Of Warriors and Working Women
Gender in Later Prehispanic Mesoamerica
and the Andes
The visual imagery of female deities (such as the decapitated Mexica goddess Coyolxauhqui; see fig. 2.1) is captivating and has drawn much attention from those interested in the later prehistory of indigenous women before the arrival of Europeans. Such complex, often contradictory, images offer scholars rich but often puzzling materials for interpreting and understanding women's lives, their statuses, and gender ideologies in the complex cultures and civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Andes. In many cultures, such as those of the pre-Inka Andes, visual materials constitute some of the few pieces of information available about women in the prehistoric past, and finding voices, reconstructing individual identities, or reading agency from representations and remains presents interpretive challenges. Nevertheless, such images, often dramatic in nature, offer a window onto the gendered worlds of the Latin American prehispanic past, especially those of the Classic and Postclassic periods for Mesoamerica and the Middle Horizon through late Horizon periods for the Andes, when urban, class-based societies developed.
Mesoamerica alone can serve almost as a laboratory for examining women's lives, social patterns, and statuses because the cultures of the Classic (C.E. 150–900) and Postclassic (C.E. 900–1521) offer a surprisingly broad spectrum of gendered arrangements and social valuations of women.1 They include the gender arrangements of peoples ranging from the hunting, gathering, and cultivating groups of Mesoamerica's far north to the more urban and hierarchically organized Nahuas, to the Ñudzahui people of Oaxaca (also known as the Mixtec), who developed the most seemingly egalitarian gender arrangements of any Mesoamerican cultural group. While the Maya of southern Mesoamerica, a broad and enduring cluster of linguistically and culturally related groups, developed gender patterns characterized by more gender asym