Women in Classics in the UK: Numbers and Issues


Analysis of Findings – The WCC Survey

Women in Classics in the UK: Numbers and Issues

By Victoria Leonard and Irene Salvo

With contributions from Emma Bridges, Kate Cook, Lisa Eberle, Katherine McDonald and Amy Russell

This piece has been published simultaneously in the CUCD Bulletin, where you can download this report as a PDF document.



Following the creation of the Women’s Classical Committee, one of our first tasks was to establish the state of the field for women in Classics in the UK: what kind of challenges and obstacles do women face? What kind of professional roles do women occupy, and where are they excluded? What kind of support do women benefit from, and what is lacking? We decided to construct a survey in order to ask people directly about their experiences as well as collecting some useful quantitative data.

Here we present our analysis of the collective response to the survey. Invitation to fill in the survey was made through the Classicists Liverpool List, Twitter, and Facebook, and 417 responses were given. An evident bias inherent within the data is that those who are adversely affected by the issues raised and who have a corresponding higher level of awareness are more likely to complete the survey, potentially skewing the results to reflect a more gloomy situation than is the case. Furthermore, the random nature of participants prevents the survey from being statistically representative.[1] Despite the limitations of the data collected, the results of the survey reveal in a clear and consistent manner the depressing, unsatisfactory, and unequal situation faced by female classicists. Moreover, some of the issues raised by the survey such as sexual harassment are so serious that they need urgent attention, regardless of how representative (or not) the data is.

[1] To calculate the population size and the corresponding optimal sample size the forthcoming data from the Council of University Classical Departments (CUCD) statistics for the year 2015/16 on the student and staff population could be used, to which we could add the statistics for Classics teachers and researchers in non-HEIs (Higher Education Institutions).


1. Composing the Survey (Victoria Leonard)

The construction of the survey proved to be a much larger task than we first thought and posed a real intellectual challenge, raising some fundamental problems about the scope of our target audience, and the information we wanted to gather. The survey was hosted by Google Forms and was put together using feedback generated from the Committee on Slack.com. Both online platforms were invaluable tools: they enabled the survey to be constructed democratically, allowing swift response to criticism and the instant and public integration of changes. We wanted the survey to focus on the experiences of primarily but not exclusively female classicists at moments or situations of particular professional vulnerability – for instance, balancing considerable parenting or caring responsibilities, being Early Career and female, or experiencing mental or physical health issues.

The survey was divided into six sections:

  1. Personal Information
  2. Gender in Professional Environments
  3. Gender in Professional Interactions
  4. Gendered Work: Parenting and Caring
  5. Mental Health and Disability Issues
  6. Women in Classics: The State of the Field

The first section, ‘Personal Information’, asked the current occupational status of respondents, their age, their gender, and their field of study. Section two, ‘Gender in Professional Environments’, covered working and contractual hours, the gender ratio between students, staff and senior staff, and casualization. Section three, ‘Gender in Professional Interactions’, asked respondents about gender or sex-based discrimination, if gender or sex-based issues affected career progression, and if respondents had experienced inappropriate or unwelcome sexual behaviour. Section four, ‘Gendered Work: Parenting and Caring’, asked respondents about the intersection between professional academic life and parenting and caring responsibilities and choices. It also asked about the provisions and facilities employers made for those parenting and caring whilst working. Section five, ‘Mental Health and Disability Issues’, asked about mental health and disability issues. Section six, ‘The State of the Field’, returned to a broader perspective, asking respondents about the support they received, career progression for women in Classics, and what aims and initiatives respondents wanted to see the WCC introduce.

Three issues were central in the construction of the survey: one, who are we going to ask? Two, what are we going to ask them? And three, how are we going to ask?


1.1 Respondents (Who are we going to ask?)

Many of the issues the survey raised quite clearly affected all genders, and not exclusively women. We wanted to be inclusive and encourage people of all genders to complete the survey. This impulse was partly an acknowledgement of reverse discrimination, that gender and sex-based discrimination does not just harm women, and that the experiences of men, to use those polarising and problematic categories briefly, were felt to be of equal value. Similarly, in terms of professional demographic we decided to keep the survey as open as possible. We invited anyone studying, trained in, or working in the field of Classics to complete the survey. ‘Classics’ itself was very broadly defined, reaching back to prehistory and up to the Middle Ages. We anticipated that classicists working in non-Higher Education Institutions, particularly school teachers, would make contributions, as well as an audience spanning undergraduates to full-time academic staff in Higher Education Institutions. The inflexible aspect of the survey was geographical in that we required information contributed to be based on experience from the UK.


