November 1998 Meeting of the Pre-Columbian Society

Billie Follansbee spoke on "Exploring Gender in Olmec Art and Archeology".

Many thanks to Billie for her presentation on gender representations in provenanced Olmec art and her exhaustive and insightful research that has re-examined the female role in Olmec culture.  Olmec male figures rarely show explicit genitalia while females are represented by a
triangulation at the groin and definition of the buttocks. Females often
appear with pinched waists while male body types tend to be more cylindrical.
There are some sculptured figures, however, that are ambiguous as to the sex
of the person represented. (Hence, Uncle Sam of La Venta could just as well be
Aunt Samantha!) Billie argues that if a figure is not irrefutably female,
scholars should not automatically designate the figure as male.  She also
demonstrated with many fine slides that some physical attributes such as
prominent breasts and some hair styles are shared by both sexes, as
demonstrated in figures whose sexual identity is not ambiguous.  We also
learned that, although both sexes wore skirts,  females wore theirs  "low
slung"  on the hips while Olmec males wore skirts that were higher and
accompanied with thick belts.

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