How Big is Your Trowel? (Part I)


Despite the growing number of women in archaeology, anthropology is still very much a boy’s club. I had been warned of this throughout my undergraduate career, but I only realized the magnitude of this problem recently whilst searching for potential Ph.D advisors.

If you’ve ever attended The Ohio State University, you’ve probably been brainwashed into thinking that no faculty advisor in the country will want you, and you’ll be lucky to get into any graduate program at all, much less into a highly competitive yet slowly dying discipline clinging to life amongst crippling economic depression and administrative corruption.

This is fair. Many undergraduates admitted to OSU shouldn’t have even passed their fourth grade proficiency tests. That they survived to eighteen is a miracle because they probably can’t even read the illustrated warning labels on hair dryers.

If you emerged from your undergraduate career shaken and dependent on anti-depressants, but still wanting to pursue a graduate degree in anthropology, you are then faced with the task of finding a program and advisor, bearing in mind, of course, that no advisor wants you.

The good news is, that if all of the faculty dislike you equally, you are free to make choices based on your own personal preferences. This is how I am approaching the problem of finding a Ph.D advisor. I will have you know that it is not working at all because what I am looking for in an advisor is far too uncommon.

I am looking for someone with a research background in dental anthropology.

I am looking for someone who works at a university in the United States.

I am looking for a female.

Guess which one of these criteria is too much to ask?

If you guessed female faculty advisor, you’re correct! Congratulations! You win a spray bottle of vinegar and a cloth. Go give that glass ceiling a good cleaning, eh?

Now, some of you might be asking, “Why do you need a female advisor?” The sex of your dissertation advisor shouldn’t be that big of an issue. Maybe for most people it isn’t. Maybe I’m the only woman in the whole world who prefers to have female mentors, but I think that’s unlikely.

I need a female advisor because I don’t want to spend the next million years acting. I’ve never written a dissertation, but I’ve been told a million years is about how long it takes to finish one. As I’m not a sociopath, I don’t want to have to pretend to be smarter than I really am, or wittier, or more capable, or more masculine than I really am. If I wanted to be an actress, I would have studied theatre.

In looking for potential advisors, I have spent hours pouring over university webpages. On every single website, without exception, nearly all of the full professors are male, and all of the assistant professors are female. Every. Single. Website. That means that for those universities, males are receiving tenure at rates that far outpace women. So even though the number of females in anthropology is approximately equal at the undergraduate level, this ratio is grossly disproportionate in higher levels of academia.

This is the glass ceiling, ladies, and it’s fucking bulletproof.


About digs_teeth

Hello! Please accept my condolences regarding whatever happened to your local library. That's why you're reading this, right? Because your library burned down/was robbed by book bandits/was torn down and made into literacy rehabilitation clinic for sad teenagers? I hope your library is up and running again soon. In the meantime, please enjoy the words that I made by rubbing my face over a keyboard. I am a master's student studying Osteology and Paleopathology in the UK. I've worked on archaeological excavations in the U.S., Ireland, and Croatia, and I have spent time traveling in Northern Ireland, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Hungary. I've carefully recorded my fieldwork in the form of journals and other necessary paperwork, but I have done little to document my interactions with the people I meet. To me, recording and cherishing interactions is just as important as recording the archaeology.

12 responses »