1.2 Language and Categorisation (What are we going to ask?)

Our second challenge was how to formulate and phrase the questions. During the early stages of drafting it was difficult to avoid confirmation bias, where an expected answer was imposed on the question; for example, rather than asking how have the effects of casualization damaged your career progress, we asked ‘have you experienced the effects of casualization in your employment?’ with a yes/no choice and a large text-box for detailed answers. We also tried to construct positive questions – rather than asking women in Classics what support is lacking, we asked what kind of support women found beneficial.

We were mindful of the balance between obtaining as much information as possible from our respondents, and not making the form overly long. In early drafts, the format of every answer was a large textbox. However, as much as we would like, realistically respondents were not going to write 500 carefully considered words for every question. Providing convenient tick-boxes or multiple choices would make the form quicker to fill in and make respondents much more likely to complete the form. But categorisation brings its own perils, and it was difficult to decide when to limit categories. For example, Ancient Literature and Ancient Philosophy were included in the ‘Personal Information’ section identifying which field of study participants belonged to, but Classical Reception studies, and other modern theoretical concepts applied to antiquity like feminist theory or postcolonialism, were not represented.  The survey ultimately included only two questions with no suggestions or options: ‘Which gender category do you most identify with?’ and ‘What aims or initiatives would you like to see advanced by the WCC in the support of women in classical studies?’ The question about gender was changed just before the form went live after feedback from an undergraduate student suggested that even open categorises including ‘fluid gender identity’ were too restrictive, and that it would be preferable for respondents to describe their own gender rather than providing specific options.


 1.3 Relevant Issues and Intersectionality (How are we going to ask?)

The third challenge was deciding on the information we wanted to gain from respondents. The survey was designed to target the experiences of primarily female classicists at particularly vulnerable points or situations; the committee were particularly aware of intersectionality, where issues of gender discrimination and bias converged with additional factors such as sexuality, disability, and ethnicity. Originally, the category of ethnicity was included in the question: ‘Have issues of gender, sex, or sexual orientation affected your career progression?’ But as composition of the form progressed it became clear that mixing these important and complex issues with other factors that may hinder women professionally was unsatisfactory – it felt gestural and inadequate. We decided ultimately that issues of ethnicity were too substantial to be tacked on to the survey and could potentially detract from the WCC’s main focus, gender. Issues of ethnicity and sexuality, it was decided, will be considered intrinsically for future surveys.




2. Personal Information (Kate Cook)

Which gender category do you most identify with?

As might perhaps be expected, the vast majority of respondents self-identified as ‘female/woman’, with 324 answers (81%). However, the survey attracted the interest also of a significant number of male respondents with 70 answers, constituting 17% of responses. Approximately thirteen respondents chose not to answer this question on gender identity, while two respondents were transmen. While the option to self-identify beyond a tick-box approach was valuable, the terms of the question were slightly unclear, or people – as often happens online – were being less than sincere when responding that their gender was ‘heterosexual’ (2), ‘earth gender’ (1), ‘drama’ (1), and ‘theyism’ (1).

Figure 1


Which age bracket do you belong to?

Respondents were reasonably well-spread across all ages, with the bracket 21-40 the best represented. There were no significant differences between the percentages of male and female respondents falling into each age bracket.

Figure 2


How would you describe your current occupational status? 

Substantially more research postgraduates and full-time academics responded than any other group. This might reflect that certain groups are particularly engaged in the issues represented by the WCC, and are therefore more likely to complete the survey. It may also be that the professional demographic of those who completed the survey was determined by the channels through which the survey was advertised, namely the Classicists Liverpool List and social media. There was a reasonable take-up among non-HEI professionals, which itself demonstrates the pertinence of the issues identified in the survey (i.e. access to ancient language teaching, how Classics is taught), and that they begin earlier than Higher Education.

The full-time academic staff category comprised nearly 10% more male than female respondents. However, the spread of female respondents covered a wider range of career categories in general, since there were far more female respondents. Therefore, one should be wary of treating this discrepancy in the full-time academic group as meaningful without a fuller data set.

Figure 3


What broadly is your field of study?

 Respondents were fairly widely spread across all fields of Classics. Statistically this is hard to quantify as there is likely to be significant overlap between categories, and some may encompass a greater number of subfields than others. There was also a considerable number (45) of ‘Other’ responses, which might include large disciplines such as Epigraphy, Papyrology, and Classical Reception. There were no significant differences between male or female percentages of respondents in particular fields.

