Last year, I started doing capoeira with my wife and son. In case you didn’t know, capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that was created by African slaves. It features fast, deadly kicks hidden behind flowing, dance-like motions. The Brazilian slaves were not allowed to practice capoeira openly so they hid their martial art in traditional African drumming and an African-inspired dance. Capoeira is a truly unique phenomenon—one of the only martial arts known to have originated in the New World.
I’ve learned a lot since starting capoeira. It’s also fueled some new insights into cultural resource management archaeology.
Here’s what I’ve learned about capoeira so far:
— Capoeira is hard but fun. It’s easy to lose yourself in the moment and just go with the flow (something a high-strung graduate student can really use).
–It takes a lot of strength, agility, and stamina to practice with other skilled capoeiristas and not get knocked out.
–There is no way to know everything because the fluid flow and tricky, concealed strikes by practitioners means even a novice can do damage.
–The sport cultivates community. Practitioners work together to improve each other’s skill and assist each other inside and outside the gym.
–It is the only martial art I have ever practiced that blends culture, music, language, and action into such a beautiful art.
In case you still don’t know what capoeira is, here’s a short introduction:
(NOTE: I’m not nearly as good as the folks in this video but just envision that I am. I’ll get there someday.)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first class but I have come to appreciate the way capoeira pushes my boundaries—both physical and mental. Practicing capoeira takes a lot of physical strength. It has been said you can burn 500 calories from a single hour of capoeira. It also requires a desire to expand your mind. The physical movements are not static. You are constantly moving and need to react quickly. This taxes your mind as well as your body. Additionally, capoeira is practiced to live music in my school. You need to learn how to play the instruments and sing capoeira songs, which means you will have to learn some Portuguese and about the culture in which capoeira was born.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, Brazil, and the African diaspora simply by doing capoeira. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is I need to improve my flexibility and strength. I’ve applied my newfound mental flexibility and strength to a recent online conversation about cultural resource management.
Who gets to say what we wear in the field?
This last week I’ve been watching a discussion on the Archaeo Field Techs Facebook group regarding a fellow archaeologist’s decision to wear yoga pants to field and the intense social media dialogue associated with this decision. I do not know the full details but from what I gather a female archaeologist wore yoga pants to do fieldwork and a male archaeologist asked the group whether or not this was appropriate field attire. (NOTE: I know this oversimplifies the way this whole thing started. I’m paraphrasing because I did not see the original post, do not know the individuals involved, and do not want to delve into details based on hearsay. Write a comment below or email me if you can correct my summary.)
The social media post regarding this wardrobe decision immediately blew up on the Facebook group. A counter-post was published citing the sexist nature of the post and the conversation degenerated from there. The message thread has since been deleted due to consensus and the fact that individuals’ names were being called out by other group members.
While I can no longer read the dozens of comments made throughout this conversation, the discussion generally revolved around three principal issues:
1) The freedom of a woman to wear whatever she feels like,
2) The fact that others (specifically men) might objectify a woman because of what she’s wearing, and
3) The idea that yoga pants are not professional enough for archaeological fieldwork.
I have been giving this whole topic quite a bit of thought over the last few days. As someone who has been personally lambasted on social media because of the stuff I’ve posted/wrote/said, I know how it feels to have your words misunderstood or seen in an unflattering light. I also know what it is like to judge someone else and to be judged based on physical appearance. The way the conversation degenerated into a shouting match was also quite enlightening. It was amazing to see such ire and rebuke from a group of individuals who are supposed to be educated professionals. The whole thing was interesting.
It also forced me to be reflexive about my own thoughts. Initially, I was among the folks who believed yoga pants are not suitable for fieldwork. This line of inquiry forced me to ask: Why can’t we wear yoga pants in the field? Is there a real safety concern? Is it because I believe they are not professional attire? If so, what does that say about the way I view the many women around the country that work productively wearing yoga pants (not including the hundreds of yoga instructors across the country)? Aren’t these people professional?
As a heterosexual male, it forced me down another line of questioning regarding the way I view yoga pants in general. Are they associated with sexuality or am I just projecting that on women who wear them? Are women wearing them because they’re comfortable or is there some sort of other reason? Why would men view this garment specifically with sexuality whereas most other garments are not seen that way? Is my argument against wearing yoga pants in the field based in a code of professionalism or my own heterosexuality?
Pretty big questions for a simple Facebook post on what somebody wore to work in the field.
Here’s what I think
The mental gymnastics going on in my mind because somebody wore yoga pants to do archaeology fieldwork was simply astounding. I never thought about the issue before because I’d never worked with a woman who’d worn them in the field. I guess, because nobody ever wore them to work around me I thought they were not something a woman would wear to do fieldwork. But, somebody did and it made me think about the reasons why I didn’t think it was appropriate.
