Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version

Spring 5-2015

Thesis Advisor

Clark Erickson


“What is gender?” One can drop that question in certain young and spirited corners of the Internet blogosphere and watch the debate roll in like a thunderstorm. The traditionally-minded respondent will say that gender is the behaviors and expectations grafted onto biological sex. Biologically female people occupy female gender roles; biologically male people occupy male gender roles. The concept is simple until a statistics enthusiast comments that one in 1500 children with ambiguous genitalia are born in the United States each year, that the chromosomes of 1 in 1666 people are neither XX nor XY, and that biological sex is no strict binary (Blackless et al 2000). Chromosomes, genitals, hormone patterns, body hair, and body shapes do not always neatly sort themselves into male and female boxes. How does gender intersect with being intersex? And then LGBT commenters remind us that a person’s internal sense of their own gender does not always match the gender others expect of them on the basis of their biological sex. A transgender person may or may not change their body, appearance, or social role to match the gender with which they identify. Their culture may have other gender categories besides male and female, like two-spirit people in societies throughout the Americas. However, a person who does not conform to the narrow expectations of their assigned gender is not always transgender. A woman may present and behave in masculine ways, wear loose jeans and snapback hats, work in a warehouse, date women, get mistakenly called “sir” at least once a week (much to her chagrin), and still identify as female. By the most progressive contemporary understanding, one’s internal gender identity, external gender presentation, gender assigned at birth, and biological sex are all separate socially constructed categories that do not necessarily “match” each other or fall into a male-female binary. If one’s gender identity is completely internal, how can archaeologists, who almost by definition study material remains, understand the gender identities of people of the past?

Included in

Anthropology Commons



Date Posted: 25 May 2016


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