International Women's Day and other gender related musings
|Kenyon excavating at Jericho. Photo from Archaeology International http://www.ai-journal.com/article/view/ai.1321/89|
Which brings me onto the second subject of today's musings, women in archaeology, or women in academia generally. I hope things have improved since Kenyon's time, but I worry they may not have improved as much as I'd thought. Until recently (I'm ashamed to say) I had never been one for thinking too much about equality and women's issues. I was fortunate enough to grow up in an environment and attend a school that was pretty good, and as an undergraduate I never felt I was discriminated against (at least not in my academic life). St Hughs is probably one of the more socially diverse of the Oxford colleges, but I was very still very aware that many of my peers came from families that were much better off than my own which gave them certain advantages. But in terms of grades (my main concern!), my gender and background did not matter.
As I have moved up the academic ranks, equality issues are more and more apparant to me as I become aware of the potential impact on my career, and as they have started to affect me personally. These musings have been inspired largely by a colleague of mine, Dr Sara Perry, who made a recent blog post about her negative experiences http://saraperry.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/gender-and-digital-culture/ . Sara talks about her experiences of being harassed via digital media and social networking. Although I've never faced anything as extreme, I have definitely have been subjected to appearance related comments which have made me uncomfortable, and which I highly doubt I would face as a man. The most common being variations of "you look too young to be a Dr", "real life Lara Croft", to the really annoying "would your parents approve of you doing that" and being addressed by one person as "young lady". And more recently "you won't be able to do all this travelling when you have a family" (which I completely disagree with, but that's a topic for another day!). Although most of these are not intended to offend, it still gets tiresome. It makes me worry about how I dress, how I wear my hair, should I wear makeup or not? How will people judge me if I don't get it right? Will they take me seriously? Is it my fault? Would people make these sorts of comments if I was a man? Ok, so I know people make the Indiana Jones comment to male colleagues, but at least the key features of his character arn't tiny hotpants and large boobs.
It is also quite telling that I have never felt comfortable commenting or making my opinion known on these things, for fear of negative consequences. Thanks to discussions with Sara and her excellent blogging, I have come to realise I am not unique in having these experiences, which is unfortunate, but at least a relief that it is not something to face alone. It is for this reason that I volunteered to join the Athena Swan Assessment Panel for The School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Edinburgh. Athena Swan is a charter scheme to advance gender equality particularly in science, engineering and technology, but is being extended to the humanities and social sciences. As a panel member for SHCA I will be helping to benchmark the School and develop an action plan for improvement. I am also hoping to work with Sara to develop a support network for women working in all areas of archaeology and heritage, from academia to the commerical sector. More on all of this at a later date!