Figure 4


3. Gender in professional environments (Amy Russell, with Lisa Eberle on HESA and CUCD data)

The first question in the section asked, ‘How many hours a week on average do you work in your position?’ 16% of respondents were not in employment, while 36% reported that they work fewer than 40 hours per week, and 47% worked more than 40 hours per week. These numbers may be slightly skewed because some respondents chose to give the hours they are contracted to work, while others gave the hours they actually work. The ambiguity only goes to further underline our headline statistic for this section: 52% of respondents reported that they are expected to work more than their contracted hours in order to fulfill the regular duties of their job. 20% did not answer the question about whether they worked more than their contracted hours, but in free-text comments many of those noted that they did not know what their contracted hours were. Several noted that their official job description only covered teaching, but they felt required to contribute extra time to keeping current in their research, either as an implicit requirement of their job or as a necessity for career progression.


3.1 Gender ratio

Respondents perceived that the student body is balanced or predominantly female, whilst perceived ratios among staff (and especially senior staff) do not reflect this. Only 19% reported that the balance among senior staff was equal; 66% reported that senior staff were predominantly men, with 34% reporting that as few as one in five senior members of staff were women. At each level of seniority, the perceived representation of women decreases (the infamous ‘leaky pipeline’).

In your professional environment what broadly is the gender ratio between students?

Figure 5


In your professional environment what broadly is the gender ratio between staff?

Figure 6


In your professional environment what broadly is the gender ratio between senior staff?

Figure 7


According to the information provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for 2014/15, while about the same number of women as men are now being employed in Classics, more women than men work part-time, and more women than men have temporary contracts. Of 105 Classics Professors in the UK, only 25 are women, equivalent to a meager 23.8%. Conversely, in what HESA terms ‘Other contract levels’ women outnumber men by a 3% margin. The impression that emerges from our respondents on career progression and security seems to reflect accurately the situation in the UK. A look at age distribution enables some traction on longer-term developments. In brief, the younger people in the field are, the more likely they are to be female. Classicists under 35 right now are more likely to be female than male (56%). Therefore, if we momentarily disregard the effects of the ‘leaky pipeline’, one could expect that in fifteen years more women will hold Chairs in Classics, Ancient History, and Archaeology.


3.2 Casualization

Casualization is clearly a pressing concern. Half of respondents answered a question directed exclusively at non-permanent employees; 32% of those who answered have less than a year’s employment security. 35% of all respondents cannot support themselves on their income from Classics. This includes 35% of those who identified themselves as Early Career Academics, and 72% of research postgraduates.

A question asking about the effects of casualization was directed specifically at Early Career Academics and postgraduates. There were 242 responses, of which 46% had experienced the effects of casualization on their employment. A free-text box asked for comments on how they had experienced those effects. The answers provided a depressingly repetitive picture. Respondents were concerned both for their current situation and for their career prospects. Stress and other threats to mental health were the most frequently mentioned issues. Casual employment makes it hard to plan ahead in terms of personal life, finances, including specific issues like being ineligible for a mortgage, and research. Some respondents faced difficulty accessing resources, including libraries and email, either because contracts do not continue over the summer or because frequent moves mean starting afresh every year. Constant moves around the country are draining, and many casual employees end up with very long commutes because they cannot move house for short-term contracts. Pay is low, and casual employees are often not paid for essential parts of their jobs, such as teaching preparation or marking which continues after the end of the official contract. Many are not paid at all for the summer. Multiple respondents noted that their actual hours worked took them below minimum wage. The outlook was pessimistic: several respondents mentioned that they saw jobs which in the past would have been permanent be given to temporary or casual employees.


For Early Career Academics and Postgraduates – have you experienced the effects of casualization in your employment?

Figure 8


It is instructive to compare the experience of our respondents with the data provided by the Council of University Classics Departments (CUCD). From 1986, the CUCD has gathered information on the total number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) in Classics departments all over the UK. From the academic year 2001/02, it began collecting more detailed information, indicating part-time vs. full-time employment and permanent vs. temporary positions (see here the most recent publication). This focus makes the data immediately relevant to the issue of casualization as it pertains to the field of Classics. The CUCD has not yet gathered information about the gender or ethnicities of people working in Classics in British Higher Education Institutions. To widen the scope of this annual data-gathering effort, including gender and ethnicity factors would be a beneficial integration. In this way, the CUCD statistics would help to monitor the gendered and ethnic fabric of Classics departments in the UK.


4. Gender in Professional Interactions (Katherine McDonald)

 This section was made up of three questions, with respondents being invited to contribute examples with their answer if they chose. The free-text questions which invited respondents to give examples from their experiences ended up overlapping considerably. Responses included discussions of discrimination and negative attitudes towards women in the workplace, difficulties for women in recruitment and promotion, problems related to parenting in academia, sexual harassment, and bullying.


In a professional environment have you experienced discrimination on the basis of your sex, gender, sexual orientation, or issues associated with these?