As with my newfound interest in capoeira, I realized I needed to approach this topic with flexibility and strength. I needed to be flexible enough to realize it isn’t my business to worry about what a woman wears to work unless it actually is. The companies I’ve worked for have dress codes that spell out what we are supposed to wear to work, but I do not recall seeing anything prohibiting yoga pants unless the project specifically tells us what to wear. For example, working for a mine requires us to adhere to OSHA and MSHA standards that call for steel-toed boots, hard hat, long pants, a shirt (t-shirt or long-sleeved), and a host of other items. I also needed to be strong enough to realize there is another way. Other people can wear whatever they want to work as long as it does not violate company or project-specific restrictions. This means I have no right to judge somebody’s wardrobe because, unless specified, it’s none of my business.
Objectifying women because of their clothing
Who am I to judge somebody because of the way they look? I don’t know much about women’s apparel but I do know clothing sends a message. But, in order to be clearly conveyed, a message needs a sender and a recipient. If the recipient has preconceived notions, then the message will not come across as intended.
At the core of the conversation on the FB group was a series of miscommunications/communication breakdowns. The initial post was seen as sexist and discriminatory. Whether it was or not (I didn’t see it), the following conversation was filled with accusations of feminism, microagression, and #everydaysexism. The objectification of women in yoga pants was embedded in this line of thinking.
This is a complicated matter that really has no resolution. It is not a man’s job to judge one of their co-workers because of what they are wearing. Nor, is it a women’s place to judge the field attire of another unless it violates a stated rule, regulation, or contractual obligation.
Unless there is a safety risk or the co-worker is risking your company’s income/reputation and as long as their work clothing does not offend anyone, CRMers should be allowed to wear whatever they like. Perhaps somebody was offended by this outfit. If so, I wonder why? I can see why anti-discrimination folks would be offended by what they see as another instance of workplace sexism and objectification, but I have to question the source of this complaint.
Archaeology is a profession practiced by professionals
Some commenters were quick to state yoga pants were not professional attire. I thought this line of reasoning was interesting given the diverse range of clothing cultural resource management archaeologists consider professional. Most of us men fall somewhere along the spectrum between American business casual (mostly in office) and full-on archaeosexual (especially in the field). The folks behind @fieldwerk_fashion on Instagram show a wide range of fieldwork outfits, including some instances when yoga pants were worn in the field. Cultural resource management archaeologists are known for their shabby fieldwork attire. I know CRMers who have been refused service at restaurants and given a dollar as an act of charity simply because they looked homeless.
In my experience, an overall lack of professionalism characterizes the cultural resource management industry. While CRMers belong to a number of different associations, the organization tasked with maintaining professionalism, Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA), is not widely recognized and holds little power over its members. The only nationally recognized professional standard, the Secretary of Interior’s Standards, isn’t a factor in every cultural resource management project. I would love to see a time when the RPA and SOI standards mattered as much as similar professional codes do for lawyers, doctors, architects, or even bus drivers. But, at present, professionalism is something we get to make up along the way.
(NOTE: I don’t want you to think we have no codes to follow and can just go rogue. Archaeology has to meet a variety of different standards in addition to the ethical obligations that come along with being members of societies like the Society for Historical Archaeology and the Society for American Archaeology. We can’t go Nazi War Diggers-style out there and still expect other archaeologists to consider us professionals. It’s just that our professional standards are self-regulated and do not have sharp legal teeth.)
The existing professional standards for archaeologists do not address our attire anyway. That is left up to the organizations for whom we are working. As I mentioned before, most CRM companies have dress codes designed to keep employees safe as well as modest. Snake gaiters and hard hats are not sexy but they are necessary for safety. Modest shirts, pants, and skirts also tend to be included in company dress codes. Yoga pants are not likely part of most company’s dress codes because their resurgence has been recent. There probably were strictures against wearing leggings to work in the 1980s, but most company dress codes have been redone since then and yoga pants were probably not outlawed because they have only been en vogue for a few years.
Then there is the problem of what clothing is appropriate in the office versus what’s okay in the field. At your company, is it okay to wear ripped jeans, stained shirts, and faded t-shirts with reflective tape in the office? If so, it’s probably okay to wear yoga pants in the field.
A lot of these dress codes were probably created in order to make sure CRM company employees look professional to the client. I know some of the companies I’ve worked for were obsessed with looking professional for their clients. They would say something if your pants were too shredded or your shirt was too stained around the tummy. Principal investigators at these organizations had a suit hanging up behind the door so they could change in case they had to meet with a client. They would literally put on a “professionalism costume” just for the meeting and change back into shorts and flip-flops once the client left the building.
I wish we could get over “being corporate” enough to just be ourselves but, at most companies, being ourselves is detrimental to business. And, business is central to being a cultural resource management consultant. We must act in accordance with the business environment in which we work. Sometimes that means shaving and wearing steel-toed boots.
