It didn’t take long for the #MeToo movement to spread outside of Hollywood after it reached mainstream media in October of 2017, started by Tarana Burke, a social activist and community organizer, in 2006. The conversation quickly infiltrated all disciplines and fields; no longer was this a topic skirted around and hidden from, but instead I watched on as my Twitter feed filled with accounts from fellow archaeologists and anthropologists sharing their stories, breaking their silence, and I saw the same materialise among fellow students and colleagues within my department. Even now, over a year later, the conversation hasn’t died down, as many may have expected — or hoped. We haven’t lowered our voices.
At the European Association of Archaeologist conference this September flyers appeared titled #StopViolenceInArchaeology with statistics such as ’1 out of 2 women have been harassed in archaeological sites in Spain ()’, and some which left space for individuals to share their own testimonies ().
So, is archaeology in the middle of it’s #MeToo moment, and if so, what does that mean for our discipline, and the safety of those within it?
Dr Jenny Andrew said that ‘#MeToo is not a social media side show’ () in a tweet stating the importance of the flyers at EAA2018, and the difficulties of hearing such testimonies whilst working with Dr Anne Teather on researching and tackling gender discrimination and harassment within archaeology. It is imperative to remember this. Whilst it may seem that a shift has occurred within the last year around the conversation of sexual misconduct in our fields, we must ensure that such testimonies do not fade away. We must ensure that we are not merely shouting into a social media void. Giving these issues academic space is essential.
Over the past year I have been carrying out research into sexual misconduct in fieldwork contexts. One of the most prevalent challenges that I have faced has been justifying the relevance and the importance of my work. I have often been told that it is ‘not suitable or relevant to’ archaeology and anthropology. I argue that not only is it relevant, but it is in fact the most important avenue of research that can currently be carried out in order to ensure the continuation and progress of anthropology. We must take the conversation out of social media and into the discipline itself, we must be supported by our institutions and departments in doing so, and we must do so in a way that uplifts the voices of those who have been victimised by perpetrators in our fields.
Sexual misconduct in our institutions has been described as an ‘epidemic’ () — and I agree. For years the focus has been on encouraging women and minority groups to pursue STEM subjects, and academia more widely, and for very good reason. However, little space has been given to the issue of keeping women in academia.
Kate Clancy and colleagues, in their Survey of Academic Field Experiences (), refer to the ‘attrition rates’ of women in science, finding that experiences of misconduct are likely to contribute to large numbers of women and minority groups leaving the discipline. Outreach programs are no use if young women are entering an unsafe working environment. Quotas mean nothing if this epidemic of sexual misconduct is causing disproportionately high drop-out rates for women in academia. The issue may not be getting us here, but keeping us. The focus now needs to be on creating a safe environment in which women and minority groups can not only enter into academic spaces, but flourish within them.
We have an issue, an epidemic, in our fields. We have a situation in which 64% of individuals partaking in fieldwork have personally experienced sexual harassment (). We have a situation in which 12% of individuals who reported experiencing sexual misconduct reported changing field sites, research interests, or leaving academia all together (), and 19% reported decreased desire to continue with career choice. We cannot expect to make the same levels of academic and intellectual progress in an environment so hostile and dangerous that countless individuals are being forced to abandon their research, their projects, their careers. Our disciplines cannot thrive under this environment.
But how can we use academia to combat this? What do studies about sexual misconduct bring to the conversation? In my opinion, academic research can benefit the #MeToo movement in three major ways: getting people to listen, informing policy, and re-centering the conversation,
Trying to get people to listen, to engage in the conversation in a meaningful way, especially those who actually have the power to make real, immediate, institutional changes, is perhaps the most difficult. We shouldn’t have to prove that sexual misconduct 1) exists, and 2) matters. Why should academic research and data matter more than the lived experiences of those impacted by these issues who have been telling their story and speaking out long before #MeToo hit the media? And when do we have enough data? It’s not like there isn’t already a plethora of existing literature attesting to the scope and consequences of these actions.
Sadly in my experience, however, being able to present hard-hitting statistics and peer-reviewed papers has been extremely useful in engaging those in senior positions of power, and encouraging them to sit up and listen. It can open up the door to a more meaningful and nuanced conversation around sexual misconduct — whether that is centred in academia, in fieldwork, in archaeology, or more broadly.
Creating policy and protocols that are rooted in reality, rather than assumptions, can only be achieved by putting lived experiences at the centre. Academic research, when carried out with sensitivity, when done with the realisation that the work must also, in itself, be victim-centred and informed, can be a vital medium through which these experiences can be channelled. They can be used to create truly inclusive and accessible resources.
Current policy and safety practices are more often than not being written based on assumptions by individuals who may not have experienced the risks they are trying to protect us against. By giving academic space to the subject of fieldwork safety the specific risks that occur in fieldwork contexts — a unique working environment that comes with it’s own unique dangers — can be identified. Being able to identify the risks is the first step in preventing and managing them, and a step towards greater retention of marginalised groups within our field. If the protocols aren’t victim-centred, they are futile.
Lastly, academic research can — and should — be used to re-centre the conversation away from a ‘social media slide-show’ () and into a conversation that produces material changes and institutional action. That should be the focus, the end-game, of all research into misconduct; to understand, and then to use that understanding to inform and redress how we current manage instances of misconduct in our fields.
I am not saying that academic research will solve the issue that 64% of individuals partaking in fieldwork have been sexually harassed. But I do believe that, if done well — and by well I mean with sensitivity, with change as the primary focus, and whilst working with, as opposed to merely ‘studying’, those most effected by the issues being researched — it can aid in the pursuit of meaningful engagement, conversation, and change.
Dani is currently carrying out a study into fieldwork safety as part of her dissertation, you can help here: https://cambridge.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bfiG6iQb6DWQOjP