Galentines and Mentors

Well, that last post hit a nerve didn’t it?

One of the points in there was about mentors- and a particular mentor who didn’t do the Batman slap thing when I wanged on about being post-feminist in 2008, when it was royally deserved by 20 year old me. So, seeing as it’s Galentines, and I didn’t manage to catch her today when I stopped in at Southampton (my usual routes home were a total traffic shitshow), I wanted to write about my PhD supervsior, Yvonne Marshall.

I first met Yvonne when she led the first year module from hell “Emergence of Civilization.” This was basically the archaeology of the entire world squashed into semester two- essential to do but hard work. And with Yvonne in charge it absolutely was the entire world- not Europe or Near East centric but with great attention paid to the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, South America, everywhere. It was a whirlwind tour with great projects- 1500 words on the domestication of a plant or animal of your choice and the archaeological evidence for this (I did llamas). I think I came to her attention through being a total pain in the arse- I would miss lectures to play rugby then try and be a smartarse in seminars. Yeuch. Still, Yvonne was warm and friendly and funny and didn’t tell me off and as I grew up a bit (a bit) I took more modules with her- Object Matters (materiality to the max) and then Feminism and Archaeology (third year course of dreams). Then I did my MA Social Archaeology, a programme she co-led with another lecturer, Etruscan specialist Vedia Izzet. Vedia and I had only met when I applied for funding for that MA, and sparks flew. We quickly plotted and executed a plan for a PhD in Etruscan archaeology that she would supervise. I would have a year of “Skills Acquisition” learning Italian, German, Latin and to read Etruscan while she was on research leave.

The problem was, life intervened, and Vedia didn’t come back. I had a funded PhD position and no Etruscan specialist supervisor. I panicked. The whole thing could have gone tits up, but Yvonne saved me. She persuaded a wonderful Roman archaeologist to be my adviser, introduced me to a brilliant prehistorian and Italy specialist (another fab mentor) and took me under her wing, telling me that while she didn’t know much about the Etruscans, she knew about good arguments and how to supervise a PhD. My god, she was right. Over the next three years she slowly and carefully helped me create a thesis totally unlike the original funding application but far braver, bolder, and more original. She spent hours (often at a local garden centre cafe) with me chiselling my prose to make it stronger, untangling overly complicated sentences, turning what she called “broccoli” into pointy “carrot” arguments. I still find reading my work a bit icky, but I’m proud of that first book/thesis and she is the only reason it exists and is any good.

She always encouraged and supported me, sharing her own experiences of the vagaries of academe. When I submitted two articles, one of which was accepted without corrections and the other returned without reviewing with a cruel email, she helped me focus on the positive by sharing her own rejection letter. That article was accepted with no corrections in a different journal, because it’s brilliant- the journal wasn’t. When I wrote an absolutely stinking pile of rubbish she gently said “well, it isn’t very good.” When I wrote strong arguments her smile and “we’re getting there” filled me with pride.

As I think I implied in that last post, I’m one of the “lucky” ones who has never been sexually harassed by another archaeologist (briefly stalked for a while by another postgrad who did that awful thing of stopping his horrible behaviour when he met my boyfriend, because obviously he can respect another man’s property but not a woman’s wishes, he was a philosopher though), so Yvonne never had to try and support me through that crap. But I know she was a pillar of support for so many, doing that typical female academic emotional labour that gets unpaid and unrecognised. On some days her office would be filled by people (usually women) in tears, sharing their problems of all kinds and getting the help they needed. Problem with your supervisor? Talk to Yvonne. Problem with your undergrad teaching? Talk to Yvonne. Feeling your mental health under strain? Talk to Yvonne.

I was so lucky to be able to talk to Yvonne so often through my PhD. I’m gutted I missed her today, even if I did see a different and also fabulous mentor. I owe her for every word I’ve ever written. Especially if it makes sense.

Thanks Yvonne. Happy Galentines.

Let me just google that for you: a shout into the void

TW: sexual assault, sexual harassment.

I am going to let out a feeling that I’ve had for the last few months, since #metoo broke. People keep saying “is this archaeology’s #metoo moment?” And this is irritating to me. Firstly, no it isn’t, because very few names are being named. That culture of silence and fear is nowhere near being broken.

And secondly, why would you even think it was? Do you really think that targets of assault, harassment and discrimination in archaeology are only just now speaking out and speaking up? Because, I can tell you, and really, a quick Google would tell you, that we have been speaking out about sexism, harassment, inequality, assault, for a long time. A really long time. Quick incomplete subjective catch up:

Joan Gero, 1985. Socio-Politics and the Woman-at-Home Ideology. American Antiquity, 50(2), 342-350.

Gero identifies the harmful stereotype of woman-at-home at work in archaeology as a discipline, with women systematically and deliberately restricted to indoor roles as finds analysts (for example) away from the glory of excavation: “she will have to do the archaeological housework.” Gero had data too- on who was doing what research over long periods of time, and who was getting funding. No prizes for guessing who did what and who got the cash: females daring to apply to dig got funded 15% of the time, compared to 28% of those applying for support with more traditional indoor projects.

Roberta Gilchrist, 1991. Women’s archaeology? Political feminism, gender theory and historical revision. Antiquity, 65(248), 495-501.

Gilchrist revisits and updates this problem, identifying the precarious nature of employment in (British) field archaeology as problematic for women, and exposing the small numbers of women in managerial positions.

Steph Moser, 1996. Science, stratigraphy and the deep sequence: Excavation vs regional survey and the question of gendered practice in archaeology. Antiquity, 70(270), 813-823.

A biographical approach exposing archaeological divisions of labour once again. Steph does it fantastically.

