Does archaeology hate mothers? 2

Is archaeology against motherhood?I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the @everyDIGsexism conversation on Twitter. The discussion highlights many of the problems women face in cultural resource management and academic archaeology. For forward-thinking intellectuals, a lot of male archaeologists and archaeology students should really be ashamed of themselves.

I’ve been known to be insensitive and inadvertently sexist, but I don’t think I’ve crossed the boundaries described in the #everyDIGsexism Tweets:

“#everyDIGsexism upon hearing I had got a v.good placement for uni fieldwork,male contemporary asked who had I slept with to get on it”

“1st day of new job: boss tells me it’s great to have a girl in the office, as things would be much tidier. Joke’s on him! #everydigsexism”

“Because #everydigsexism is so common, most of us just keep quiet and carry on, and don’t even realize we’ve been discriminated against”

You can also read the excellent post on Go Dig A Hole about sexism in anthropology.

It’s pretty sad that sexism against women in archaeology is so pervasive that many women don’t even bother to call it out when they see it.

(FYI: Female archaeologists—the only way men will stop being sexist in the workplace is if you guys call us on our crap. I’m not as bad as the aforementioned quotes, but the few times I’ve realized I was being sexist was when one of my female co-workers/peers pointed out that I was doing/saying something that could be considered sexist. I immediately realized what I’d said, why it could offend somebody, and filed that statement away in the “do not disturb” databank. It was a mistake I would not make in the future. This chisels away at my sexist behavior and will hopefully eliminate it someday.)

While I’m shocked that there is so much sexist behavior in archaeology today, I was even more appalled at the comments about how supervisors, co-workers, and advisers had urged women to not have children:

“From colleague: Boss unsure whether to hire newly married female. Best in interview but ‘would leave soon to have baby’ #everyDIGsexism”

“Frm colleague:parents v cross that we want a 3rd child say it’ll set my career back even further.Worse thing?They’re right. #everyDIGsexism”

“Was told (by female advisor!!), that by the time I finished my PhD, I would just want kids at that point, so why bother? #everyDIGsexism”

“Frm col:Lost a baby. Didn’t take time off or tell boss cos would affect my contrct negotiations if work knew I was trying 4 baby#everyDIGsexism”

I thought it was a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have children. I didn’t know supervisors and advisors would TELL A WOMAN NOT TO HAVE KIDS? That simply blows my mind. I was sickened by the fact that a woman felt like she had to hide a miscarriage because she didn’t want her boss to know that she was trying to become a mother. I have no words for that story.

The gender barrier in archaeology has been broken. It is no longer rare for us to work alongside smart, tough, interesting women in this industry. But, it is amazing that female archaeologists would spend so much time and money on college only to enter a field that appears to be so adamantly against them being mothers.

I’ve written about the impossibilities difficulties of being a parent and an archaeologist before. It’s tough but there are a lot of us that have children and are making it work. I also know archaeology isn’t the only industry that acts like it is against parenthood. In fact, most industries behave like they’re against their workers having children because they do very little to make workflow amiable to parents. It’s not just families that miss out when women leave the workforce to be mothers. Companies, communities, and our whole society misses out.

My own mother is an example of what happens when sexism and parenthood meet.

The Pastry Chef that (Almost) Never Was

My mom left my dad when I was 13-years-old. He was abusive so she packed up her kids and drove away.

Graduating from college was one of my mother’s most important goals because my dad wouldn’t allow her to get an education or work. He didn’t even want her to leave the house.

With her newfound freedom, my mom enrolled in a local university and started taking classes. Her dream was to become a chef so she entered the culinary arts program. Raising three kids, working, and taking college classes was hard (damn near impossible), but she finished her program with flying colors.

At the age of 38, my mom was entering the real world of America’s Top Chef. She quickly realized being a pastry chef was not conducive to being a mother.

Starting work at 3 A.M., pulling down 10-hour shifts, meeting ridiculous deadlines, and working in a male-dominated field that required a lot of heavy lifting while also being a single-parent quickly took its toll. Single men without “encumbrances” always seemed to be noticed by the male head chefs. They got promotions. The only thing my mom’s bosses seemed to remember about her was how she was always asking to leave on time in order to make it to one of her kids’ events.

There were also a lot of other things that stunted her career. Her male bosses considered her child support a second form of income so they were reluctant to give her a raise. It seemed to be a major problem to let her work the morning shift so she could see her kids in the afternoon. She was given few opportunities to do specialty work on cakes and was relegated to cranking out the generic stock cakes that lacked imagination or decoration. And, those slights came on top of the everyday sexist comments, gestures, and conversations that flowed throughout the workplace.

After about three years of working in a bakeries across the city, my mom called it quits. She started her own business as a tailor and never looked back. That was over 15 years ago.

