Tuesday 16 April 2013

What Pieces Of Work Are Men? When Will They Stop Abusing Power & When Will The Abuse Of Women In Anthropology Cease To Exist?

This image appears today on the home page of UC Berkeley's Department of Integrative Biology. Pope's Pit Viper(Trimeresurus popeiorum), a venomous species that is widely distributed across SE Asia (Photo Yu Zeng). My reason for including it here and for remarking on its source should become evident further down.
Time check. The year is 2013, not 1963. But you wouldn't know it if you'd just woken up after a 50-year-long nap.

In the last few days, the world has learned something that may just leave you incredulous...
Anthropologist Kate Clancy and her collaborators have made public the results of a study that, bottom line, tells us that gender bias, the 'chilly climate,' and sexual harassment are ongoing in anthropology---most egregiously, in field situations. Go here to see what Kate has to say on her blog, which is the closest you'll to a publication in the short term. Their findings were presented at the recent American Association of Physical Anthropology annual meeting.
Clancy et al. found no difference in the rate at which women and men
reported observing or experiencing sexual harassment (Source: Scientific American).
I can't help feeling ashamed---I'm a male anthropologist. You can believe it or not. [That I'm ashamed, not that I'm a male!] [Although it is true that many times in my life I've been made an honorary woman amongst groups of women for what are some very unmasculine behaviours and beliefs.] [But that's only marginally important in the context of today's rant.] In the last twenty or so years I've witnessed firsthand the persistent and pernicious sentiments and acts of my male [I'm ashamed, too, to call them] colleagues---at best, exclusionary, at worst, expressions that could only be seen as the result of deep-seated hatred of the other sex.

I'm writing down some recollections here, aimed at underlining how grotesque and shameful it is that in 2013 people in our discipline are still being subjected to behavior that was considered beyond the pale by the majority of anthropologists more than forty years ago.

Age conflates memory. So, if any of the following statements evince temporal discontinuities between my memory and the events themselves, I can only say "These are my feelings. This is how I see things today."

I'm an anthropologist, first, an archaeologist, second, and a physical anthropologist, third. That means my constant goal is to make new knowledge about who and what we are as a) a species with an evolutionary history, b) cultures, each with its own historically contingent trajectory, and c) individuals who are acted upon and in turn act upon their culture and other individuals within that culture.

I've just passed my 60th birthday. It means that I was born a mere seven years after Rosy the Riveter packed away her overalls and was, once again, relegated to purely domestic duty so that members of the 'real' work-force could get back to 'their' work after the British Empire's and the United States' militaries had saved the world from Hirohito, Hitler and Mussolini's tyranny. [It should be noted that, as has been so often the case in the home over the past 60 years, saving the world from tyranny couldn't have been achieved without the help of droves of women in the military who worked for little recognition in support of 'the war effort.']

I can't be expected to remember those first few years of my life in the 1950s and the early 1960s. However, I do recall that my high-school and college years were spent opposing the U.S.-led Viet Nam 'police action' at the same time as me and others of my sex were asked to throw our support behind what came to be known as the 'Women's Liberation' movement. Hold that thought.

Alongside my experience of those times, social and cultural anthropology were going through a profound re-orientation brought about by their embrace of, on the one hand, Marxist theory, and on the other hand the revelation that the rules governing what were considered masculine and feminine roles varied depending on the culture---i.e. that gender was a cultural construction, and not a biological recipe. As if a great light-bulb had been lit, anthropologists began to treat other peoples less as museum specimens and more like rosetta stones of their individual cultures and of 'capital C' Culture. To my mind Marx's influence was strongest in the insights he gave us about 'power relations' at any scale you cared to investigate---interpersonal, intra-familial, intra-community, class, and so on.

The 60s and 70s were also a time when a great schism appeared among social and cultural anthropologists and between social and cultural anthropology and archaeology and physical anthropology---the two fields that usually dealt impersonally with members of their subject populations. All the while, archaeologists and physical anthropologists preferred to maintain the untenable stance that their endeavours were apolitical and scientific, and therefore objective. As if.

I came of age in the late 1960s, when the Black Panthers and the Students for a Democratic Society and other grassroots efforts were salient features of, especially, the North American consciousness. It was the time of sit-ins and teach-ins and love-ins and consciousness raising and, yes, the women's liberation movement. The Simon Fraser University Archaeology Department was formed as a direct offshoot of the political foment in four-field anthropology and in political science that coincided with and further incited the social upheaval in the larger culture. In the present day that department might be excused for its particular history. I would say so if it weren't for empirical evidence to the contrary.

In the late 90s the human paleontologists at UC Berkeley chose to disavow anthropology and join with the Integrative Biology section of the university. To this day it seems as if archaeology and human paleontology exist in a bubble that time forgot. That's why I'm less than surprised and more than dismayed at the news that the abuse of power, gender bias and sexual harrassment are alive and well and living in 'the field.'

For most archaeologists and human paleontologists 'the field' is where the real work begins and ends. Days and weeks are spent in (often) remote places with groups of people sometimes running into the dozens, and all needing to get along and pull together. It's here, according to Clancy and her collaborators that the institutional restraints on abuses are cast off or conveniently forgotten, and the social life of a woman can become a flashback to a bygone time. I've seen it. I've heard about it. I've experienced it. I might have hoped for better. It's as if the history of anthropological thought never happened.

I hope that my few recollections have to some degree put these anachronistic abuses in context, and helped to explain the shame that I feel as an anthropologist, the anger that I harbour for abusive anthropologists, and the profound sadness that I feel for our discipline, which has so much to offer, but which is undermined and perverted by misogyny and the abuse of power.

Let's not let this moment pass unremarked. Be good subversives, y'alls, and take every opportunity to talk to your students, your fellow students, your colleagues, your instructors, and your superiors. Only in this way, I think, will it be possible for anthropology to shed for the last time its reptilian skin and grow into the powerful voice for human dignity that it professes to be.


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