Saturday 15 November 2014

Stand With Me—Pledge To End Harassment And Assault In Archaeology

There is no gray area here.

Either you stand with me or you stand against me. If you do not stand with me, you are not welcome here.

If you do stand with me you are committing yourself—regardless of your culture or your sex—to treating with decency and respect every person you come in contact with, whether that be in the home, the workplace, the classroom, or the field.

That commitment shall extend to males and females—heterophilic, homophilic, and everything in between—all genders, skin colours, nationalities, religions, and social or economic status.

With respect to all people I stand for no sexual, physical, or emotional harassment or assault, with the sole arbiter of what 'harassment' and 'assault' mean being only that person who feels that someone else's behaviour is discomforting, threatening, or worse.

If you stand with me, there is no room for cultural relativity or for appeals to tradition or history. That goes for the Abrahamic religions—including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—as much as it does for atheism, agnosticism, polytheism, the ancient cosmologies of Iran and India, and traditional, indigenous, and other folk or mainstream belief systems.

My intolerance of tradition in this regard goes double for the puritanical sects of Christianity that still wield enormous influence in many parts of English speaking North America and elsewhere. Those, which hide behind abstractions like "Family Values," are shown through impeccable scientific research, over and over, to be the reason behind high rates of rape, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, unwanted pregnancy, and yes, abortion, especially in the United States, but by no means limited to that nation.

And it's the long history of misogyny and homophobia in the Abrahamic religions—especially Christianity—that I believe has brought us to this place today. It's a place we've been before. It's a place that we should long since have erased from our social lives.

[Just an aside: I'm appalled that, after many, many months of irregular [at best] contributions to the Subversive Archaeologist, my return for this reason is hardly an auspicious one.]

Robert J. Muckle, a long-time friend of the Subversive Archaeologist, has just published "On Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Archaeology" in the November 2014 SAA Archaeological Record, The Magazine of the Society for American Archaeology, in which he gives his personal and professional response to this summer's “Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault” (PLoS ONE, July 16, 2014), by anthropologists Kathryn Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, and Katie Hinde.

These scholars have quantified what, for many of us, are seen in ones and twos, perhaps in a lifetime. But those experiences are multiplied by the number of potential workplaces here in North America and across the globe.

The authors asked people in academic fieldwork disciplines some questions regarding their own experience of sexual harassment and assault. As Bob Muckle points out, almost a quarter of the more than 600 respondents were archaeologists!

Theirs is not a random sample. The respondents self-selected. The authors sought participants in two brief periods in early 2013.
Links to the survey on field experiences were posted on Facebook group pages for the Evolutionary Anthropology Society Social Network, Biological Anthropology Developing Investigators Troop, Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association, Membership of the American Society of Primatologists, and BioAnthropology News. These links were then shared and retweeted by colleagues and disseminated using chain referral sampling (in a snowball manner).
Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass if the 'sample' is skewed toward those having experienced a hostile, and frequently dangerous, work environment. That this is happening AT ALL is beyond comprehension, and its perpetrators are despicable, and should be blackballed [sorry to use such a gendered expression—I think I can be forgiven under the circumstances]. That I have left out the possibility of rehabilitation is, merely, personal—I have little hope for reconstructing the mind-set of people who're capable of such acts.

Here's the makeup of the survey participants.

Here are a few lowlights of the findings.

And finally

Clancy et al.'s work might just as well have been researched and written in 1964, or '84, or '04 with the same outcome. And yet, the behaviour that's portrayed in this article persists today, across the United States and across the globe. Never mind archaeology in countries where the dominant cultural customs overtly oppress women, or specific ethnic groups, or non-heterophilic sexual orientations—THESE observations arise, for the most part, from field experiences shared with people who could be living down the street from you, in the next row in your college class, or at the front of that class (evidently a very common perch for perpetrators).

Yep. Middle Americans. Mild-mannered Canadians. Stiff-upper lipped British.

I entered the academy relatively late in life, in my 30s, and thus I can only record what I know of the last 30 years or so. They're still there. Androcentric, androcratic, misogynistic, homophobic, bigoted, dick-heads [yes, ladies and gentlemen, these people might as well have penises for heads]. They were there when I began.

Bob Muckle's commentary is valuable for his own recollections—as a fieldworker, field school leader, university professor, and anthropologist; Clancy et al.'s paper is disquieting, to say the least.

