Anthropology and gender have been on my mind a lot lately.
Last spring, the National Association of Student Anthropologists (NASA) was contacted by the Committee on Gender Equity in Anthropology (CoGEA) and asked to nominate a representative to be part of CoGEA’s roundtable discussion at November’s AAA meeting in San Francisco; I am attending as NASA’s representative and am requesting feedback from our membership. Among many possible issues, CoGEA has identified the following as topics of discussion: understanding institutional inequities towards women and/or women with families; the treatment of transgender colleagues in graduate school and beyond; the ways that organizations and institutions construct and enforce unequal treatment through extant gender categories; and data collection strategies for promoting the discussion and advocacy of gender equity in anthropology.
NASA’s board and I feel strongly that NASA has a voice on this important topic; NASA is one of the largest sections of AAA, and it’s very important to me that I accurately represent the opinions of its members during the presentation. I urge you to email me with your comments on these topics so that I may include them when I speak on NASA’s behalf (my email address appears at the end of this column).
In addition to having given a lot of thought to CoGEA’s roundtable, I recently completed a bibliographic essay on gender and feminist anthropology, which got me thinking about an experience I had at the first AAA meeting I attended.
For the 2006 meeting, I’d prepared a poster presentation with two other students. I’d just submitted a handful of applications for PhD programs and was preparing to defend my MA thesis. As part of what I considered professional preparation, I attended NASA’s student/mentor workshop, hoping to have my CV reviewed by seasoned anthropologists who could tell me whether or not I was doing the things I needed to do to have a successful academic career.
Among the handful of professors I spoke to at that workshop was a gentleman from a university in the eastern United States. We chatted amiably enough about my educational and career goals; he then said, “Now, I’m probably not supposed to ask this, but are you married?”
I said that I was, but I didn’t understand how that would affect my career prospects. He replied that it may be difficult for me to find a job in a place that had a job for my husband, too.
I was taken aback. Up to that point, I’d never felt that anything I’d done, school or career-wise, was affected in any way by the fact that I’m a woman. It seemed (and it seems) to me that careers and marriage go both ways – there has to be some give and take from both spouses. So I asked the professor if he would have asked that question if I was a man.
It was his turn to be taken aback. He thought for a moment, then replied, “Honestly, I don’t think I would have.”
Well, there you go. The message I took away from this was that if I was a married man, I could reasonably expect to have my wife follow me wherever I got a job, regardless of her situation. But as a woman looking for a job, I couldn’t necessarily expect to have my husband go where my job was, no questions asked.
I was absolutely stunned. I’m still stunned, writing about this six years later, that an educated anthropologist would suggest that being a married woman could hinder my career prospects, that my career might have to take a backseat to my husband’s. We laugh at the caricature of the woman/wife wearing an apron, taking care of the kids, and meeting her husband at the door with his martini and slippers – but I felt this was a stereotype I was expected to mirror, educational and career aspirations cast aside.
Problems like these are one piece of the gender equity pie; we can only reduce and eliminate barriers to gender equity by making our anthropological voices heard. I hope I can count on my fellow student anthropologists to do just that.
Keri A Canada is a fifth-year cultural and medical anthropology PhD student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and is NASA’s Contributing Editor to Anthropology News.
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