Womens Work: a (mini) book review

I have to admit that I wavered back and forth between two of Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s books, both Women’s Work and Prehistoric Textiles. I opted for Women’s Work solely because the university library had a copy I could read for free, verus the $50 price tag on the Prehistoric Textiles book. Having read the one, I realize I will very likely, at some point, buy the other. I enjoyed Women’s Work quite a bit, despite her tendency to treat the religious lives of prehistoric and early historic peoples as rather simple. They can figure out how to sustain fire, how to take plant matter and make fine thread to weave into elaborate cloth, they can create complex writing systems, but their religious understanding is base and under-developed and unsophisticated? This is a prevailing approach to indigenious religious history within academia which has gotten better with the passage of time, but is not yet perfect. More specifically, my issue with Barber’s writing is more one of inconsistency. In a number of places she goes from talking about the instances of textiles in relation to ‘Slavic pagan’ goddesses right on into the weaving of Athena’s peplos in Athens. Not once does she preface Athena with ‘pagan’, so the need to do so with any other non-Hellenic or non-Roman goddess was incredibly annoying. This is, however, a minor flaw, and does not detract from the rest of the book. Over all it was interesting read . . .

. . . and not nearly textbook-y enough for me. I want groupings broken up by time period and location. I want to read about the weaving within the context of cultural developement and advancement. I want plates and maps and time lines. I want, in essence, the other book.

See, but now I know I want the other book.


4 thoughts on “Womens Work: a (mini) book review

  1. Dani

    Excellent mini book review. In particular, I found your observation about academia’s bias against the complexity of prehistoric/early historic religion quite intriguing. I think you make a good point, and it makes me wonder how/why that bias developed. Do some more research and let me know. ;-p

    1. Jolene Post author

      You are quite wretched 😉

      Academia’s bias against the complexity of prehistoric/early historic religion drives me up the flippin’ wall. You may notice from time to time.

  2. Lyra Rose

    I’m not a weaver, but this book soudns interesting. Especially since it mentions Athena, and She was the very first Goddess I ever was drawn to (and She still has a place in my life today).

    1. Jolene Post author

      She didn’t mention Athena a whole lot; in fact, most of it was the story of the peplos that was woven annually for her in Athens, simple mentioned time and again. It was an interesting book that really just made me want to read the other one instead.


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