Grasping at the shirttails of #shirtstorm: Blaming men in academia

Across the Internet and in the dominant media, there has been a constant drumbeat about how the sciences are inherently sexist, in particular the STEM sciences. In recent years, most of this attention has focused on engineering, information technology, and mathematics. The social sciences, which always envied the “hard sciences,” seems to be desperate to receive the same attention.

It turns out that archaeology is in the grips of a terrible wave of sexism. Or at least this is what a series of recent studies by self-proclaimed feminists in anthropology claim.

I am an anthropologist. More specifically, I am an archaeologist. In the United States, most archaeologists are based in anthropology departments. Over my career, I have had female professors, mentors, and colleagues whom I have respected. This makes sense, as archaeology is attracting an ever-increasing number of young women. The problem with archaeology—and every other discipline, for the matter—is that there are not enough academic jobs for the massive oversupply of freshly minted PhDs every year. So what is a young person who is having trouble finding a job or succeeding in their career supposed to do?

You guessed it. Blame the patriarchy!

Or at least this is what a number of feminist anthropologists decided to blame. “If I don’t succeed,” they claim, “it’s the men’s fault.” Just like Anita Sarkeesian or Rebecca Watson, the cries of these damsels in distress have generated a lot of attention, helping to advance their careers. The most recent researcher attempting to make this bold career move is Dana Bardolph. Is this the dawning of Archaeology+?

In a recent study titled “A critical evaluation of recent gendered publishing trends in American archaeology” in American Antiquity, the flagship journal for archaeologists based in North America, Bardolph claims that gender inequality is rampant in archaeology. In the Science Daily press release on the paper, she starts off describing her experiences at a field-school in New Mexico as an undergraduate. A field-school is an ongoing research project like an excavation at which students get training in field methods and professors get free labor. (In fact, it’s better than that for the profs. The students pay to be there!)

According to the press release at Science Daily:

On an archaeology field trip in New Mexico as an undergraduate in 2006, Dana Bardolph noticed something that struck her as an odd gender imbalance: The professor leading the dig was a man, while the graduate assistant and all but two of the 14 undergrads were women. “And it just got me thinking,” Bardolph recalled. “Is this reflective of the profession as a whole, or is it an anomaly?”

The assumption here is simple. Since most of the students appear to be female, but (presumably) most working archaeologists are male, then it has to be the case that there are discriminatory practices in the discipline filtering out women. What does this mean regarding the researcher running the excavation? His position as the head of the project had nothing to do with his education, qualifications, or successful grant applications. Bardolph implies that the reason he has successfully pursued his career can be explained by something else entirely. As a man in our society, he is privileged. He did not build a career and earn his position. Instead, society granted it to him based on an arbitrary and unfair criterion.

Now, someone not viewing the scene through the filter of feminism might see something that Bardolph is missing. They might ask a very different question: Where are the men? Why aren’t there more male graduate and undergraduate students? There certainly is a gender imbalance, but it clearly favors women. This situation parallels the systematic sexism against men and boys in education described by Christina Hoff Sommers and Jonathan Taylor (and here). It also suggests that in the future, male academic archaeologists may become increasingly rare.

So how did Bardolph decide to expose the dark sexism at the heart of archaeology? Well, she approached the problem as a scientist, for which she should be commended. She examined 4,552 articles from 11 archaeological journals between 1990 and 2013. Her results are genuinely startling. Across the board, there is a ~3 to 1 ratio of journals authored (or first authored) by men compared to those authored (or first authored) by women. Even more intriguing, this ratio has been stable over the past 30 years.

This sounds bad, doesn’t it? Obviously, this confirms Bardolph’s field-school intuition that men are privileged in archaeology. What else could explain it?

Except that male privilege does not explain this ratio. Bardolph has to make an interesting concession in the press release (and also the article):

The journals don’t track submissions by gender, so there’s no way to tell if men are being favored explicitly, she said. Other studies, however, have found that men submit papers far more often than women do, with equal rejection rates among the genders.

I think this point conceded by the author should be repeated. There is no bias against women when it comes to selecting their manuscripts when competing against male authors. Women just submit fewer articles.