Figure 9


For this question, 32% of respondents reported that they had experienced discrimination based on their sex, gender or sexual orientation. A further 44% thought that they had not experienced such discrimination, and 24% were not sure or replied ‘Other’.

Of these, over a quarter of respondents (118) added to their reply with a longer answer. Some of the most common complaints included: not being heard or not being taken seriously; being given tasks that were seen as undesirable or offered lower rewards (such as higher teaching loads, higher expectations of administrative and pastoral work, and even making the tea) and being prevented from taking up desirable or highly rewarded tasks; and women’s research not being taken seriously (particularly research connected with gender and feminism). Several respondents reported being warned off feminist research if they wished to remain employable. Being pigeon-holed into certain roles or modes of behaviour was another common theme of the answers, with respondents expressing frustration that they were expected only to do feminist or woman-centred research, that they were expected to be naturally ‘nurturing’ towards students, or that they were expected to act in a particular way in interpersonal interactions in their departments.

Problems with students was another common element in the survey responses, with clear concerns from respondents that students do not take female teachers and lecturers seriously or give them poor evaluations – with the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework this problem needs to be addressed. Conversely, several students also mentioned that their teachers and supervisors had had lower expectations of women as learners.

A number of respondents replied in this section that women with children, or women of childbearing age, were at particular risk of these kinds of problems. Several respondents highlighted that gender intersects with age, ethnicity, and sexuality – young women, women of colour, and gay women felt that they had a particularly difficult time being taken seriously.


Have issues of gender, sex, or sexual orientation affected your career progression?

Figure 10


Of 399 responses, 22% felt that their career progression had been significantly or a little bit affected by their gender, sex or sexual orientation. 28% felt that it was hard to say.

In the comments, there was a particular focus on pregnancy, breast-feeding, and parenting as problems in career progression. Respondents felt that returning after a career break or maternity leave was particularly challenging. Many respondents also felt that men were more likely to get recruited to permanent positions and more likely to be promoted or encouraged to apply for promotion, though three respondents felt that recruitment was now favouring women.


Have you experienced unwelcome and/or inappropriate sexual behaviour in a professional environment?

Figure 11


For this question, 25% of respondents said that they had experienced unwelcome or inappropriate sexual behaviour. 39% said they had not experienced any inappropriate sexual behaviour at all, but a number of these respondents nevertheless reported having witnessed this behaviour. A small but significant number of the comments included reports of very serious instances of sexual harassment, assault, intimidation, and bullying.

Many respondents brought up incidents of inappropriate sexual behaviour or comments from their students; other reported being the target of sexual harassment by their teachers, lecturers, or supervisors. In particular, female graduate students identified themselves as targets of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual attention by their supervisors, colleagues and academics in other contexts, particularly at conferences. The repercussions of this dynamic in academia should be taken very seriously.

There were also four suggestions in the comments that things are improving for women in academia in this regard – sexual harassment and bullying are taken more seriously by management and Human Resources, and overt misogyny is not seen as ‘normal’ – but there are nevertheless still serious problems being experienced across the age groups. A number of respondents commented that these problems seem disproportionately to affect groups which are already vulnerable, namely young women, women in minority groups, and women with children.


5. Gendered Work: Parenting and Caring (Victoria Leonard)

In this section the questions were designed to ascertain information about parenting and caring responsibilities not as a distinct personal activity but as an inextricable part of a professional career. The questions fell broadly into two categories, asking respondents about balancing parenting or caring responsibilities and a career, and the facilities provided by places of employment.


Have you found it difficult to resolve conflicts between your personal or family life and career?

Figure 12


The survey asked if respondents had found it difficult to resolve conflicts between personal or family life and their career, and at 63% overwhelmingly the response was yes. The question ‘Has the issue of career progression and the nature of academic life affected your parenting and caring choices?’ produced a more mixed response:  40% of people affirmed that this was the case, but many participants found that the question was irrelevant, not having such responsibilities.

When asked if taking on parental or caring responsibilities had harmed participants financially, 49% of people felt that it had.  A majority of 35% of people were unsure when asked if they felt that their employer offered adequate institutional support for those taking on parenting and caring responsibilities. This reflects a lack of knowledge, suggesting that such issues are not prominent in HEIs and expected standards are variable. Over 33% of people felt that institutional support was inadequate.


Does your place of employment provide child-friendly facilities?

Figure 13


When asked about child-friendly facilities provided by employers, 62% answered that their place of work had entrances and exits that accommodated people with additional needs. But only 6% of people said that there was somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest and lie down, despite this being a legal requirement under the 1992 Workplace Regulation.[1] Less than 20% of people said that their place of work had a changing table and easily accessible toilet, a fundamental requirement for young children.

