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**


2 thoughts on “Let me just google that for you: a shout into the void

  1. Thanks for this excellent post. I look forward to reading the articles you’ve referenced. I study archaeological science, and even though it’s an “indoor” practice, the gender statistics are alarming. A group of archaeometallurgists recently did a survey and the results, if not unexpected, are depressing: Lots of female students, very few female professors. The results are here: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=ind1709&L=arch-metals&F=&S=&P=14179


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