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Women in the Ancient Maya Civilization


It is important to outline the main issue the paper will focus on – gender. Namely, gender is the psychological and social characteristic that helps differentiate males and females within different aspects of society, moreover, created by the human culture itself. Being the most important category of sorting human beings, gender also becomes a vital key issue in terms of gender representation. The set rules on a certain male or female behavior come from ancient centuries and ancient civilizations.

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As such, it has to be said that the women’s gender representation is in their appearance, outfits, and social roles. Thus, modern life presupposes various variants of clothing and different social roles for men and women within the US. However, there are those ancient civilizations that used to save the social and gender traditions accurately and have some ancient female gender representations saved until nowadays.

The civilization that is worth investigating is the ancient Maya. It is possible to say according to the book ‘Ancient Maya women’ by Traci Arden that the civilization put much tense on their women’s social representation. The human internments unearthed at Yaxuna claim that the social role of Maya women was far from the tolerantly based organization of the modern society. Maya women experienced the reproductive demands of ancient society and, thus, died at young age suffering greatly.

However, to avoid underestimating the social role of Maya women, the complementary aspect of their lives must be mentioned. Traci Arden outlines gender representation by the following: ‘no man or woman can be complete without the other, with “man” and “woman” defined more by actions than by biology.’ (p. 86) Nevertheless, even though being the main cell in the reproductive chain, Maya women still lived less than men and had more nutritional stress. Not to mention the fact that Yaxuna excavations give evidence of compromised health during the entire life of both elite women and their nonelite sisters; although some elite women could share the power with Maya men. Back in those times one of the social representations of women was the pottery, shell ornaments, and domesticated deers production.

The visual representation of ancient Maya women is presented in jewels and ceramics they were buried with. Maya women were most frequently buried with ceramic vessels, which was evident proof of those women holding an elite status. Moreover, the vessels Maya women were interred with suggested that the dead females were ‘representatives of ancestral or lineage power to descendants of all economic levels’ (Arden, p.77)

Also, the visual representation of Maya women in ancient society was held through wearing somewhat rough adornments. Of course, compared to contemporary jewels they seem a bit bulky, though it is impossible to doubt the ancients’ sophisticated taste now. Moreover, the women’s adornments were made of wood, feathers, bones, mother-of-pearls, and colorful stones.

Cannot but mention the makeup style Maya women had those days. They used to paint their faces entirely red. Also, women liked fragrances lubricated on their chest, hands, and shoulders. Interestingly, elite women were wandering around with little bouquets, frequently sniffing them.

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Maya women were much more prominent than those of all other ancient cultures. They acquired the roles of mothers, nurses, and cooks. Moreover, some of them were even ruling as queens. In a word, it must be said that they were a complete contradiction to other ancient civilizations’ women.

To be more exact, it is possible to talk about female representation in Early India – a country of colorful clothing and heterogeneous traditional accessories and bodily ornamentation.

Undoubtedly, unlike contemporary fashion ancient India’s clothing ensembles were created in a way that easily distinguished the female gender. As such, the Indian Sari, for example, has neither stitches nor a particular size. Interestingly, this Indian outfit can be worn in many different ways which indicate the status, region, occupation, and religion of a woman. ‘According to Thapar ‘The assertion of women as equal members of society would be curtailed, forcing them to accept the subordinate part’ (p.66) Supposedly, this resulted in somewhat obedient suppressed feminine gender representation. Indian society built unequal social roles of men and women. Hence, being socially, politically, and religiously unequal India developed certain models of attires that reflected the society’s requirements towards female gender representation.

The social role of women of Early India was obedience in terms of marriage and complete modesty in all other spheres of life. A good representation of that served Dupatta – a long lightweight scarf – whose original purpose was bringing modesty to the wearer by covering her chest or head. Besides, it is impossible not to remind the Bindi accessory that is worn in the middle of the forehead as a representation of the marital status of Indian women.

Of course, another aspect that a woman has to be examined through is antiquity. The European way of life and the entire behavior that was characteristical to Europe of those ages formed a certain way of dresses and other outfits women of antiquity used to wear.

For example, the jewels were very heavy and looked bulky. This certainly was an influence of Asian fashion. However, the most important thing to note here is the social role of medieval European women. The main role of a woman was giving birth. As well as in ancient Maya times, the maternity age was very young. This influenced the clothing women used to wear greatly. Namely, they wore the sleeved dresses with a vertical slit, usually laced to allow a woman to accomplish breastfeeding.

Just as in the preceding ages, the fashion of Medieval Europe was divided into the lower and upper classes. Thus, the upper class could afford to decorate their clothes with embroidery in a very rich way.

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Women’s activities in Medieval Europe were so variable that it is hard to combine them all and give a definite description of what they wore in terms of clothing and jewelry. ‘Finally, peoples have their religions and customs, among which Herodotus finds most significant those defining the spheres of activities of women, burial practices, and economic activities.’ (Geary, p.43)


So, to make a good conclusion it is to be said that women’s visual gender representation varies throughout centuries and countries. What is important is to understand how the social role of women has evolved greatly. Many women of different civilizations expressed their belonging to a specific social group using a visual representation of gender in an extraordinary way relevant to this or that century they lived in.

When being aware of the social roles of women of specific civilizations, it is easy to denote the reason for wearing unexpected ornaments, clothes, and jewels. Just like in India it is Bindi that shows you are married or special ceramics ancient Maya women were buried with indicates their social status.


Ardren, Traci. Ancient Maya Women.Ch. 5: Death Became Her: Images of Female Power from Yaxuna Burials. Press, 2002. Print. 68-88.

Geary, Patrick J.. The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe Ch. 2: Imagining Peoples in Antiquity.. Princeton University Press, 2002. Print. 41-62.

Thapar, Romila. Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300Excerpt: The Creation of Castes. University of California Press, 2002. Print. 62-67.

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StudyCorgi. "Women in the Ancient Maya Civilization." January 18, 2022.


StudyCorgi. 2022. "Women in the Ancient Maya Civilization." January 18, 2022.


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