When asked about day-care options, 40% of people were unsure about the day-care options offered by their place of employment. This could suggest that many of the respondents do not have parenting or caring responsibilities, but it nevertheless demonstrates how hidden such issues are despite their fundamental importance for people balancing parenting or caring responsibilities and employment. When asked if their place of employment encourages the presence of children, only 21% could answer affirmatively.

In summary, responses to this section of the survey provide a depressing insight into parenting or caring whilst working. The impact on the careers and finances of people with parenting or caring responsibilities is significant, with inadequate support from employers to counterbalance this. Many of the issues around combining professional employment with the demands of the family are hidden, physically within institutions in the lack of provision, but also in terms of knowledge about what support is available, such as the provision of childcare and the acceptability of children at work.

[1] http://www.hse.gov.uk/mothers/law.htm. Last accessed 24.07.2016.


6. Mental health and disability issues (Emma Bridges)

Of 407 respondents, almost half (195) answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘Have you experienced mental health issues?’ Respondents were advised that there need not have been a formal diagnosis to answer ‘yes’.


Have you experienced mental health issues? (There need not be a formal diagnosis to answer ‘yes’)

Figure 14


The free-text comments in this section were revealing: some saw academia as a cause of their problems which included insomnia, depression, mental exhaustion, and anxiety, or as exacerbating pre-existing conditions, with the added stress brought on by, for example, the uncertainty of short-term contracts, performance-related pressures and deadlines, or workplace conflict and bullying. But some reported positive effects, citing the focus their work offers, and the support of colleagues and job satisfaction as being helpful. 32 respondents considered themselves to have additional needs or a disability and, as was the case with those who had been faced with mental health issues, the free-text answers revealed a range of positive and negative experiences relating to support given and discrimination experienced by individuals. Issues here ranged from problems relating to accessibility of facilities/buildings or specialist equipment, lack of training for managers and administrative staff on equality issues, and the failure of other academics to recognise an individual’s needs.

As several respondents pointed out, detaching issues faced by those with mental health problems or disabilities from issues relating to gender in the workplace is complicated, as (perceived or actual) discrimination in these cases might relate to more than one factor; this would therefore require further detailed work to unpick. Nonetheless, what the responses did reveal is that levels of support and understanding vary widely between institutions and departments. Perhaps the key point to note here should be that, at a local level, individuals can make a significant difference: by showing empathy; by challenging entrenched attitudes and behaviours; and by encouraging a culture of openness about mental health and disability issues.


7. State of the field (Irene Salvo)

The objective of the last section of our survey was to gain an overview about the perception of women in Classics, what challenges they face, and how the WCC can contribute to implementing real changes in the current environment.

We asked what kind of support is currently available to classicists, and respondents had benefited especially from peer-groups, institutional mentoring programmes, social media interactions, and professional societies.


What kind of support do you currently find beneficial?

Figure 15


The two following questions focused on the perception of the degree of difficulty of career progression for women. 59% of respondents found career progression to be more difficult than for male colleagues. 74% perceived career progression to be ‘very’ or ‘slightly’ difficult for women.


Do you find the career progression of women to be more difficult than that of men?

Figure 16


How difficult do you perceive career progression to be for women in your field?

Figure 17


This last question allowed respondents to specify in a free-text box what the most difficult challenges were. Problems and issues already mentioned in previous sections recurred here. These included:  career progression, promotion, and recognition; the rarity of leadership roles or international key research roles for women, with more pastoral care, teaching, and admin tasks assigned to female colleagues; lack of confidence; not being taken seriously, isolation or even discrimination for women doing gender-related research; scarcity of women in steering committee panels, review boards or interview panels; students’ feedback discriminatory to women; no mentoring programmes for women; expectations of long working hours, with a tangible stigma on those who request a better work-life balance. Parental and maternity issues, childcare, and caring responsibilities formed the other great problematic area, especially because children are still primarily the responsibility of women. Many respondents wrote that they are delaying starting a family, or have decided not to have children in favour of their career. Casualization often exacerbates family related problems, since temporary jobs rarely offer maternity leave or pregnancy allowances. Sexual harassment and everyday sexism was the third greatest area of challenge. Intersectionality with other issues was also prevalent; for example, a young black woman is more likely to face discrimination. Some respondents rightly underlined that in the current job market men and women alike are struggling with an arduous career path because there is a general lack of permanent positions, and gender may not be the main problem. This is true, but it is also undeniable that gender has (at the very least) the potential to hinder, complicate, and delay an already difficult path for female Classicists.

To our final question, ‘what aims or initiatives would you like to see advanced by the WCC in the support of women’, we received a great deal of precious positive suggestions, although some respondents exploited the anonymity of the survey to use this section to vent their spleen against gender-related research, and victimized men complained about the gender-based discrimination they suffer.

