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.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Are we coming full circle?

Recently while reading Mary Ann Levine’s “Presenting the Past: A Review of Research on Women  in Archeology” (in Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, 5(1): 23 -36; 1994), I realized that my situation is not necessary so different from women of the first and second generations of Americanist archaeology, that is, of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. This is despite the fact that the article is 19 years old. While women in academic posts were rare, other career avenues became a way for them to practice in the field, including among others, museum and government positions such as the NPS, and independent research. Granted, such avenues held little of the prestige of academia, and that is still true today to a large extent I would argue. More important than prestige from my point of view is the much greater difficulty, though not to say impossibility, in procuring research funds as an independent scholar. No matter how much one is willing to do on a “volunteer” basis, there comes a point for those of us who are not independently wealth when some work (electron microscope analysis, x-ray fluorescence analysis, remote sensing) simply will not happen without funding.

These observations and experiences relate to what the writer shared in the August 23, 2012 post “Welcome Back to the Classroom!” In relation to that post as well as this one, I too, served my stint as an adjunct before re-entering CRM, which in turn has been hard hit and less than steady employment in these economic times. In addition, government positions, which I have also held in the past, are hotly sought after and as difficult to land in the current economic climate as academic positions. The situation runs the distinct danger, and I would argue is already there, of being that postulated by the economist Robert Reich in his book Aftershock in which he points out that in such an economy colleagues who otherwise serve as a support group for each other end up fighting for the scraps of employment that remain. While academic opportunities shrink, other public and private sectors offer some options but are not the fields of opportunity they once were as the opportunities there shrink, too. I point this out in the hope that we will actively support each other rather than look down on or feel at odds with those with whom we are in fact competing for any open positions.

Still, I continue to look for research opportunities and visit archaeological sites of interest to me and of value to my work. My recent trip to New Mexico led me to some “ghost towns” (some with more the ghost quality than others, which have simply become very, very small towns), including Hillsboro with the ruins of a late 19th c. jail, of interest to me as in extension of my jail research in Michigan. Such pursuits help keep me professionally and mentally alive, if not wage earning.
                                          Alexander and I in the Hillsboro, New Mexico jail.
                                          Hillsboro was located on a major 19th c. cattle trail.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Got Stress?

Thanks to a colleague of mine, this recent Forbes article was brought to my attention today. This article suggests that being a professor is the "least stressful job" of 2013! According to the author, "people in these professions can leave their work behind, and their hours tend to be the traditional nine to five." Ironically, I read this article while working on a Saturday afternoon (trying to squeeze in an hour or two of writing while my children nap). In my career as an archaeologist, I have also worked in the private sector and government, neither of which ever approached the sort of stress and long hours of my current academic position.

I took a few moments away from writing to share this article because I think it raises an important problem: most people do not understand what academics do. As anthropologists, we are especially susceptible to this mischaracterization because our discipline is seen as a highly esoteric pursuit. While it may not seem important that outsiders view academic life incorrectly, such wrong-headed perspectives can be damaging to our discipline and for higher education in general. For example, there is growing talk of providing financial dis-incentives for student interested in research-oriented and academic careers.

I also have to wonder where this perception of academic life comes from? Are WE (meaning academics) responsible for creating this myth? If so, then we should try to correct it.

Many academics posted comments in response to the Forbes article. A brief skim through the comments reveals several responses from people in anthropology/archaeology.

For example, Kathleen, wrote:

"If I were you I’d publish a retraction for this one. Few professors get paid for the summer, even though they spend it writing. My archaeology prof partner teaches every other summer–a field school in the desert, where she led crews of students in 110 degree daily heat for four weeks. The class takes her months to prep for, arranging housing, food, transportation in addition to the regular course planning. She’s had tenure for years, but still spends her (unpaid) breaks writing for publication in her field, grading, inventing and re-inventing her courses, and answering a wholly unreasonable amount of university-related email. She’s one of the most stressed out and hard-working people I know. We live in a small house in a big city, and she makes only slightly more than your listed average. How nice it must be to teach in one of those idyllic little low-cost college towns, but that’s not the reality for profs who teach in urban colleges and universities.
I myself work occasionally as an adjunct professor, and for the one class I’m teaching this quarter, I’m being paid 3K before taxes, total. For this, I will spend about 20 hours per week in class, office hours, grading, and preparing for class. I’m doing it because I love to teach, but when I was asked to do it, I almost said no. Why? Because it’s waaaaaaayyyyyyy too stressful for the money paid. Adjunct profs make a LOT less than tenured or tenure-track professors. Most make a living doing other things, and teach on the side.

So no. Being a university professor is rewarding, but it’s not at all low stress."

Anthroprof responded:

"Most faculty do NOT get paid over the summer – we are on nine-month contracts that are spread out over 12 months. So, 1) that is why academic professor salaries are lower than the private sector, and 2) faculty on a 9 month contract are under no obligation to do any work for their institution over the summer.

That of course is not the reality. My summers actually present a break from committee work and classroom time to engage in other responsibilities necessary for me to KEEP MY JOB. That is, writing research articles, monographs, and books, getting caught up in labwork/data collection, traveling to nearby libraries for research, or fieldwork, not to mention the endless grant applications to keep this activities funded (the university generally does not do this, we have to get external funds to support the research that the university expects us to do to keep our job). I also still am engaged in “teaching” activities – overseeing independent studies, supervising graduate thesis data collection, writing recommendation letters, preparing for the next year’s classes, mentoring and meeting with students as I normally would throughout the academic year.

What most people don’t realize that the contracts of most tenure-track and tenured professors stipulate how much time they need to spend on various activities – for instance, I must spend 40% of my time on teaching (which is not just lecturing in front of the classroom or grading papers, but also working with graduate students on thesis data collection, overseeing volunteers or independent study students in my lab, writing recommendation letters, etc.), 20% on service (academic committees, student advising, etc.) and 40% on research. So in reality, what people THINK professors do is actually a very small subset of what we ACTUALLY do.

The fact that we are not required to be in our offices from 9 to 5, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year does provide some wonderful flexibility. but I also put in 60-80 hours a week (that is a very accurate estimate, particularly if you are overseeing a lab) – and that includes being in my office well before 9, well after 5, on weekends, and during the summers, when I am not contractually obligated to do so, nor am I getting paid for my time."

Do you think that academic life is mischaracterized? How might this also contribute to the difficulties female scholars experience? Please share your experiences and thoughts.
~Sarah Surface-Evans

10 Jan, 2012: I am adding a link to another blog post responding to this article. The author, Audra, provides a lot of great information and some strong opinions. Also, this article by Anthropology professor Kate Clancy, does a wonderful job describing the changing nature of the academy and what she terms the "raw deal".