A fieldwork tale from beneath the pyramid

Kate Clancy shares a reader’s story about her experiences as a graduate student doing fieldwork with a team of anthropologists: “From the Field: Hazed Tells Her Story of Harassment”.

My professor often joked that only pretty women were allowed to work for him, which led me to wonder if my intellect and skills had ever mattered. He asked very personal questions about my romantic life, often in the presence of the male students. His inappropriate behavior was a model for them, making it not only acceptable, but the norm. My body and my sexuality were openly discussed by my professor and the male students.

This kind of story is too common, and I think it should be widely read. Many people reading this may imagine that it describes the field as it existed in 1970, but it is 2012 and there are many professional anthropologists who run their field programs like this today. The problem is not limited to cases where females have received discrimination from male supervisors – I know many personal stories of extreme field harassment by female supervisors on female students as well.

From later in the story, this quote encompasses much of the truth of the matter, “I didnt realize that many research projects are run like pyramid schemes, with rigid status hierarchies, ruthless competition, the exploitation of students and objectification of women.” Tenure protects these people, even though in theory they can be dismissed for harassment, because it gives them much power to make trouble for those who would complain. I will note that our middle schools have grown-ups who do not tolerate this kind of behavior from seventh-grade boys.