Cultural and Historical Views of Women in Ancient Mayan Civilization through Sculpture

Date
2019
Authors
Ellis, Dusty
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Office of the Vice President for Research
Abstract

My hypothesis is that most women were oppressed to a specific gender role in the Maya culture until Yohl Ik’nal became the first female ruler in their history; this event created a new culture of respect and acceptance for females in higher castes from then on. Women in the Mayan society prior to the reign of Yohl Ik’nal were viewed only as maternal and supportive symbols to the community; however, elite women were treated with a greater degree of respect but not quite as equals to the men until after her reign. Not only were these women only viewed as motherly and nurturing, but they were also placed into set gender roles that shifted based on their age. This is shown strongly through Mayan lore and deities. One, amongst several pieces of evidence regarding females being held in lower regard before the reign of Yohl Ik’nal, can be seen through the tale of the hero twins where one of the brothers loses his level of deference because he becomes a female in the afterlife. Another can be seen through Ix Chel who represented women throughout the stages of their lives; however, more often than not she was more closely associated with pregnancy, which shows how women were forced into a set gender role until after the crowning of Yohl Ik’nal, despite this particular goddess having a multitude of other godly gifts. There are very few exceptions to the role of women in society until Ixtab who is not as much of an anomaly as she may seem and is not completely out of the realm of female gender roles because she was created to serve men, which was how females were regarded before Yohl Ik’nal. The mythological aspects and folklore of a society helped to shape how this society interacted with one another within their community, which is how the Goddesses served to connote females as a weaker gender but was quickly disproven by Yohl Ik’nal which is shown through the later crowing of another female queen. It wasn’t until Yohl Ik’nal that the noble woman had the ability to gain respect because she defied previous standards that had been held over their heads since the beginning of civilization. Although Mayan women were gaining new found respect among their male peers, it was only for those who were fortunate to have been born into an elite position of the caste system; this is due to one not being able to marry outside of their caste, which means that one could not travel up in the hierarchy, leaving the change in society that Yohl Ik’nal set in motion only to this group. Yohl Ik’nal was the first liberator and rebel against the Mayan female gender roles set upon elite women, disproving the heavily connoted assumption of weakness in females, which created a new dynasty of respect for this subgroup of people in the Mayan society.

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