feminist lens in archaeological interpretation

Random Musings While Surveying 75 Miles in 8 Days – Women in the Field of Archaeology

*Note: I am posting this for a friend out in the field.*

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By Emily M. Long

All undergraduate archaeology theory courses briefly cover the introduction of a feminist lens in archaeological interpretation, with it typically tied in with post-modernism and post-processualism. Numerous articles and books outline the importance of looking beyond gendered perspectives (i.e. it’s unlikely that only men knew how to create stone tools, etc.). What is not covered in—or at least does not appear to be— academic courses and beyond is the need for the mere presence of women in the field, in the actual practice of archaeology. Multiple viewpoints are a good thing. As a post-processual/processual- plus archaeologist (yes, I’m one of those archaeologists), I’m all for varying interpretations of the archaeological record (within reason).

However, are we actually seeing this happening in the field? In my, albeit short, career as an archaeologist, it is not unusual for me to be the only female archaeologist in a Federal agency office or on a CRM crew. Why?

Obviously, the Women in Archaeology blog and podcast indicate that we are out there, but is it enough of a presence? There could be any number of reasons why I tend to be the lone wolf. It could be regional. There could be more women in office-bound/higher- up positions, so I simply don’t see them in the field. And yet, as woman in her early 30s, I just don’t see very many women in my age group and up directly in the field. I remember there were far more women than men studying archaeology at my college. I remember there were far more women than men at my field school. I remember there were only female interns at the various archaeology internships in which I participated. So, where are they now?

I recently read Charles J. Peliska’s ‘Results of a Survey for Field Archaeologists/Cultural Managers’ for an episode of the Women in Archaeology Podcast. I highly recommend checking it out, as it gives some insight into how we’re being paid, what the job market looks like, issues of discrimination, etc. There were two things that particularly struck me: 1) the decrease of archaeologists in their 40s and up, and 2) the relatively high rate of those who have witnessed or were the victim of sexual harassment.

Addressing age, Peliska notes that the physicality and inconsistency of our work can cause archaeologists to shift careers. Furthermore, since many of the current positions in CRM and at Federal agencies tend to be seasonal, health insurance, retirement plans, and maternity leave are typically not provided. After a certain age, you have to start thinking about the future. With a busted knee, I know I need to consider what the future holds in store for me (i.e. employment with healthcare). I do wonder if the absence of older archaeologists working in the field may have a connection to the lack of childcare offered. You can’t exactly strap a child to your back while surveying. What needs to change to better support field archaeologists in order to keep them in the field?

As for sexual harassment, sadly, I’m not too surprised at the high rate of incidents witnessed or experienced. Of the 479 survey participants, 60.9% had seen/heard sexual jokes but no one seemed openly uncomfortable, and 30.3% had witnessed or been the victim of jokes or teasing of a sexual nature. Harassment and sexual discrimination can come in a variety of forms, some of which may seem harmless at the time. I find that ‘casual sexism’ is far more prevalent than overt sexism—at least in my experience. For example, I was the assistant crew chief for a large-scale project in which the crew chiefs were changed each session. One of these crew chiefs would only ask my male coworker for project information, assistance with equipment, etc. He would have been mortified if I said he was being sexist, but his actions said otherwise. Has casual to overt sexism made it such a difficult work environment that women tend to veer away from field jobs at a certain point?

So, here are some questions to end this stream of conscious-esque article:

1. How does fieldwork need to change?

2. How do we encourage more women to work in the field?

3. What needs to change to make the practice of archaeology a more welcoming environment?

4. How can we, as a community of archaeologists, create a zero tolerance policy for all kinds of harassment?

5. In what ways can Federal agencies and CRM companies provide support to archaeologists with families?

6. How can archaeology societies/organizations better approach issues of discrimination and harassment?


Works Cited:

Peliska, Charles J.

2016 Results of A Survey for Field Archaeologists/Cultural Resource Managers. Electronic document, https://docs.google.com/document/d/15v_MIeKg3VOEPUYsU-ZbOvbrvOZSlGu1GtRGmwnFBv0/pub, accessed May 27, 2016.