Think of it as like the law of the conservation of momentum: the gender in a system is constant if there is no external force acting on the system.
Here’s how it works: burial discovered with two skeletons; spear near one interpreted as evidence for that body being male. Analysis of bones show that this body is in fact female: conservation of gender ensues: spear reassigned as no longer associated with the buried woman. Gender conserved: system stays the same.
Now in this account, I am an external force acting on the system.
The story, courtesy of Zenobia, Empress of the East, where Judith Weingarten covered this thoroughly back on October 6, starts in September:
Italian archaeologists discovered a remarkable, intact Etruscan burial at Tarquinia…. Within the burial chamber was the complete skeleton of an individual resting on a stone platform with an iron spear lying alongside the body…. a still unopened jewellery box on the opposite narrower platform hints at more treasures to come. On that platform, too, were the incinerated remains of a second person, presumably his wife….
Osteological analysis (reported on 26 September) indicates that the body on the bigger platform was that of a woman who was 35 – 40 years old when she died. And the incinerated corpse on the narrower platform belonged to a male….[Prof. Mandolesi said] “The lance, in all probability, was deposited as a symbol of the union between the two deceased.”
The story started making the rounds in the press this weekend, with headlines emphasizing that scientific analysis had determined the skeleton originally associated with the spear is actually female.
By late today, the US media were reprinting the story (including discussing Weingarten’s blog post) under a uniform headline, He or she? Prince in ancient tomb might actually be princess.
Throughout the reporting, despite Weingarten’s trenchant clarification of the original mistake– which was assigning gender based on associated artifacts assumed to belong to one sex— the media seemed to be unable to understand her other point:
the newly-identified lady still doesn’t get credited with her own lance. The thought doesn’t even arise that it might be a symbol of her power and authority rather than the weapon of a warrior.
If the spear head was associated with the body originally, considered property of that person, then it is inconsistent to change its ownership.
That’s conservation of gender: Spear points are male. So the lady cannot own one.
The thought doesn’t even arise that it might be a symbol of her power and authority rather than the weapon of a warrior.
The closest the media can get to this: maybe instead of a warrior prince, she is a warrior princess.
The thought doesn’t even arise that it might be a symbol of her power and authority.
Conservation of gender. Girls aren’t powerful or authoritative.
It might be a symbol of her power and authority.
And that is how you bring an external force to act on a system.