This is really what the conversation should have been about. As archaeologists, are we free to be ourselves? The truth is: We are not.
Unless you are independently wealthy and just do archaeology as a hobby, you have a professional community you must work with. This is the downside to being a CRMer. You don’t get to pick your projects, you don’t get to pick your co-workers, and (to a certain extent) you do not get to choose your clients. And, you cannot convince them to change their preconceived notions of what archaeology is and who does archaeology until they’ve worked with you and your company many times.
It takes familiarity to believe that the tattooed, dreadlocked Millennial you saw at the jobsite actually knows what she’s doing. That she is a capable, professional archaeologist you can trust to help you comply with federal regulations. Most clients are not going to think somebody with an unconventional appearance is actually one of their best consultants until they’ve hired you, seen your work, and know that it is good.
It is going to take a lot of sustained concerted effort for cultural resource management archaeologists to change the way our clients and communities view our role in society. That kind of heavy lifting is not going to happen overnight. Becoming more accepting is part of the generational change that has our whole society koyaanisqatsi right now. We are trying to overcome centuries of racial, gender, and class-based hierarchies in order to (hopefully) become a more equitable society, but that is going to take a long time.
Right now, many of our clients would probably judge a woman working at the job site in yoga pants. They’re going to judge a woman anyway but one in yoga pants is probably going to get judged even harder. It would be even worse if a transgender man was out there in women’s clothing. The unfortunate thing is many archaeologists would probably judge these people for their clothing too because of preconceived notions of what is and what is not considered a professional archaeologist.
This is 2016. It’s different than archaeology in the 1970s. It’s different than the way things will be in 2056. Hopefully, we will all be more understanding by then.
What do we do?
I can’t tell you what to do. I wrote this blog post and made an internal promise to myself to continually re-evaluate my thoughts every time I see a woman wearing something I feel is “inappropriate”. The goal is for me to be more inclusive and less judgmental as I get older. It is just as important for me to maintain a reflexive stance whenever something like this comes into my life. That might not help you. I’m just telling you how I tackled the situation.
This is not how I have behaved in the past. I have my own idea of what constitutes professional fieldwork attire that does not always jive with what others think. More than once, I’ve had co-workers ask why I’m wearing long sleeves and pants on site when it’s 100+ degrees out. My answer: Because I can and it does not hinder my performance. It’s also what’s prescribed by most regulations and contractual obligations. That’s what I’ve been wearing for the last 7 years out in the Arizona deserts and the previous 4 years in the temperate swampland of western Washington. It’s what I’m used to and it doesn’t bother me, so it shouldn’t bother you.
As usual, I can give you some suggestions for how this can be handled in the future. Hope they help:
1) Follow company dress codes and health and safety guidelines. Your company could lose a project for clothing that does not fit contractual obligations. Your friends might be out of a job. You could lose your job for violating the company dress code. Be aware of that.
2) Ask yourself “Why do I care what other people wear?” As long as they are not being inappropriate or offensive, why do you care what your co-workers are wearing? Be reflexive. Where is the source of your disdain? Why is this worth your time and effort?
3) Know that others may judge you. If you’re like me, you probably don’t care if other people are judging you. Being scrutinized is part of life. You cannot make everybody happy, but you will make yourself miserable if you try. So, do your best to just be you.
On the other hand, just know that human beings are social animals that love to divide people into groups. We do that through scrutiny. It happens and it may have repercussions.
4) Fight the –isms. This is the only way we can bring substantive change to the world. Fight against sexism, racism, ageism, and all the other –isms that make us small. That always means taking a stand and you can make a difference if your effort is rightly guided.
5) Don’t leave your co-workers hanging. If you see something that could leave one of your co-workers in a vulnerable position, figure out a way to politely guide them to safety. This whole conversation could have been avoided had somebody told the original poster that his message could be misconstrued and if somebody had told the female CRMer that she may be judged for her attire. If you see something, say something. Just make sure it’s done in a constructive, inoffensive fashion.
Flexibility to change yourself. Strong enough to attempt it.
This whole episode forced me to re-evaluate my own preconceived notions about what I believe is appropriate/professional/okay in the field. It was beneficial for me, but there are a lot of other people who do not see this in the same light. Some are hurt. Others offended by what they see as yet another microaggression or reverse-microaggression (Is there such a thing? I might want to coin that term.) Playing capoeira, among other things, seems to have helped make my thinking more flexible and resilient in the face of new ideas.
We are all in this cultural resource management archaeology profession because we love archaeology, historic preservation, and heritage conservation. None of us is a fashionista. It is a shame that so much vitriol was spent on someone’s choice in clothing. Nevertheless, we do function in a world full of judgment and it does not surprise me that something like this would happen in archaeology. Perhaps we can use this as a starting point for constructively addressing sexism in the profession in a manner that helps us move forward.
Keep the conversation going here by writing a comment below or send me an email.
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