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Invisible Sex, The

4.1 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0061170911
ISBN-10: 0061170917
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This jauntily written, highly convincing analysis by influential anthropologists Adovasio and Soffer and former editor of Natural History and Smithsonian Page argues that women of prehistory were pivotal in a wide range of culture-building endeavors, including the invention of language, the origins of agriculture and the conceptualization of boat building. Although based on the most current scientific evidence, these theories are presented as accessibly as possible, with frequent humorous asides and a wide range of popular cultural touchstones, from Charles Darwin to The Clan of the Cave Bear. The authors offer concepts that radically challenge our preconceptions of human behavior and history. They argue, for instance, that brain development and an increase in longevity that produced extended families, especially grandmothers, brought about a "creative revolution" in the Late Paleolithic period (about 30,000 years ago). The authors also include a fascinating discussion of the possible role of goddess worship in prehistoric society and its relationship to contemporary New Age feminism. Highly readable, well argued, and always fascinating, this critique of traditional anthropology is an important addition to both scientific and feminist literature. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Although more than half the graduates of academic programs in archaeology are women, bias still haunts the profession. Because the artifacts of prehistory are themselves mute, the stories told by their interpreters create an apparent reality of what the past was like._Written in graphic, often novelistic prose, this book deconstructs those stories and finds that, consistently, they assume a world controlled by men and almost devoid of women and children, except as hungry mouths for ancient hunters to feed. Prehistoric women, however, are thought to have invented many things we take for granted: language, for instance, to say nothing of cooking and weaving. An engaging book that sets the record straight while describing current theories and trends in archaeology. Patricia Monaghan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonia (February 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061170917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061170911
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,764,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Katherine A. Dettwyler on April 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As an anthropologist and a meticulous proofreader/copyeditor, I am dismayed at the poor quality of this publication from Smithsonian Books. When I first saw the book, I was excited, as we need a good solid book on this topic. The Invisible Sex does not serve. I suspect that Adovasio and Soffer talked to Jake Page, and he mostly 'wrote' the prose, and that no one familiar with the field (or good at proofreading) looked at the page proofs. Otherwise, some of the more ridiculous statments would never have made it into print. For example, "A scientific theory can be proved" (p. 29) and "There are in fact no truly scientific theories about [the evolution of language], for the very reason that any proposed theory is impossible to prove, meaning it is not a scientific theory." (p. 103). The authors claim that Taung was found by Raymond Dart (p. 39), and state that the foramen magnum is the lower part of the skull "where the backbone meets the skull" (p. 56) -- to these, my response is, "Um, NO." A theory is only scientific if it can be DISPROVEN (not proven), Raymond Dart did not find the Taung skull at the quarry himself, and the foramen magnum is, literally, a BIG HOLE, not a "part" of the skull. The explanation of Karen Rosenberg and Wenda Trevathan's work on human birth is completely botched (p. 65-71); a newborn's fontanelle is not formed by the forces of labor/delivery; Trevathan's last name is misspelled in the book and index, and she teaches at New Mexico State University (not UNM), while Karen Rosenberg teaches at the University of Delaware (not the University of Maryland). And this doozy from p. 91: "Genes are themselves made up of base pairs of amino acids." Um, NO.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
This is a stimulating and intriguing book and before I get into the review proper, I would like to include you in a discussion that is, I believe, very important for appreciating it.

We have had a great many conferences about the origins of society with experts in many fields. Most believe that civilization develops as a kind of protection against chaos and fear. Therefore it is hard to believe that societies could have developed and prospered without leaving much in the way of artifacts.

So in that view, history and pre-history are mapped by the weapons, forts, castles, cities and statues that have survived the centuries. My counter to that is to ask whether societies could have developed not as a response to fear, but out of cooperation: people working with the world around them, rather than being scared of it. After all, people right now are suggesting that we should leave less of a footprint in the world. So surely it is conceivable that highly advanced civilizations could have arisen in the past, but history fails to remember them because they did not leave monuments to their own glory.

It reminds me of the comment in Chapter 23 of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:

"On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons."

This issue is at the center of this intriguing new book.
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As an academic, I'm almost embarrassed to say this, but I wish the book were about 1/4 as long as it is. I understand and appreciate the need to include the evidence in detail, but I would have gleaned much more had the authors made their points more succinctly. Or maybe it would have helped if they had included a summary of their main points at the end -- or even the beginning -- of each chapter. Two of their main points are not new: (1) that human history has been written by men and therefore with a male bias, and (2) archaeology is less likely to uncover evidence of women's tools, because so many do not survive like instruments traditionally attributed to men's work. As a professor of the psychology of women, I anticipated learning something exciting and new. The authors are apparently excellent researchers and evaluators of hypotheses, but I was not as excited by the content as the title had led me to hope.
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Every decade or two a book comes out that attempts to define what the "women's role" was in prehistory, antiquity, even more recent well documented history. A lot of what comes out of the effort is another "just so" story that attempts to explain how we all got where we are. As these authors point out, every generation of anthropologists, sociologists, archaeologists, and others approaches the past with a different set of cultural baggage. As a result of this bias, the interpretation of the role of women through time takes on a different character too. Anyone who doesn't believe this should read some of the biographies of Lucrezia Borgia. Renaissance authors saw her as something of an incestuous, husband murdering monster. The Victorians saw her as a poor helpless pawn in the power struggles of her father and brothers as they dealt with the aristocratic families of renaissance Italy. More modern authors tend to see her as a power broker herself and as a thoroughly acculturated woman of her time and circumstance. Aren't we all?

The present authors do a very good job of keeping their own biases in check and of examining possible reasons for the absence of specifically female presence in the past. Their idea that it is because of the perishability of the material remains of their endeavors is probably true, but hardly "proof." No one has actually even proven who manufactured the lithic remains of prehistoric culture, so one might say that the male gender is absent from prehistory as well. Even when material does survive, it does not really say anything about gender roles, however archaeologists sometimes do. I once visited the archaeological site of Ban Po in China.
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