Despite the growth and success of feminist archaeology, women in archaeology still face issues not necessarily encountered by their male counterparts in the 21st Century. Legacies of past discrimination, particularly the perceived and/or actual demands of family life, have resulted in disproportionate fewer women working at research institutions in many disciplines, including archaeology. This disturbing trend has profound implications for not only the direction of current archaeological research, but also the training of future scholars.

This blog is a forum for advocating for women archaeologists so that we can move beyond legacies of inequity to a future that strengthens a feminine voice in archaeology and a feminist perspective. We contend that the very practice of archaeology is skewed towards a masculine and hierarchical perspective that excludes consensus building and “minority opinions” when interpreting the past. We argue that the feminine voice brings unique and necessary elements to the discipline of archaeology, through values such as mentoring and collaboration. We also clarify that a feminist perspective is not limited to any one gender, class, race, ethnicity or sexuality. Rather a feminist perspective is a radical point of view; one that recognizes that women’s success professionally and personally is integrally tied to larger socio-political movements dedicated to the eradication of homophobia, racism, and androcentrism.

Our hope is to solicit advice, perspectives, and experiences from all realms of the archaeological profession- including tenure-track and adjunct faculty, CRM professionals, and those not currently employed or underemployed. The ultimate goal of the blog is to shift the realities of power experienced in the daily lives of women archaeologists by discussing, inventing and offering solutions to the challenges of professional life.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Women Leave Academia

Readers may not be aware of a couple of articles, which I found very exciting, thought provoking, and in line with this blog’s interests. The first was published in the The Guardian’s Higher Education Network section/blog and is entitled “Why Women Leave Academia and Why Universities Should Be Worried,” (see While this post comes from “across the pond,” that does not diminish its value in my view. I suspect the findings discussed in this post (which are myriad) are likely at play here in North America. Among them are issues relating to relative lack of self-confidence, a lack of available role models, the overly competitive nature of academia, and the fact that the pressures are not congruent with the desires of many women for raising a family. Granted, the discipline on which the article focuses is chemistry, however, in my experience anthropology is not necessarily or appreciably different in its demands.

I would also like to point out that the comments posted at the bottom of the article are equally intriguing. Those posting, including male readers, also point out the role that class is playing in discouraging students from continuing into academia. I would like to assert that I believe this also remains an issue here to at least some extent. Within my admittedly limited observations I’ve noted that those coming from backgrounds in which the parents are professionals, sometimes even professors, and/or are of greater economic means are also the same ones who find themselves not only in academia but at more prestigious institutions both as students and later as professors.

The second article is related to the first in that it notes the opening of a permanent exhibit at Cambridge honoring archaeologist Dorothy Garrod, the first female professor at that institution in 1939 ( Her appointment came at a time when women were not admitted as students and were not allowed to be full members. When senior members of the university elected her to the Disney Professor of Archaeology it presented them with a quandary, which they solved by referring to her in all correspondence “he”. Her struggles with discrimination helped pave the way for women students to enter Cambridge as equals in 1948. But article also mentions two other points that I found relevant. Her fiancĂ© died in World War I, and she never married. In addition, some perceived Garrod as formidable and even terrifying, as one woman related of her childhood encounters.

These comments remind me of one of the quotes in the first article stating that “Successful female professors are perceived by female PhD candidates as displaying masculine characteristics, such as aggression and competitiveness, and they were often childless.” In pointing out these observations I would not in any respect wish to take away anything from Garrod’s accomplishments, which were many and made at a difficult time for women in science. I simply want to highlight the place mentors have in making a field attractive or feasible, or not, to those who come after or along side of us. I have seen childless women in archaeology that I, too, considered to be formidable, but fortunately there were those who were kind and approachable and had children, making it appear possible to do the work and have a life that includes family beyond archaeology or academia.

I would welcome comments and stories from others as to how they approach the challenge of balancing family and work, whether in academic or non-academic positions. I realize for some this is not so much an issue if the choice to not have children has been made. But for those who have traveled this path, it may be useful to share our support and experiences. I for one have a very supportive spouse, but I also only have one child. Having a child while in graduate school did indeed slow my progress considerably toward the degree. In recent years, since my son turned four, I have often taken him with me in the field where he sometimes screens soil or back fills shovel tests (when he’s not looking for insects or non-artifact rocks) and to public presentations for children where he has actually been quite helpful. I look forward to, hopefully, a few more years of this until mom and her work are no longer ‘cool’.
                                         My son, Alexander, and I volunteered on a project 
                                         of Sarah Surface-Evans' in Emmet County, Michigan, 
                                         August 2012.