The majority of respondents asked for training programmes tailored to women and early career researchers, mentoring from established women in Classics, networking workshops and sandpits, a WCC panel at the Classical Association conference, and a dedicated feminist conference organised by the WCC. Respondents expected action in advocacy and lobbying, such as encouraging conferences to provide childcare facilities; the improvement of REF rules concerning caring and maternity; childcare in Higher Education Institutions; raising awareness of the importance of work-life balance; more transparency on gender and career progression statistics; and greater attention to all-male panels at conferences or committees. Other respondents requested more funding and scholarship opportunities (e.g. for conference travel or publication costs), and events with school teachers and pupils.

There was unequivocally a widespread need for emotional and moral support, for a friendly, open space where one can freely talk, speak out, and be heard. This space could be physical, thanks to meetings organised also outside of London or Oxbridge, or virtual, via social media and blogging. This section of the survey gave voice to a clear call for a greater equality in Classics in general: the image of our field needs to be transformed to be less elitist and more inclusive. Furthermore, gender is not just about women, and not just about white, straight, biologically born women.



With greater visibility for female academics, more women in permanent jobs, and proper parental leave, the situation facing women in academia has improved in some ways since the 1970s. But especially with pay inequality, the rise of short-term contracts and increasing casualization, the career path for female classicists is strewn with unknown obstacles, and the process of navigation is complex, challenging, and at times insurmountable. Certain barriers to progress are clearly gendered, as demonstrated by the data on sexual harassment. On one level, given that half of employed classicists are female (excepting senior positions), the results of the WCC’s survey are a testament to the resilience and resistance of those women. On the other hand, the survey shows that much still remains to be done, and that there is a plethora of measures the WCC can take to improve the situation.

Early Career Scholars are seeking more guidance and networking possibilities in order to be better prepared for an academic career. Considering the HESA data mentioned above, with a majority of female Classicists under 35, it looks like the voices of an ever-growing number of women entering the field are confronted with an authority and power that is predominantly male, with women often excluded from senior and leadership roles.

Our respondents have reported worrying experiences of student and staff victims of sexual harassment. Furthermore, our survey clearly suggests that childcare facilities are undeveloped, and this lack of support impedes the progress of working parents and the creation of a working environment in which staff can find a good work-life balance. Finally, a changing of individual and institutional attitudes to disability and mental health issues can contribute to a safer and psychologically healthier climate for everyone in academia.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes: ‘gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change.’[1] Reading the 417 stories shared by our respondents, our reactions were anger, astonishment, frustration, and sadness, as well as hope and inspiration. Very often we found ourselves in those stories. The survey represents, then, a valuable opportunity for the WCC to act directly upon the insights the community of Classicists has offered, and we thank all those who generously gave their time and experiences in support of this endeavour.

[1] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists, London 2014, 21.

Eating Ovid: An Experiment in Staging Shakespeare’s Classical Sources


After our successful and thought-provoking feminist pedagogy event in July, we invited the speakers to write up their spotlight talks as blog posts, to share their experiences with our wider readership. Our first post is from Stephe Harrop, Lecturer in Drama (Shakespeare and the Classics) at Liverpool Hope University.

Titus Andronicus poster (image credit Jon Gilbert)

Titus Andronicus poster (image credit Jon Gilbert)

This post reflects on an undergraduate production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus I directed in spring 2016 at Liverpool Hope University. This would not have been my first choice of play for a high-stakes student assessment with a second-year cohort I was only just getting to know, so I want to start by thanking the group who would become the Titus Andronicus ensemble for suggesting such a challenging project, and for their stamina and creative courage throughout. I’m also grateful to my colleague Louise Wilson, early modern scholar and book historian, for her unfailing insight and support.

Titus Andronicus is both crammed with classical allusion, and (in)famous for its extreme, often sexual, violence, many of its worst excesses directly drawing inspiration from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with the tale of Philomela-Tereus-Procne a recurring point of focus. In the play, Titus’ daughter is raped and mutilated in an attack explicitly modelled on Tereus’ treatment of Philomela (2.3.43-44), though calculated to exceed its cruelties (2.4.38-43). There follows a long, poetically elaborate, and self-consciously Ovidian description of her mutilated body, delivered by Lavina’s uncle (2.4.11-57). In The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare (2000), Lynn Enterline highlights the ‘supremely literary origin’ of the acts ‘written on Lavinia’s body’ (8). She argues that despite Lavinia’s unwillingness ‘to be interpreted yet again by the book written across her wounded body’ her narrative is ‘relentlessly pulled back to the story of Philomela’ (8). Lavinia’s body becomes the page upon which male readers of Ovid forcibly inscribe their own meanings.