OK, up to this point, things are subtle. The signs are there, but you could miss them if you were just googling. There are problems. Unspoken but looming over all these examinations of gendered labour is the spectre of sexual assault and victim blaming- if you go out into the big bad male dominated field, you are putting yourself at risk. Better stay indoors and wash those pots.

Things get a little more explicit in the 00s. People are getting angrier.

Rita Wright. 2003. Gender matters – A question of Ethics. In Zimmerman et al (eds.) Ethical Issues in Archaeology. Rowman Altamira, 225-238.

Wright actually names the problem. She references the protection given by law to targets of sexual harassment, and she goes through the ethical codes of the profession, concluding that the SAA at that time did not address harassment or assault adequately. She lays out hypothetical situations, and argues forcefully that pushing the responsibility for protecting targets of sexual harassment onto the law (something I have seen time and again since the autumn- nothing changes, huh) is not an acceptable cop out for the discipline. Wright even suggests some solutions, which are familiar from recent discourse too, but they are not acceptable (to me) either: her suggestion that “individuals involved in sexual harassment may achieve a better long-term understanding of the rewards of changes in their behaviour” (p.234) privileges the research harassers publish over the horrific damage they cause and belies the serial nature of these predators. She also casually shoves responsibility for avoiding this crap onto targets: “women may still experience sexual harassment, [but] they may be more able to avoid being victimized by it.” (ibid). Ummmm, NO. This is basically the “toughen up, grow a thicker skin” approach that I know targets have been handed down by senior female mentors, women they asked for help only to get nothing.

Jane Eva Baxter et al, 2008. Mentoring Strategies for Women in Archaeology: a report of the 2008 COSWA working group. SAA Archaeological Record,

Oh, speaking of mentors! Here’s a bit of a pragmatic response to Wright’s paper, and harassment has made it onto this team of women’s top ten “qualities of a good mentor.” It’s explicitly addressed “8) Is aware of and actively counters subtle and not so subtle sexual discrimination and harassment” and more subtly (yet emphatically) referenced “6) Speaks out on behalf of mentees.” There’s a hint here: this problem is so widespread that EVERY mentor needs to be aware of it, on the look out for it, and protecting mentees from it. Hell of a statement.

And by the early/mid-teens, we are yelling academically. YELLING. WITH DATA folks.

Rachel Pope. 2011. Processual archaeology and gender politics. The loss of innocence. Archaeological Dialogues, 18(1), 59-86.

Such a powerful paper. Such a piece of writing. Personal, political, polemic. She describes the loneliness of being the only woman in the room, the vicious and deliberate sexist bullying of female speakers at conferences, the silencing of women with questions, the welcoming of new “chaps” into the club. So important too is Pope’s recognition that it may take time to recognise the problems in the discipline (I too remember telling a mentor that I felt we were “post-feminist,” and how she didn’t do a massive eye roll I do not know), including harassment, bullying and assault, and time to recognise that these things are wrong and are NOT the fault of targets. Also relevant to the current situation is the figure of the “good man,” the one male who calls out “where are the women?” and basks in satisfaction, lapping up the gratitude. Seen lots of those around lately- indeed, this post was partly inspired by one.

Kate Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, Katie Hinde. 2014. Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault. PLOS 1.

This is the really big one, the one I thought might split things open. Clancy and her team have data, they have social media, they are spreading the word. Things are awful. Assault is happening, there is evidence, our discipline is full of this toxic behaviour. There’s a Scientific American blog. Archaeologists retweet this, everyone is shocked. Then everyone seems to go back to sleep. Clancy and her team don’t, though, they keep gathering evidence and come back for more in 2017 with a devastating analysis of the intersection of race and gender and its implications for harassment and assault.

We didn’t either. We being Sara Perry, Jim Osborne, and yours truly. Digital Media, Power and (In)Equality in Archaeology and Heritage.  Internet Archaeology 38:4

Sara had identified a new field of harassment and abuse: the digital realm. Jim and I were research assistants, helping gather data and write this article. We not only documented abuse (and the high likelihood that men were suffering too) but we sought out solutions- pragmatic ones, ones that would have an impact on harassers and predators: universities working together instead of separately to deal with incidents, for example. We argued that it is the duty of care of institutions to protect staff and students from harassment- however it comes. We were excited. So was our corner of the Twittersphere. Nobody took our recommendations on (to my knowledge). Cue lots of people recently wondering about solutions to digital abuse in academe and me hitting my head with my phone a lot.

Phew. There we are. From subtle to scream, digging to the digital. We told you. We told you this was happening.

We suggested solutions that have been ignored.

We ran events and workshops to try and eradicate biases (part of this post was inspired by seeing an institution ask if anyone had done any wiki-editathons- the Women’s Classical Caucus has for YEARS done what I thought were well publicized events like this but they obviously went unseen).

We asked mentors for help and tried to show them how they could help.

We gathered data to prove the nature and extent of these problems.

We shared experiences, which disappeared into the ether of concerned absentmindedness. We did this formally and informally- through blogs and papers- I literally gave a paper on harassment, gendered bullying and androcentric interpretation (all interlinked phenomena) in my subdiscipline in MARCH 2016!

And I am left sitting here, typing this, feeling the same old frustration that I’m wired to look inward, to victim blame. Did we not shout loud enough?

NO. I’m not having that. I think there’s quite a lot of evidence, some of which I’ve referenced here, that we were shouting and shouting loudly. Archaeology just didn’t want to listen. And honestly, in spite of all the earnestness and good intentions I’ve seen voiced online, I still don’t think the discipline wants to listen, still less to change, even to extending the tiny generosity of googling (or, to be very fair, google scholaring) an issue before pronouncing on it. I hope I’m wrong. I’ll wait and see.

**I’ve used first names if I have met you, surnames if I haven’t. I hope that’s ok**