So, I should have known given its name that The Museum of Man in Balboa Park would focus only on those with penis privilege. However, I thought maybe, just maybe, it might nod to the fact that history and evolution are not the sole domain of those with XY chromosomes.
While the museum in general acted as if women are just some crazy little blip that don’t matter on an evolutionary scale, the most blatant exhibition of this belief was in the “Footsteps Through Time: Four Million Years of Human Evolution” exhibition. The figures that were supposed to reflect this evolution were all male – apparently the four million years of human history the exhibit documents didn’t involve any women. Silly me – I thought women played a kinda important role in birthing subsequent generations…
In addition to suggesting women don’t matter, the museum also teaches that evolved humans have blue eyes and light hair. In the above-mentioned exhibit, as soon as the Neanderthal looking figures really begin to represent humanoids, their eye color switches from dark brown to blue and the hair and skin both become lighter. Does the museum realize the message this gives – i.e. those with dark eyes, hair, and skin are ‘closer to the apes.’? Talk about museum perpetuated racism.
If the museum has it right, (white) man is the key player in evolution – and man in the sense of male – not as when people pathetically claim that the term man includes women too.
The museum only includes women very rarely – and you guessed it, when women are focused on its pretty much for their wombs only – as in the replicas of different stages of pregnancy (where the female figures have no heads) or as in the pregnant mummy (who is disturbingly in a pose with her hands and feet bound).
Along with this sexist, racist view of history, we also get more messages regarding indigenous people as violent crazies who really got off on human sacrifice. While the museum does include ONE reference to the practices of human sacrifice in Anglo history, it generally promotes the idea we see in films so often – that of the Mel Gibson variety where the crazies in history are inevitably ‘non-white’ and ‘savage.’ The recent Indy film (see my earlier post) was no different in this vein, nor was The Golden Compass. All of these movies and many others play into the idea that ancient, indigenous civilizations are best known for human sacrifice and savagery, rather than for, say, their math wizardry, architectural brilliance, medicinal know-how, or environmentally friendly living.
Ah, Museum of Man, thank you for reminding me how every day, in every way, we are bombarded with messages that suggest males are superior, whites are better, and the ‘white man’ is the true mark of evolved civilization. I would hope that at a museum a more intellectual, nuanced version of humanity might have been put forward. I do realize museums have a long history of stealing cultural artifacts for their own greedy purposes, but I was hoping that as we are now around the bend of the 21st century, that these bastions of culture and history might put a more diverse, equitable spin on things. Alas, at the Cineplex (via Indy 4), at the museum (which, by the way, had a new section devoted to Indy 4 cuz, you know, it’s so true to the history of human cultures), and even in feminist book imagery (It’s A Jungle Out There*), white men are the happening archaeologists, woman are the unimportant sexualized sidekicks, and indigenous people are the savage Others.
*The imagery used in Marcotte’s books created a storm of debate and commentary in the feminist blogosphere and instigated an apology from Marcotte and from Seal Press as well as a call to girlcott Seal from WOC PhD. You can see copies of some of the images in the book here.