I knew, from the outset, that I wanted to include some of Shakespeare’s classical intertexts within our performance, giving students the opportunity to engage with Titus Andronicus as operating within an extended heritage of literary violence. I thought of using Lavinia and Young Lucius as a focus for these intertextual moments, since we know that Lavinia is literate, and before the play begins she’s been reading to and with her nephew (4.1.13-15). She’s a sophisticated enough reader to make jokes drawn from her knowledge of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the moments before she is attacked (2.3.70-71). I pictured her, modern paperback in hand, reading Ovid aloud with Young Lucius. And then another image started to form in my head. Lavinia, mutilated and mute, with pages torn from her own copy of Ovid forced into her mouth. A woman reader, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1.2.89-90), ‘put to silence’. That’s where I started from.

This directorial choice had unintended, but important, consequences. First of all, it meant that multiple copies of Ovid’s Metamorphoses were present in the rehearsal room from the beginning of our process. In consequence, as we began to develop our physical skills as an ensemble, we were also beginning to explore the book as material object; something to be thrown, caught, dropped, recovered, creased, smoothed, passed from hand to hand. Then we grew bolder. We began to incorporate these books into scenes where, officially, they had no place, contexts in which they might be snatched, slammed, weaponised, ripped, their pages shredded, scattered, or destroyed. Ultimately, these books became a central component of the production’s minimalist aesthetic, their use not confined to the single scene in which Shakespeare brings a copy onstage in order for Lavinia to identify the likeness between her own experience and the story of Philomela (4.1). Wherever Shakespeare’s play performs violence upon bodies, we began to perform the same violence upon books. Ripped from Alarbus’ and Bassianus’ guts, spilling from Lavinia’s mouth and hands, bundled into a shawl to represent Aaron’s newborn son, and unceremoniously tipped out again to serve as Titus’ Ovid-inspired cannibal banquet, chewed, spat out (maybe even occasionally eaten), torn pages from the Metamorphoses became the physical stuff from which we created our Rome.

The Aftermath (photo Stephe Harrop)

The Aftermath (photo Stephe Harrop)


Reflecting on this process, it seems to me that live performance’s physical presence potentially allows us to place a new emphasis upon the materiality of classical texts, changing the range of things we’re able to do with and to them. We’re all too familiar with the idea that books do things to bodies. Current debates about curriculum content, trauma, and trigger warnings are predicated upon the (often unspoken) understanding that ancient literary materials may, in Alex Wardrop’s phrase, create ‘hurt at this moment, in this room, right now’ (18). (See, for example, recent reflections on the subject from Liz Gloyn, Fiona McHardy and Susan Deacy.) However, drama’s physical interactions make it a pedagogical context within which we can also do things to books, unsettling conventional understandings of classical text as inviolable, while students’ bodies may have been violated and damaged in all kinds of ways. In directing Titus Andronicus, I found that bringing copies of the Metamorphoses into the rehearsal space allowed my unease about the tragedy’s pleasure in re-playing Ovidian violence to assume a tangible, material presence. And, as these books became central to the ensemble’s creative process, I also discovered that transforming our thinking about canonical texts – acknowledging and exploring the material presence of the book, as well as the ancient poem it contains – can potentially open a provocative space for students to develop their own critiques of, and resistances to, a classical play’s re-performed atrocities.

Stephe Harrop, harrops@hope.ac.uk

My Classics Career: Prof. Helen King


I’m retiring in January. I’ve managed (and that word suggests more of a conscious process than it should!) my academic career without a single day of unemployment. But this doesn’t mean it’s all been a bed of roses, and I’m writing this to share my experiences of uncertainty and to tell people how it was in my past, and how I coped, from starting my PhD in 1980. While some things were easier, getting a permanent job in academia wasn’t one of them.

How PhDs worked…

Doing a PhD wasn’t inevitable! Actually, neither was going to university; I’d worked in a bookshop for a year after leaving school, as I wasn’t sure university was for me. I never intended to do a PhD – I didn’t know what one was, or what it involved. I went straight from a combined honours BA in Ancient History/Social Anthropology at UCL to PhD work there, simply because further study had started to appeal, and because I got the funding from the Department for Education. There was no interview: I assume funding was allocated by degree result and references. I’d only had to write about 15 lines on my topic, ‘Ancient Greek concepts of time’, in contrast to today where it seems you need to have pretty well written the PhD thesis in order to persuade anyone to fund you. I’d have been stretched writing more than 15 lines!