Blame the men! Patriarchy!

How does she attempt to support her claim that a woman’s decision not to write or submit a paper is the fault of sexism? From the press release:

Based on her research, Bardolph said she suspects the bias is likely a result of authorial behavior rather than editorial or reviewer bias. Women, she noted, are more likely to take on “nurturing” roles in academia and accept positions in smaller teaching colleges as opposed to large research universities with their more abundant resources.

“When you have grad students you can collaborate with, you publish more than you would if you were doing everything by yourself,” [Bardolph’s adviser and an associate professor of anthropology, Amber] VanDerwarker said. “I spent a few years at a teaching college just struggling to keep up with the publication record.”

Another potential factor Bardolph noted is more subjective: braving the sometimes-brutal journal submission process. The anonymity of peer reviewers occasionally engenders harsh rejections. And archaeology, which has long been dominated by men, is no exception.

“I think it’s highly plausible that the issue of rejection and whether you do decide to revise and resubmit or discard the manuscript — has a lot to do with confidence issues,” Bardolph said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that was in fact the case, that perhaps women were revising and resubmitting less often than men.”

So, “harsh” rejection is the fault of men. Women choosing collaboration is the fault of men. Women lacking confidence is the fault of men. Is building a career hard? That, too, is the fault of men.

For Bardolph, getting academia to acknowledge gender bias is just one step on a long road to equality. “People aren’t really realizing this sort of inequality is still pervasive,” she said.

Well, how credible are these claims about the culture of archaeology? First, observe that I am not writing this as a letter to American Antiquity, talking about it with my colleagues, or posting alternative views on social media. I am writing this under an assumed name at AVfM. In other words, it is incredibly risky even to gently question this narrative. Not only would I be an apostate, but I would also be an unemployed apostate.

More substantively, look at the people who self-elect to pursue anthropology as a career. A 2005 study by Daniel Klein and Charlotta Stern reported on at Inside Higher Ed found that anthropology and sociology are the least intellectually or ideologically diverse disciplines in the university. In terms of political partisanships, there is a 21.1 to 1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans. Furthermore, the brands of liberal to leftist perspectives in anthropology are indistinguishable from the blogs and “reporting” from the Social Justice Warriors of the Internet. Here is a brief list of titles from recent issues of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association:

  1. Public Indigeneity, Language Revitalization, and Intercultural Planning in a Native Amazonian Beauty Pageant
  2. Implementing Feminist Practice: A Conversation with Meg Conkey
  3. Managing Labor and Delivery among Impoverished Populations in Mexico: Cervical Examinations as Bureaucratic Practice
  4. Tacit Subjects: Belonging and Same-Sex Desire among Dominican Immigrant Men
  5. Nimo’s War, Emma’s War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War
  6. Gender and Culture at the Limit of Rights
  7. Gender Diversity in Indonesia: Sexuality, Islam and Queer Selves
  8. Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect

Obviously, anthropology provides a hostile environment for women.

In fact, these titles would not be out of place on tumblr or at Atheism+. Maybe PZ Myers would find the acceptance and success in anthropology he has not found in biology. In such a one-sided and increasingly extreme political environment, how is it possible for all of these supposed sexists to be hired and to maintain this sexist culture?

While Bardolph admits that the distribution emerges due to the behavior of women, she still implies that this is an example of gender inequality and sexism. Following the traditional feminist logic, she claims that culture intervened at some point and made these women less competitive. In other words, they have “internalized” misogyny and patriarchy. Perhaps this could be the case. However, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary.

Consider this. It is well documented that men, especially young men, take far more risks on average than young women. In fact, this is true across cultures and makes sense evolutionarily. Males of most species have to engage in risky behaviors more often than females in order to have a chance to pass on their genes. In fact, females of many species preferentially mate with males who succeed at risky behaviors, from peacocks to Homo sapiens.

Submitting an article to your peers for scrutiny is risky. Maybe men are more willing to take the risk.