  1. Why the assumption that successful women academics who don't have children are trying to emulate men, be aggressive, and/or competitive, and are formidable and not approachable? It really rubs me the wrong way how "childless" and/or unmarried women are characterized in the linked articles, and in this post, as cold and uncaring. I am childless because I don't want to bring a child into this mess of a world. It has nothing to do with feeling constrained by my profession. For me, it is very much a moral and ethical issue.
    Having said that, despite not having children I do have to negotiate my professional and personal/family life. I have a domestic partner, parents, siblings, and extended family. I am faced with issues like delaying my field season for a month to attend my niece's high school graduation. That is a family-work balance issue, isn't it? Families vary, and the assumption that only those with children face these balancing acts is false.
    I understand that a number of women academics have to contend with rigid expectations, a lack of consideration by some of their peers, and very real structural issues that create inequities. But, I don't need to have children or be married to appreciate the variety of personal considerations and decisions that people must make. And I would hope people understand that I, too, have to negotiate family and professional life. Childless= formidable, and having children=kind and approachable?! This blanket thinking is inaccurate, and offensive.

  2. I doubt that Misty intended to convey the message that you received - that childless academics are inherently cold and uncaring. Instead, I think the issue is that childless academics do often have a bit more freedom or predictability in their time usage - although that time may be taken up by caring for parents or other activities that are similar to raising children - which makes their way of life just a bit more amenable to the demands of academia. Those that do manage to balance family, teaching, grant writing, and publishing do not often reveal their secrets to young women - maybe because they are rushing home to pick up a child.

    I am a childless academic and I am not cold and uncaring. I try to mentor whenever I can but I cannot give good advice on juggling kids and careers. If those that have done this successfully took the time to tell us about it it would help me improve my mentoring and help us all to break down this stereotype.

  3. Margaret and April, thank you for your comments. While I cannot speak for Misty, I also do not think that it was her intent to suggest that female academics without children are less compassionate. For me, the articles that she shared suggest to me that there are two ridiculous stereotypes that mis-characterize female academics: Women who have or adopt children are viewed as too feminine and not dedicated to their career v. Women who do not have children are portrayed with masculine traits (competitive, formidable, etc). I think we can all agree that both of these stereotypes are detrimental for young women pursuing academic careers. These articles also highlight the importance of mentoring; particularly in helping female students consider how they might find balance in their personal and professional lives.

    As you point out, women often have a wide variety of personal and family demands to negotiate, regardless of whether they have children. This situation is why it is extremely important to share successful strategies for negotiating these various demands with our students. I had very few female role models (there were actually no female faculty at my undergraduate institution!). Almost none of the faculty members (male or female) that I worked with in undergraduate or graduate school ever acknowledged that they had any personal considerations at all. Consequently, I did not receive much mentoring in strategies for achieving work/life balance. While it did not deter me from pursuing an academic career (although I can't say I haven't explored other options from time to time), I know other women who decided to leave academia because they felt that it was impossible to achieve a balance between their personal lives and their work.

    I personally feel that we do our students a disservice when we conceal the complexities of our lives. But I also understand the immense institutional pressures placed on academics and how any admission that you have a life outside of your office may be viewed unfavorably in the competitive academic environment. The need for mentoring is one of the reasons that I felt it was important to develop this blog and create a community in which we could offer advice to each other. I welcome contributions that address the complex issues surrounding work/life balance.

    ~Sarah Surface-Evans

  4. Thank you all for your comments. April's comments do in fact reflect my thoughts. I know April, as well as other childless academics, including another woman who was on our AAA roundtable, and they are among my favorite people, which would not be the case if they were cold and aggressive. However, these problems, or views, are apparently very real for some people. Ignoring or not liking them won't make them go away, though it might drive them underground. I'd rather discuss the issue from all angles. So thank you Margaret, your response is well taken.


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