Monday, 22 April 2013

Place: Sexual Harassment and Archaeology

Last week, a couple of quite cool things happened. The first one was that one of my favourite examples of internet feminism, Everyday Sexism, celebrated their first year of existence. They celebrated with a piece charting their development from initial idea to a project that has changed the lives of its founders and given a voice to thousands of men and women. You can read it here. The second thing was that a group of archaeologists on twitter got talking about sexist practice in our discipline, after reading this article by Kate Clancy on harassment and fieldwork. It got me thinking- I've been a member of staff at fabulous excavation for the past three years. We've had our fair share of dig romances- couples making up, breaking up, hooking up (disclaimer- my only dig romance was when my husband came to visit last year. Him bringing me a cold drink at lunchtime is the best part of this). They are almost always created from the intoxicating mixture of conditions that excavations present: intense, long, physical working days. High temperatures. Pheromones running riot as personal hygiene trickles away alongside inhibitions. Add to that the opportunity to drink alcohol for the first time for a lot of our students and you have a perfect storm of potential for unrequited affection and inappropriate behaviour. To my knowledge, a harassment situation hasn't happened. I know that if I hear anything I regard as offensive in my trench, I will stop the conversation and move the talk to another subject. If I was worried about someone's behaviour, I think the staff would get together, discuss it openly, and develop a strategy for preventing harassment both on site and off it. 

But what if that harassment was coming from a staff member? It's a very egalitarian dig, and I think that our director would happily get involved on behalf of anyone who felt uncomfortable (he's fab, and probably why the whole project is so great). But in another place? In another situation when the director wasn't supportive, wasn't interested or was themself in thrall to outside circumstances? What if an external funder was behaving inappropriately towards a member of staff? What price the security and happiness of junior staff or students when compared to losing funding, or losing local support? What if, as Kate Clancy documents, individuals don't feel safe to report abusive behaviour in fear of losing their jobs? There's a BAJR (British Archaeological Jobs Resource) feed all about sexual harassment in commercial archaeology- and during our conversation on Monday the point was made that research excavations should be encouraged to sign up to similar principles of equality as those enshrined in employment law which apply to commercial sites. The American Anthropologial Association issued a statement to that effect in response to Clancy's research.

I think that these well meaning statements are missing the point. Research fieldwork projects are already signed up to codes of conduct for ethical behaviour through their individual institutions. Having "procedures in place" is not the answer, because the problem, as Clancy identifies, is that the repellent activities of those who harass and abuse others in archaeology are carefully choreographed to take place in a fashion which does not damage the career prospects and personal life of the abuser. In her words "It's all about who's watching." Perhaps one of the reasons that the excavation I work at doesn't suffer from this type of behaviour is that there is usually somebody watching, and that somebody is a person who cares about equality, personal safety and not behaving like a total ars*hole. Without calling out individual perpetrators, all the guidelines in the world won't hold them to account. In addition to projects where sexist bias and harassment is a concrete reality, there is one HUGE sphere in which nobody is watching. In which you can do what you like to who you like and probably get away with abuse. That's the digital world. Offensive emails. Creepy Twitter trolling. Abusive comments on a blog. All these can be anonymised. Nobody's watching, except the victim. It makes me think of my only brush with harassment, and wonder if it might have escalated quickly into something much worse in today's digital world.

During PhD induction, I sat next to another new student in one of the induction workshops. I was late, I just sat down. In the group worked that followed, I was already getting uncomfortable with this individual. He kept asking me increasingly personal questions, edging closer and closer in spite of my completely unsubtle piss-off glares and dismissive replies. When he asked me if I was single, I told him I was engaged. He asked me if I thought my now husband really loved me... then tried to stroke my hand and asked for my number. I gave him a fake one, a death stare, and a telling off. It didn't stop him following me around campus for the remainder of the week, until I brought husband to a social event for new PhDs. I was freaked out, frightened and effing furious. The only thing that stopped one man misbehaving was the sight of another, bigger man. My wishes were completely ignored in this situation- if I'd been single, would he have seen me as fair game? Would the stalking have developed from unwanted seating arrangements to following me home? Why was my lack of interest only valid when caused by my being another man's possession? In a world where you can find someone online the instant you know their name, what could have happened next in that situation, if it took place now? Facebook messages? Emails? Tweets? Finding this blog and posting horrible comments that I would have to read as moderator? Sexually explicit trolling? Sexist abuse of my work? What if the individual had been another archaeologist- someone I had to see at departmental events, knowing they were behind such a campaign of bad behaviour, or at least suspecting it? Would I have had the confidence to take such abuse to a senior figure in the university, or go to the police? Would I directly reply to such messages, or would that be giving the individual the response they crave? I don't know.

The third cool thing I did last week was attend a meeting for a new project I'm proud to be working on, that is looking to address some of these issues. Set up by the amazing Dr Sara Perry from York University, the Gender and Digital Culture project is looking to examine the use of digital culture by different groups, explore online experiences both positive and negative, and explore both the potential for the promotion of equality and potential for abuse in digital contexts- and not just in archaeology. I'll probably be writing more about the project in the future, but I really hope that we can develop some ideas to ensure that, even online, there won't be a place where harassment and sexist abuse can happen without repercussions.