Furthermore, women often express different preferences in their career and personal life than men do. A recent study by Lubinski et al. reported at Science Daily confirms this difference. This 40-year study of mathematically gifted men and women found roughly comparable levels of satisfaction with their work. However, men tended to have higher salaries and more senior positions in their respective fields. Why? On average, the men in the study worked 11 hours more per week than the women. The women in the study preferred flexibility prioritized a work/home life balance.

Bardolph remarks on a similar trend in female archaeologists. However, she blames sexism. She does not consider the alternative. Maybe the male authors in this sample simply put in more hours for longer periods of time. Maybe they placed their careers first and were happier about the choice than most women were.

Between a willingness to take risks and hard work, do we need the patriarchy to explain this difference in publication rates? The more parsimonious answer is “No!” There is no need to claim that there is a millennium-old conspiracy (patriarchy!) to keep women from leading archaeological excavations and publishing their results.

However, as women are our students and colleagues, how would I suggest that we encourage women to engage more meaningfully with the field and to move beyond these immature feelings of resentment?

Academia is increasingly feminized. Consensus and sensitivity to others’ feelings is valued over accomplishment. In other words, the reason that women as a group do not publish as much as men as a group is not caused by a patriarchal homunculus hiding deep in the minds of all men and all women. Instead, the problem is caused by feminism itself. The feminist rejection and devaluing of all aspects of masculinity and masculine values hurts women in academia.

Open competition and rewarding accomplishments are seen as negative and hurtful in feminized departments. However, a publication in a prestigious journal is an accomplishment. It is something that you aspire to. Building a CV full of such articles is a goal. More than this, it is a competitive goal. Instead of rejecting these masculine virtues, maybe these women should let go of their gynocentric biases and reflexive resentment and embrace these positive aspects of male sociality.

What is the alternative to rewarding accomplishment? Should we have quotas in scientific journals? Perhaps Bardolph want decisions to publish to be based on the sex and racial or ethnic background of the author? This sounds like the suicide of scientific credibility.

Embracing positive male values would make far too much sense, though, wouldn’t it? And it would not provide the clickbait to advance the careers of these charlatans. Bardolph is not well known as a paleobotanist. No, now she is well known as a feminist. Like the carpetbaggers at Atheism+ living in their Willy Wonka SJW fantasy world, this is her golden ticket to academic success.

I never thought my life could be anything but catastrophe
But suddenly I begin to see a bit of good luck for me
Cause I’ve got a golden ticket
I’ve got a golden twinkle in my eye
I never had a chance to shine never a happy song to sing,
But suddenly half the world is mine what an amazing thing
Cause I’ve got a golden ticket.
—Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

She and fellow opportunists have no choice but to go on and on about sexism in science. What is their evidence? A shirt and their own lack of accomplishment. If they had their way, what would the end result be? Will they actually drive women away from the field, away from taking a risk on sending their work in to be judged by their peers? If they do, they will never address the root of the problem—themselves.


Bardolph DN. 2014. A Critical Evaluation of Recent Gendered Publishing Trends in American Archaeology. American Antiquity 79(3):522-540.

Jaschik S. 2005. Social Scientists Lean to the Left, Study Says. Inside Higher Ed.

Klein DB, and Stern C. 2005. Professors and their politics: The policy views of social scientists. Critical Review 17(3-4):257-303.

Lubinski D, Benbow CP, and Kell HJ. 2014. Life Paths and Accomplishments of Mathematically Precocious Males and Females Four Decades Later. Psychological Science.

Sommers CH. 2000. The War Against Boys. The Atlantic.

Taylor J. The War on Male Students.

University of California – Santa Barbara. 19 November 2014. “Digging for answers: Gender inequality in archeology?.” ScienceDaily.

Vanderbilt University. 19 November 2014. “Gifted men and women define success differently, 40-year study finds.” ScienceDaily.

Wilson M, and Daly M. 1985. Competitiveness, risk taking, and violence: The young male syndrome. Ethology and Sociobiology 6(1):59-73.

Zahavi A, and Zahavi A. 1997. The Handicap Principle : A Missing Piece of Darwin’s Puzzle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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