I believed myself a strong proponent of my work – unafraid to get up and talk about it, to deliver speeches on the twists and turns of colour in the ancient world. I also believed that I was not afraid to speak my mind when I believed in something – after all, I’ve been an active union member in every job for the last seven years, and before that worked for charities that spoke out for minorities and rallied for their cause. I am unafraid of telling my truths.
And yet, I realise I still filter myself when speaking about my research. I’m wary of speaking about my findings in definitive terms and stating my case in a partial way, of pinning my colours to my chest. Quite literally. I started to fluster over giving the colours I am studying direct meaning, of saying, “Given x and y findings, I conclude that this colour means z”. I obfuscated. Elided that part of my work and prioritised speaking about the “bigger picture” – until last week.
I gave a paper at a week long seminar course called Theorising Digital Archaeology – Critically Engaging with the Digital Turn in Archaeology. And received a fair old grilling of my reluctance to commit. From it, I got the most wonderful piece of advice, that feels like an awakening. It’s OK to draw conclusions and state them – it’s my research and if anyone feels differently they can conduct their own and bring up their counter-arguments. I am the storyteller.
My reticence was born of so many things, that I’ve had the chance to reflect over and consider over the last few days. It’s from a comment at a conference that my research was interesting, if not very useful. It’s the dismissal by my scientist partner of any work I ask him to proofread because it’s not empirical enough for him. It’s intense bouts of impostor syndrome. It’s because I am a woman in academia.
With regards to that last point, I would like to thank fellow academic Delia Ni Chobhain Enqvist, for reminding me that as a woman, I have a lingering social guilt to not speak up, to not step into a spotlight – but that should not stop me. This Guardian article on women leaving academia has been doing the rounds again in the last depressing day or so, spurring me on to post this piece. I have deleted and rewritten it time and time again, not wanting to be seen to having a strong opinion for fear of future reprisals. The internet can be a black hole of a place where you dance over an event horizon of sexist trollery and bile, never escaping into the cool vacuum calm of space, and falling inexorably closer to the singularity of shame and anxiety. Well, enough of that for me. I am tired of sitting meekly by and not commenting on articles that anger and infuriate me, tired of not sharing my adrenaline rush of excitement over my latest findings, tired of pausing to self-censor rational comments on stories that I know will attract attention from the corners of the internet that do not want me to have a voice.
I have a voice. It will be a little louder from now on.