What about you? Have you experienced anything like this, online or offline? You can comment anonymously here, of course. 

** Ironically, I had a massive "sexist pig" moment the day before our meeting. Went to bank to make a transfer to send money for images to the Italian Soprintendenza. Bank MANAGER (it said so on his name badge) asked me, in a voice I'd use to my 9 month old second cousin, "Do we need to change our name today?" I must have looked shocked, and said "What?" I had no idea what he meant. He replied "Weeelll, I saw your ring, so we need to change your name, don't we?" Because a married woman can't be in the bank except to transfer financial control to her husband. And any woman in the bank needs to be treated like the itty bitty kittykins with cotton wool for a brain that she is. God help the women who work with this individual.

Let me through that perspex screen and I'll....

Monday, 15 April 2013

Pots: Booze Britain

Once upon a time, in a land before I got PhD funding, I worked in a nightclub. It was one of the most formative periods in my life. I made amazing friends, enough money to go travelling, and gained a lot of self confidence from the job I did. Writing up the second draft of my doctoral thesis, and looking at its conclusions, I can't help wondering if they would be the same if I hadn't worked in a club that will remain nameless for four happy, yet occasionally chaotic years.

Check the ear piece on that!
I worked on the door during that time. I don't mean I sat behind a screen and took the money, either. It drives me nuts when people assume that's all I did- how sexist can you get? While I sometimes worked the till, I was part of a team that dealt with the dark side of student pissups. I cleared up vomit, pulled up knickers, rounded up so-called friends that abandoned drunks, broke up fights (usually by a combination of flirtation and headmistress voice but occasionally physically), administered basic first aid, yelled at queue-jumpers and generally tried to make sure people had fun, got drunk and didn't hurt themselves. I do sometimes wonder if the City and Guilds Door Supervision Level II was the most valuable qualification I ever got my grubby mitts on (and not just because I can use it to bridge that gap between PhD and gainful employment).

You know that my PhD is about pots, right? I posted a few weeks ago about the way that different pots control how you drink. Well, why do you need to control how people drink? Without those four years on the door, I don't know if I'd have made the link between ceramic controls, and social behaviour. Modern drinking vessels (pint and shot glasses, half-pint tumblers, alcopop/beer bottles) are ALL made for fast consumption- you drink quickly, you buy more booze, you get drunker. By using a cheat-technique (Jagerbombing, necking pints, strawpedoing) you can get even more down your neck in a shorter time. What is the effect of this? Here are the three major effects spotted from my time on the door as illustration:

1) Arousal. The amount of people eating face on the dancefloor will not come as a surprise. The amount of people taking things further, either in toilets or actually there against a wall or sat on a picnic table probably will. A loud "ahem" and an evil will result in this latter behaviour stopping, for the most part. Or loudly pointing out that the CCTV will make for amusing viewing in the morning. I'd love to know the amount of people who met their partner while drunk. I know I did. Anyway, the point is- this arousal can be a great thing- if you meet someone who returns your interest, and you both are free to have a good time. Or it can be amazingly destructive- unrequited attentions can quickly turn very nasty, leading to....

2) Aggression. The worst incarnation of this I ever saw was a man slashing another man's throat with a broken glass bottle. It was not nice. Not nice at all. Another incident resulted in me with two black eyes and a nose streaming with blood after catching an elbow in the face. Most "fights" involve a bit of pushing and shoving, maybe a thrown punch, lots of posturing and chest puffing out. The key is to get in there while the pre-violence rituals are going on, to stop the situation before it starts. Occasionally, there are incidents where unprovoked violence suddenly leaps up and punches someone in the face. It's not just men, either. Out and out cat fights were (mercifully) rare, but a lot of girls seem to enjoy barging into people, then telling their male friends they were pushed and gleefully watching the consequences. Or starting fights between rival suitors. The majority of incidents remained small scale, but were always uncomfortable. Most had the potential to escalate quickly, too. Full on fighting in the street between groups was utterly, utterly horrible, and luckily rare. But this consequence of alcohol is a pretty serious one. (The bloke who got his throat cut is alive and well, with a nasty scar. But it could have been very different).

3) Loss of bodily control. While linked to the two previous effects, I'm not talking about wobbling around or not being able to recite the alphabet backwards here, or about snogging someone you'd never normally fancy or getting mouthy. I'm talking about the girl who passed out in her own vomit on glass, resulting in cuts all over her back and hands, into which her own vomit had seeped. The bloke who was crying as he had no idea who we were and was convinced we were trying to hurt him as we fed him water and tried to find out where he lived so we could get him home. The many who pissed themselves. The even more who puked- sometimes on other people, often on me and my colleagues.