My mom might still be stuck in a kitchen somewhere lifting 50-pound bags of sugar and arguing for a $0.50 raise if she stuck to her dream of becoming a pastry chef. Fortunately, she became her own boss and now she dictates her own prices, work hours, and work place—things she never would have been able to do working in somebody else’s kitchen. She was also able to be there for her kids in a way no supervisor would have allowed.

My mom chose to be a parent but working was not a choice. She had the freedom to choose what kind of work she did, but, for a self-respecting single-mother with mouths to feed, unemployment was not an option. She kept moving forward no matter what, even though it mean giving up her dream, and I’m thankful for that.

Transformation: CRM Companies that Embrace Motherhood

My wife and I screening with our 18-month-old daughterI understand that all women do not want to be mothers. I also understand that not all companies allow sexism to prevent their employees from becoming mothers. However, I also know there are a number of countries that do a much better job at forcing their businesses toward equality and facilitating motherhood.

It does not have to be this way. Archaeologists should not be discouraged from becoming mothers. Companies do not have to be the bad guy. In fact, there are a number of ways the workplace could be remade in order to provide quality jobs for mothers. Here are some suggestions:

1) Flexible schedules— What if you could set your own work schedule, any hours of the day, including weekend days? Cell phones, the internet, and laptops have made it so most of our work could take place anywhere at any time. Time is the biggest constraint for every mother, so allowing moms the flexibility to work outside the strictures of Monday-Friday, 9-to-5 would help them better juggle kids’ school, daycare, and extracurricular activities.

This would also help other employees like myself. I’m more productive at different times of the day and those times don’t exactly correspond with the 9-to-5 schedule. Forcing me to come in to work in the middle of my most productive hours at 9A.M. and stay until 5P.M.­long after my productivity has peaked­ means you are wasting money. The best work hours for me are 5A.M. to 1P.M. with no breaks or lunch. Once I get in flow, I don’t want anything slowing me down.

Mothers could benefit from working at night after the kids are asleep or they could come in early and get off before their children get out of school. Companies could see when their employees are working by clocking the hours they spend logged into the company mainframe or remote desktop. That way they know they are actually working.

2) Officeless workplaces— I get nothing done at the office. My most productive work takes place in a library or a coffee shop. Why? Because the office is full of drama and conversation. I don’t care who won last night’s game (unless it’s the Seahawks), who’s dating whom, or what you saw on Facebook. Don’t get me started with meetings (i.e. the all-time, ultimate waste of money). All that “communication” destroys my flow and slows my productivity.

Imagine how much money in overhead could be saved if CRM companies owned offices that were right-sized. What if we only had to come in 3 days a week and could work from home for the other 2? What if employees were given strict deadlines and if they did not produce they no longer had a job? What if most of the office was co-shared and you only came when your boss needed to see you were still alive?

Working from home is a burden to some people, but, like suggestion #1, should be an option for mothers. A mother of two will spend more money on daycare than she does on a mortgage, rent, or any other bill. Working from home could cut that in half.

Imagine an officeless CRM company and make it so.

3) Raises based on hours worked— Costco uses this strategy and it really benefits the long-timers that have worked at the same company for years. It also eliminates pay discrimination. All you have to do is create a pay scale for each position and have the raises automatically applied at certain intervals (400­600 hrs.). Once an employee is topped out, they can choose to reinvest in the company or have the extra pay added to their 401k. This way, nobody gets passed up for a raise.

4) Provide benefits for 24—32-hr./week employees— I know this might actually affect overhead, but I know a lot of moms out there that can make ends meet with less income but cannot cover the spread with no income. A lot of moms work for the insurance too. Providing the option of getting benefits for fewer hours worked would be welcome by a lot of mothers that have babies or young children.

5) Forget about the whole “women in the field” conundrum— I know Ivor Noel Hume didn’t take kindly to high-heeled women in the field, but this is not 1959. It can be difficult but you can schedule fieldwork around a mother’s schedule, giving them time to arrange child care. You can also hire mothers who know how to write so they don’t have to be in the field all the time. Every employee does not have to be “field ready” at the drop of a hat like a Navy SEAL, so it’s time we stop using fieldwork as an excuse to keep from employing mothers.

Too Good to be True?

These suggestions are not a panacea. They will make life easier for mothers and may facilitate motherhood for women who are afraid having a child will stunt their careers. A lot of these suggestions will also make things better for most other employees. As a father of young kids, I would love to work for a company that allowed me these freedoms.

Before we storm into our boss’ office, tell him about this blog post, and suggest the company make these changes, I have to acknowledge the following caveats:


The reason why CRM companies are afraid to start along this path is because many of us only do work to keep our boss off our back. This means we’re only productive if we’re sitting at a desk where a supervisor can see that we’re working. Supervisors have been burned before by archaeologists that did not get things done on time and on budget, so they feel like they need to keep track of us by forcing us to present ourselves before them. Thus, the system in which we all live.


Field techs are hired to work in the field, so any sort of flexible schedule is almost impossible. Fieldwork has to be done in the daylight and for a finite period of time. These limitations make it difficult for field techs that are or would like to become mothers.


