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  • Material Girls:Gender and Material Culture in Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Mireille M. Lee and Lauren Hackworth Petersen

From birth to death, individuals negotiated ancient constructions of gender through their engagement with objects. Articles of dress were essential for communicating and construing gender. Hand-held objects such as walking sticks or parasols served as "props" for the public performance of gender. Gendered activities such as textile production and warfare required the use of specialized tools: the distaff and bronze weapons that were themselves highly gendered. Objects were employed at critical life stages: the choes used at the Anthesteria, for example, or birthing amulets that ensured a successful delivery. Objects were also used to subvert gender ideologies, as in Euripides' Medea, in which the wedding gift of the poisoned robe results in death and destruction.

This special volume of Arethusa contains three essays that were originally presented in the session Material Girls: Gender and Material Culture in the Ancient World, sponsored by the Women's Classical Caucus at the 2018 Joint Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies. As the essays explore the dynamic relationships between objects and gender in classical antiquity, they span the Greek and Roman worlds and put both literary and archaeological evidence to work. The intent of the session, and hence this collection, is to facilitate meaningful dialogue between classicists, historians, and archaeologists, with objects as the focus of attention—whether the objects are depicted in words or images, or are the archaeological material that is literally drawn from the ancient world.

The topic is timely. Objects are under renewed scrutiny in the humanities. A basic premise of object theory is that objects exist because of, and in relation to, people. People and objects are inseparable. To understand [End Page 59] objects is to understand how people make, use, and dispose of them. By focusing on the longue durée of objects, it is possible to reconstruct the many social relationships surrounding them, from those who procured the raw materials for their production, to the artisans who created them, to those who used the objects or transferred them by means of exchange. The meanings of objects change across space and time, as they are moved from person to person. Object theory allows for unique insights into societies and social actors.

The essays that follow take on various aspects of object theory in light of constructions of gender and share several common themes. A couple of papers analyze the social and psychological aspects of dress and the body's relationships to objects. Women's use of weaving implements, garments, and ritual objects, and the ways in which these material objects could give a voice to women feature as well. And, of course, objects as a means of resistance is a recurring theme. In essence, then, the authors critically explore how ancient women marshalled their material world in order to perform and subvert gender identity.

We are grateful to Sarah Levin-Richardson, a scholar of ancient gender, sexuality, and material culture, for graciously accepting our invitation to craft the Introduction to these essays. Martha Malamud, editor of Arethusa, has shown unwavering support for this project from the beginning, and it has been a true pleasure to work with her. And to the authors of the essays, we owe a deep debt of gratitude. This past spring (2020) brought unimaginable circumstances to our daily lives, circumstances that could have prevented the scholars from completing their essays in a timely manner as the effects of the pandemic raged. Each, however, remained committed to the project; we are grateful for their perseverance. [End Page 60]

Mireille M. Lee
Vanderbilt University
Lauren Hackworth Petersen
University of Delaware


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pp. 59-60
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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