To show just how far we haven't come, I'll leave you with a light-hearted finale. Mary Sellers was able to joke, wryly, about the female field experience in her 1973 gut-busting "THE SECRET NOTEBOOK FOR THE PRACTICING ARCHAEOLOGIST: WITH PRELIMINARY NOTES TOWARD AN ETHNO-SCIENCE OF ARCHAEOLOGY," (Plains Anthropologist 18:140-148). As she put it,
     The Role of Women in Archaeology, or Women's Lib for an archaeologist is digging up two female skeletons in one day. Let's be clear: there is no discrimination against women in archaeology. They are to be found in classrooms, in summer field schools, and as wives of archaeologists. (The phrase male archaeologist is redundant.) Successful female archaeologists (read married to an archaeologist) are employed in small colleges, preferably female ones; in historical, classical, and even in archaeological museums and laboratories. Frequently they do ethnohistorical research. Usually, they help their husbands in the field.
     Few females without predilections for marrying archaeologists are attracted to field work crews. Mixed crews will continue to pose problems for supervisors concerned with decorum until the status of the Female Archaeologist is redefined, although most geared-for-success female archaeology students need little supervision in the field. They display domestic traits such as washing, sorting, reconstructing, and cataloging artifacts. To call these girls "camp followers" as many informants do is unjust. They are fulfilling important ecological niches in the profession and, without them on summer digs and in classrooms, it is doubtful that many archaeologists would get married—or remarried. They would have to change their current wife-securing procedures. It is important here to recognize the functional-structural significance of the summer feel cruise.
Wouldn't it be nice if this were just a quaint recounting of a long-since extinguished social reality?

Take the poll at the top of the sidebar. Let's give the bastards a show of numbers.


  1. I'm surprised. In 15 years of working in archaeology I know of only one case of physical harassment and the person in question was not an archaeologist and was fired the next day. Certainly half if not more than half of the crews these days are women. Exactly two thirds of the companies I have worked for were owned by women. My experience is entirely anecdotal, subjective, and statistically meaningless, but it does make me a bit skeptical. I also don't know what "inappropriate comments" means. Could be anything? Was it defined in the survey? Allowing self defined assessment of what constitutes an inappropriate comments is somewhat worrying to me in terms of what sort of censorship that might lead to. I once had a complaint against me to a supervisor because I "took the lords name in vain" while digging in particularly rocky soil, and that made her uncomfortable. Obviously, I watched my tongue around her after that, but the point I'm making here is that speech is dynamic and many times offense is taken where none is meant. What constitutes inappropriate speech should be, and can be clearly defined, and not left to subjective interpretation.

    1. Hi, DH. Thanks for your personal reflections. I should prolly start by saying I hope you don't find offensive or disquieting what I'll now say in response! I'm pleased to hear that you've observed only one occasion of [physical] assault in 15 years. Of course, you'll probably already know that sexual assault almost never happens in public, and almost always goes unreported. So, it may have been happening throughout your decade and a half, quite under your nose [regardless of the sex ratio or the sex of the person running the show]. The same is almost certainly true of coercive, threatening, or merely unwelcome comments. As for the words themselves, and the threshold for appropriate vs. inappropriate discourse: I was explicit in my blurt, although I'd have to say that my meaning could've been obscured by my sententiousness. For what it's worth, I'll paraphrase. As was the case with the person who didn't appreciate your swearing, and for whom you altered your behaviour, the only opinion that matters—where appropriate interpersonal relations and discourse are concerned—is just that person who perceives your or my behaviour toward them—or in their presence—as discomforting, threatening, or worse. Sorry, you disagree, but I don’t think we need a judge to say what is and isn’t ‘appropriate.’ If one’s words make someone feel uncomfortable, and they tell that person, and that person persists, regardless of however harmless they think that behaviour might have been, the situation shouldn’t require arbitration, even if that is one possible outcome. [Please note that, as Clancy et al. and Bob Muckle point out, not everyone is aware of the policy or the process, nor is a process always available, or appropriately structured to ensure that it’s used and that complainants receive prompt attention]. The terms ‘harassment’ and ‘assault’ aren’t reserved for legal proceedings—they occur every day, with or without overtly legal disapprobation. And if you or I ‘don’t get it,’ neither you nor I should be permitted to work in the presence of anyone for whom our behaviour represents an uncomfortable or hostile work environment. Full stop. Take the pledge!

  2. Great post Rob. Just a follow-up to my short piece on the topic. I mentioned that as I was writing the article, one of my students was experiencing sexual harassment. I am glad to say the student reported the harassment to the employer, and after an immediate investigation, the harasser was fired. I like archaeology, but have far too many memories of witnessing harassment, primarily senior males (eg. grad students, site directors and supervisors) harassing undergraduate females on excavations projects, ranging from comments, jokes, manipulating work schedules, pressure for to party, and more. That this kind of behavior still happens is very disconcerting. I, for one, will not stay silent. I'm with you.

    1. Thanks, Bob. I fear that Clancy et al.'s and your article will provoke no sea change in our field or any other, so entrenched is the hatred of women in our societies.


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