It was my pleasure to attend the annual meeting of the SCS-AIA in San Francisco from January 6-10. I just got back to Iowa City last night, and wanted to write while the thoughts about the conference were still fresh in my mind. First, I want to say that the SCS-AIA always serves as an annual pep talk to get attendees energized for the year ahead. I heard exceptional papers ranging in subject from the Greek economy to the archaeology of weights and measures, and loved being reminded of the myriad digital, technological, and methodological innovations afoot in the field of ancient history. Additionally, there were more Late Antiquity (200-800 CE) panels and papers than I have ever seen before. This shows real progress towards better incorporating late antique history and patristic studies into the field of Classics.
Those were the positives; however, there were also some negatives. On Thursday, I attended a meeting wherein I was told by a senior scholar that affirmative action and the target hiring of women for specific positions was no longer relevant or even necessary, because racism and misogyny were now quite rare in academia (Good to know! I disagree completely!). I stayed after the meeting to debate this point with said scholar further (35 minutes), but was quite upset even to have to defend myself. I am proud to say that his is the minority view at AIA-SCS, from what I have seen, but it was a reminder that such individuals still exist and still have influence.
What was a bit more troubling, was to find that there were a number of all male panels on the program for the conference. Now, some of these were panels put together by blind review of abstracts–i.e., there was no knowledge of the gender of the person ahead of time–while others were organized panels where presenters had been asked ahead of time. Although their numbers have been decreasing for many years, the all male panel is an animal that still has not been made extinct, either in the field of ancient history or in many others. The New York Times has pointed out its existence in media, news, and politics, but it lives on in academia as well. In fact, one of the most popular webpages on this topic is the hilarious “Congrats, You Have an All Male Panel!” TUMBLR, which lays out its aims thusly: “Documenting all male panels, seminars, events, and various other things featuring all male experts.” Meeting participants are asked to send in pictures of their all male panels to the TUMBLR, where it will be stamped with a picture of David Hasselhoff–a “Hoffsome” stamp.
When I was asked to give a paper for a sick (male) friend at an ancient military panel on Saturday, I was exasperated to find that it too was a classic”manel”. The organizer and the panel consisted of kind, good scholars, but I felt like the whispers and the secret complaints of female academics usually only heard on Facebook or over early evening martinis at the conference hotel bar needed to be voiced.
Around 25 people populated the room, with 3-4 women (depending on the paper) in the audience and, well, 21 men. When it was my turn, I asked to speak to the ladies (“Ladies, can we talk?”) in the room and point blank told them that they should take the initiative and introduce themselves to the men in the room after the panel (“Tell them what you do! Ask them if there is a chance you can work together in the future!”). To the credit of the men in attendance, there was only one audible sigh (with visible eye roll for full effect), while everyone else just nodded and looked uncomfortable about my harpooning the elephant in the room. No matter! The paper went off well, and then we all had a good talk afterwards. I was relieved, but my carefully picked power dress had the biggest underarm sweat stains I can remember.
There are a number of reasons why these all male panels occur quite frequently in the field of Ancient History. One thing to remember is that the blame is not always on the shoulders of the old-boy network.
1. Ancient history has had a problem with attracting women–particularly in military, economic, and political history–for a long time. By my count, for every 7 men or so in these ancient subfields, there is 1 female ancient historian. This is better than it was in the 1970s, but still not good. One time, at a meeting of the AAH (Association of Ancient Historians) at Chapel Hill, I ran into a legendary female ancient historian in the bathroom. While the men’s line was out the door, it was just she and I in the rather large bathroom. She looked at me and said, “At least there is one plus to being a woman in this field: You never have to wait in line for the toilet!” Quite right. Simply put? We need more women to actively choose to work on Roman coinage, battlefield logistics, or late antique Visigothic law! If women don’t go into these fields, they can’t participate in the panels and the participant pool will remain largely male.
2. People pick their friends for panels rather than searching out others they may not know. Look, when you organize a conference, a panel, or a colloquium, you often go to the people you trust the most: your friends and the people whom you or your advisor has worked with before. I have done this. You have done this. We have all done this. The important thing to see is that having women visible on academic panels and on executive committees will encourage more women to follow suit and to get involved. Make an effort to seek out a female graduate student or professor rather than defaulting to the normal network. Men: Challenge yourself to incorporate women. Women: Challenge yourself to introduce yourselves to men in positions of power. I hate saying “lean-in”, but damn it: Lean In.
3. Female historians are seen as people who do “soft” history: The only time I usually see an all-female panel in Ancient History is when it is on the topic of “Women in Antiquity” or perhaps”Gender and Sex in the Ancient World.” Those are important topics, but that is not all we do. I know some badass women (e.g., Constantina Katsari) who can break down Roman economic history with the best of them. Also remember: All female panels can be just as bad as an all-male panel.
Early this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email in my inbox. The convener of the aforementioned military panel wrote to ask if I could introduce him to any women who specialized in ancient military history. I thought, “Um, yeah. Absolutely, dude.” I sent him a few names, but I do think there should be a better way to do this than just word of mouth. What if the AAH, the AHA, the SCS, ASGLE and the AIA all had a list of women willing to serve on panels, committees, or subgroups?
I have begun to compile a list of women in ancient history and invite you to add names to the list. It is an editable Google doc available here. Please contribute and comment. Let’s get this conversation started and make sure that next year we can make even more progress towards gender inclusion in Ancient History.