13. References Cited
    (pp. 215-260)
  14. Index
    (pp. 261-269)