  1. While the lack of females in academia is certainly I problem, I do believe it is starting to turn around. There are tons of female professors at my school (in all disciplines) and every anthropology undergrad I have met has been female.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve given this some thought, and Melissa, I gotta say, I really don’t think there’s sexism, I think this is just life. Not all groups are represented in all fields (academic or non-academic) in proportion to their representation in the population. I believe you have made a hasty and un-founded conclusion. But perhaps you’re right. Shall we test your conclusions scientifically?
    Hypothesis #1: There are a disproportionately low number of female anthropology professors due to sexism, known metaphorically as the “glass ceiling”.
    We can test this by applying the same mechanism (bias in favor of one group, or discrimination against one group) to other groups that are under-represented in academic anthropology.
    I also would like to work with some that matches my academic specialty and demographic segment a little more. So, I have two tests, based on the hypothesis:
    H2: If a demographic group is under-represented in anthropology, it is due to an institutionalized bias against that group.
    HA: If a demographic group is under-represented in an anthropological sub-field, or at the upper levels of academic anthropology, there is an institutionalized bias.
    H0: Any demographic group will be represented in anthropology in proportion to its representation in the US population.
    (1) I would like to work with a Latino anthropologist who specializes in the bioarchaeology of Japan.
    Results: I haven’t found any.
    Discussion: Bias against Latinos in anthropology? Bias against Latinos in Japanese bioarchaeology? I would submit that there are few Latinos in anthropology at all, especially at the upper levels, partly because many Latinos have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that enter higher education pursue degree with higher payoff in the short term (business, engineering, etc.).
    Conclusion: H2: Possibly supported. Needs more research. HA: Possibly supported. Needs more research. H0: Not supported.
    (2) I would like to work with an anthropologist who is also a military veteran. Do you know any?
    Discussion: I’ve only known one veteran anthropologist. I have never met nor heard of another one in any other department, anywhere in the US. Veterans are usually older than the “traditional” age of entering students, tend to be politically conservative, and often have families at discharge, and thus may be less inclined to spend years going through graduate school, and more likely to look for a professional or trade career.
    Conclusion: H2: Supported. HA: Supported. H0: Not supported.
    Final conclusion: Not only is there bias against women, but against Latinos, veterans, and possibly other groups, especially in the field of Japanese bioarchaeology.
    On the other hand, there are other factors that members of the latter two groups must contend with, and some of their core cultural values may seem incompatible with political and cultural aspects of anthropologists.
    I would say that there is still more research to be done before anyone can conclude there is a “glass ceiling” preventing female anthropologists from attaining higher levels in academia. It may be that more female anthropologists choose to pursue non-academic careers, and are successful in those areas. That is one avenue of research to pursue.
    On the other hand, your admission that male anthropologists are competent and have knowledge to share, but that you “still don’t want one”, suggests that you are not judging potential advisers based on merit or experience, but rather on whether or not their genitalia matches your own. Anthropology doesn’t discriminate based on sex – you do that.


    • Brian, women outnumber men in undergraduate and graduate majors in anthropology and then when you look at tenured professors, the ratio is flipped. That’s the point. There aren’t many Latino anthro undergrads and grads, so of course there aren’t many tenured Latino anthro profs. Why they don’t major in anthro is another issue entirely….

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Anthropology doesn’t discriminate based on sex — the world does! It’s not like all those female undergrad and grad anthropologists are continually going up for tenure and getting rejected. They never get there in the first place. They settle for adjuncting, or quit academia altogether, and the reason is because our culture doesn’t support women being academics and people at the same time. The few tenured female professors you see who have children, happy marriages/partnerships, their health, etc. are sacrificing something, trust me. Men don’t have to do that. Nobody ever tells a man he can’t have kids while in graduate school because it’s going to “distract him” or take too much time away from his studies. I could go on

    Liked by 2 people

    • No, I can not accept that as a valid argument. “They quit because it’s too hard” is not the same as anti-female bias. If they quit, in absence of any allegations of sexual harassment charges, then they quit. You can, or I can not accept, an un-founded blanket statement like, they quit because the environment wasn’t woman friendly. Without some survey results, there is no evidence to conclude why women quit before attaining an upper-level academic position.


    • And I’d like a faculty member that’s former military, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. It sounds to me like Melissa wants a friend, not an adviser. We all have struggles. If she wants that (a female adviser), I wish her luck, but in real life, we don’t always get to be so picky about our bosses and colleagues. I mean, you all have to put up with me in the department. I have to put up with you. We make the best of it, expect respect, and I hope that friendship has been a serendipitous, if tangential, result.


  4. Tthere is a level of sexism when women try to “have it all” in academia – career, family, children. Women get punished for having children, and we all have colleagues who were told (or were told ourselves) not to have babies while in grad school because it “looks bad and will be a detriment to your career”. At least in my experience, male advisors do not have any idea what young female academics deal with, and thus, are unable to offer any practical advice how to deal with “trying to have it all”.
    And here’s an article that I read a few weeks ago… the baby penalty is real, the glass ceiling is real, and it affects why you can’t find female mentors 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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