These were the effects of pots without any built in controls. The people who were using the pots I study had very different concerns. Can you imagine the extreme examples described above at a formal banquet in someone's home, in front of family and friends? Or at a large, public social event? Maybe social controls and environment would prevent the worst excesses, but seeing people pissed at wedding receptions and house parties makes me suspect not. But, just in case, pots so difficult to drink from that you couldn't just neck your pint and crack on to the next one were, I think, being employed. Look at the shape of this kylix. You need to be able to balance the bowl, negotiate the unwieldy stem, control the flow of liquid over the large rim, and deal with those handles. In my PhD research, I developed a scoring system for vessels like this, using handle shape, rim circumference/height ratio, rim circumference/human hand length ratio and volume. Vessels with a high volume (I'm talking an average of around 3l, which is about two modern wine bottles worth of booze), ususally imported from Greece to Etruria, always had high "skill scores." They needed knowledge to drink from them successfully, and they wouldn't allow you to consume their contents too quickly.

Image from imagehive

I don't know if I'd have noticed that, or even thought about it, without those years cleaning up puke and broken glass. So, thank you, pissed students. Except you, girl who threw up spaghetti puttanesca with tuna chunks in my hair.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Bone: Ice Age Art Review

Self portrait with portable art

Yesterday, I went up to "that London," grumpy Cornishman in tow, to see an exhibition I've been dying to visit since I first heard rumours of its future existence. "Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind" did not disappoint. Before I even get into reviewing it, and making some observations, let me say this. Go, go now, book it for tomorrow. I went completely en famille, and we all enjoyed it (well, I think we did. By the end of a boozy lunch afterwards that was the impression I got).
The family queue up

I've divided this review up into 3 sections: things I loved, things I liked, and niggles. So, here goes.

Things I loved:

-the drip, drip, drip of water which permeated through the exhibition, which, coupled with the darkness, gave a sense of claustrophobic caves and melting ice. This noise wasn't constant, or obtrusive- but it gave me a little shivery thrill each time it plonked out of the hidden speakers.

The cave experience doesn't come out so well in Instagram... who knew?

- the tunnel and cave, with the projection wall covered in changing images of Paleolithic rock art. Obviously, you can't just transport parietal art- but the curators had a damn good go. We sat next to a small boy who was enthralled by the images on the handily placed bench. He sat with his mouth open gazing at the flashing pictures, the bison swooping across the wall. A long time ago, in an undergraduate class, my group designed a museum exhibition centred about recreated rock art in an atmospheric cave-like setting. It was very weird seeing this realised in a manner 1000 times more sophisticated than my student dreams. And the fact that all those "enigmatic marks" flashed onto the narrative scenes in time with the dripping water noises like hallucinations at blink-and-you'll-miss-it speed was fabulous.

- the material. Just- wow. I saw the swimming reindeer. I saw Venus figurines. I saw the earlist ceramics from Dolni Vestonice. There was a replica Lion Man. It was all gorgeous- the haunting beauty of the figurines, the bittersweet images of animals on tools designed to slaughter them more effectively. It's just such a shame they are regularly so tiny- although this is completely part of their power, it did mean that a lot of people hustled around one small object, which kind of diminished the experience. We went quite early in the morning, and it wasn't too bad- I'd recommend other people do likewise.

Glorious, beautiful objects. No flash was used to take this picture.

Things I liked:

-the link with modern art. This worked really well, and didn't feel forced. My non-archaeological half is a big fan of Henry Moore, and he lapped up the connections. I felt like it helped him connect with and appreciate the archaeological materials more.

-generally, the tone of the commentary. You can't interpret this sort of art too much, and I thought they balanced it relatively well- introducing quite complicated ideas like the increased intensity of making miniature figures, but stepping back from certainty. I liked this, but my brother hated it- he wanted a bit more honesty about what the curators thought, or a bit of fronting up on the unknowability of the deep past. It's a fair point- adding a question mark to a statement does leave you in limbo I suppose.

-the gift shop. Tea towels framed as accessible art on the walls- copied and now soon to be resplendent in my house. Good idea, I'll copy that thank you very much. Exit via the art to take home- no ordinary gift shop. The cuddly mammoths were also a highlight. *


-no touchable replicas. While the video showing how the Lion Man was made was great, it would have been wonderful to have little replicas available to touch and feel. The statuettes and figurines were (to me anyway) made to be held, to be rubbed between finger and thumb. The exhibition felt very look-don't-touch and this was a real shame. Maybe there are handling events that I missed.

-a little light sexism. This was my real irritation. I took a photo of the worst panel-culprit. Apparently, men's identity alone is tied up in hunting implements. The old "man the hunter" stereotype is still around, even though I thought he'd been feminist-critiqued into oblivion. Yes, women in many modern hunter-gatherer societies don't hunt-but some do. We have no idea exactly who was doing the hunting in the Paleolithic, so let's not smudge ethnocentric gender stereotypes on the past please. Rant over.

Oh, a man's hunting kit? Who else could possibly have one. Grrr.

So, all in all, a great day out, some amazing archaeology and a lesson in atmospheric exhibition curation. Have you been? Did you like it? What are your loves and hates and thoughts?

*Did anyone else have the "Our Mammoth" books as a child? A family defrost and adopt a lovable mammoth called Buttercup. Beautifully illustrated and fabulous fun.