CRM companies would actually save money by going officeless or eliminating meetings, but some of these suggestions would cost companies money. The tradeoff would be increased productivity and lowered capitol expenses, but there is no way to calculate that until somebody actually tries it. The increase in overhead is another deterrent to making this possible.

What’s worse than being a mother in CRM archaeology?

Employing mothers in CRM archaeology is a solutionAcademia has a lot of serious problems. The abjection of female academicians when it comes to motherhood is one of them. I’ve detected this among graduate students who aspire to be professors and older professors who never had time to have children (NOTE: Before some female professors jump on my case, I want everyone to know not every woman in academia wants to be a mother. Nuff said).

A number of articles have noted the difficulties mothers have making tenure. For men, children are seen as an anchor that will keep them at the institution. For women, kids can be a curse. Berkeley professors have determined that family formation negatively affects women’s careers in academia. Basically, our institutions of higher learning make it difficult for women professors to be mothers while not doing the same for men. #everydaysexism at its finest.

Because I’m not a professor, I really don’t know how to fix this one. Universities already provide their faculty with flexible hours, excellent benefits, and all the remedies I mentioned for CRM companies. I hope generation change will help, but that’s unlikely given the corporatization of universities.

The most salient advice I’ve read comes from Dr. Miglena Sternadori who is an associate professor of media and journalism at the University of South Dakota. She suggests women who want to have kids should just do it—no matter what. Sternadori doesn’t hold any punches. She describes her 4-day maternity leave, writing papers while the infant naps, being interrupted by screaming kids, and not letting exhaustion keep you from your research. But, she’s living proof that you can get on the tenure track and still be a mother.

I’m not a mother, but I remember writing CRM reports and conference papers during the year-long waking-zombie lifestyle that followed the birth of my kids. It’s not easy, but millions of Americans are doing it each year. Chiving on through newborn-induced exhaustion is the American Way and it’s the only way working women will ever become mothers.

I believe mothers are the cure to #everyDIGsexism

As the Scandinavian countries consistently prove, quality of life and overall happiness is greatly improved in societies that value motherhood. Workplaces can choose to become more amenable to mothers but it will take the mothers within those organizations to introduce some of the suggestions I’ve made along with ones I haven’t thought of.

Most importantly, it is up to men to value women in the workplace and realize we truly need the best minds and talents in our universities and businesses, regardless of gender, if we are to survive in the 21st century. Cultural resource management archaeology is no different. Women answered the clarion call during the 1970s for addressing gender in archaeology. Women will soon constitute half of all archaeologist. If grad school is any indicator, women will eventually outnumber men in archaeology. Unfortunately, these women will not become mothers if #everyDIGsexism is allowed to continue.

What do you think? Is archaeology against motherhood? I would like to hear from you. Please, write a comment below or send me an email.

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2 thoughts on “Does archaeology hate mothers?

  • archaeofieldtech

    “FYI: Female archaeologists – the only way men will stop being sexist in the workplace is if you guys call us on our crap.”

    Thanks for the heads up. This is a quick way to get a reputation as a woman who is difficult to work with, and could potentially lead to problems keeping a job/getting future jobs. Sure there is a problem, but I would say that it will only really be fixed as women get higher positions within firms and academia. I am a woman in archaeology, and yeah people have said things to me that are inappropriate. People have said things in front of me that are inappropriate, even if they weren’t directed at me. I try not to make waves about it, and you know what? People like to work with me. People don’t like to work with the women who are “difficult,” and when the crew chief/field director have a chance to hire for future projects, you can bet that “difficult” woman is way further down on the list of people to call. Yes sexism is a problem, but face-to-face calling men out on sexist actions is not the solution.

    • SuccinctBill Post author

      Archaeofieldtech, I really appreciate your comment and the fact that you took time to read this post. Thanks.

      You bring up a really sticky situation. I’m not a woman, but I can understand your perspective. I’ve seen women address sexism with male co-workers and watched some of the men try and retaliate because of it. I totally understand your desire to keep your work conditions copacetic.

      I guess its all about how comfortable you are with your co-workers and they are with you. Letting inappropriate things slide just perpetuates sexism, but I sincerely understand how important it is for us to keep our jobs and move up in the ranks. We do need women at the top and, hopefully, these women leaders will curtail sexism in the industry. I hope you aren’t putting up with some of the more egregious things like some of the stuff discussed on #everyDIGsexism. A lot of those things are illegal and should be punished (i.e. inappropriate touching).

      I hear you but I still urge you to try and counteract sexism with the people you feel comfortable talking with. I do feel like appropriately outing sexism face-to-face in a non-confrontational way is the solution. I’ve invested significant effort in dispelling racism in the field and know about walking the tightrope between friendly banter and offensive discussions. I learn a little more every day.

      Of course, you must do what you feel is appropriate. The whole field of archaeology needs women like you to rise to the highest levels and help eliminate this pervasive problem. Again, thanks for reading.

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