Hurdle no.1 safely over, I had six months of not having a clue what I was supposed to be doing. I hadn’t written a dissertation as part of my BA, and here I was contemplating 100,000 words on… well, something. The MA as PhD preparation didn’t yet exist. I eventually got stuck into an analysis of Hesiod’s myth of the 5 ages/races, went along to seminars at the ICS, and started to realise I was interested in ‘time’ in the sense of the female life cycle. I had just one supervisor, Sally Humphreys, chosen because she had started up the combined honours degree I had taken, and therefore knew where I was coming from. I worked with her on editorial work for Mortality and Immortality: The Anthropology and Archaeology of Death (1981) which taught me something about academic writing. There were no skills seminars for postgrads. Essentially, I felt lost all the time.

Sally felt I needed a change of scene and persuaded the funders to let me go to France for 5 months to sit at the feet of the Paris structuralists. I had a great time (how long have you got??) at seminars and lectures and going to the cinema and at the end of it felt sufficiently guilty about the lack of any real research to offer a paper to a new series the ICS was about to put on. This made me buckle down to serious work on my return. I sent the resulting paper, ‘Bound to bleed’, to the Journal of Hellenic Studies, which rejected it in a not particularly sensitive manner, but then the paper was solicited for the collection Images of Women in Antiquity. Not only in Paris, but in the UK I attended lots of conferences, started to network, and found people who would become my referees. At conferences, Sally would always prod me and insist ‘Ask a question!!’ She was right: I began to become visible.

And then??

‘B2B’ came out in 1983: hurdle no.2, a publication (a very short one). Even before it appeared in print, as my sole output it became my ‘research fellowship piece’ when, encouraged by Sally, I did the rounds of the Oxford and Cambridge JRFs. Most people were submitting as their ‘piece’ a draft of their thesis! Supported by a reference from Geoffrey Lloyd, to whom Sally had introduced me, and by supportive UCL staff, I had many interviews and many rejections. I was often the only woman being interviewed, usually the only person not to come from Oxbridge, and certainly the only person working on bodily fluids. It was dispiriting in the extreme. Because what was being tested wasn’t just your work, but your fit with the college, rejection extended further into the psyche than it normally does. And then Newnham offered me a JRF… Hurdle no.3 safely overcome.

Looking for jobs

I still didn’t feel that an academic career was inevitable. I didn’t finish the PhD thesis until a year or more into the JRF. I gained teaching experience giving occasional lectures on other people’s courses. I did more research. But there were no ‘proper jobs’. I remember sitting down at a conference with a fellow London PhD graduate, analysing the pedigrees of nearly all those with permanent Classics jobs in the UK. All from Oxbridge: we seemed to have no chance at all, but in any case the market was stagnant. In some desperation, as my three JRF years drew to a close, I tried and failed with the Civil Service and the prison service, while applying for more research fellowships, in the US, Rome and Newcastle.

Helen at her PhD graduation

Helen at her PhD graduation

I thought the Newcastle interview went well but I heard nothing from them. Meanwhile I was offered one-year fellowships in the US and in Rome. But one year isn’t very long, and Newcastle was a two-year post, so after a week of waiting I phoned Newcastle and they were surprised I hadn’t received the letter offering me the post… Yes, that does happen.

I don’t count Newcastle as hurdle no.4, because in an important way it made me even less employable. The terms of the fellowship meant I could only give about one lecture a year, and I did no marking or examining. While at Newcastle, I applied for every Classics job going, and some Anthropology jobs, with depressing results. Interviewers would ask ‘Wouldn’t you be happier in a research institute?’ I wanted to shout no, no, a thousand times no: I want to have a proper job like you’ve got! One of the jobs I went for was at Liverpool Institute of Higher Education: the job spec was to teach Roman Britain, in a History department. I had never studied Roman Britain, had hardly ever taught anything, and all the others being interviewed were archaeologists specialising in it. So, no chance. But I got the job. Why? Partly because it was a Church foundation and I was on the Church of England’s General Synod at the time – some on the panel thought I would be useful if their funding climate got tough. Partly because the HoD wanted to expand the ancient side of things, so I soon found myself teaching Greek history, Roman republic, Roman Empire, religion and women. You never know what is going on behind the scenes of the department to which you apply.


Liverpool was where I learned to teach, thus meaning I’d crossed hurdle no.4. Many colleagues were from school-teaching backgrounds and around half our students were on the B.Ed programme. The library was full of books on how to teach and, as in a school, staff took breaks at the same time and could share ideas and information. 30% of the students were mature, which was challenging and enjoyable, as they were really enthusiastic about the chance they’d been given to study history. In that first year I was barely one lecture ahead of my students, preparing lectures every night. I was also a resident tutor, which meant gaining experience of pastoral care, often at 3 a.m.

After 8 years at LIHE, a change of senior management gave a sense of vulnerability to an ancient historian, and I began looking around. The Wellcome Trust was starting its University Awards: five years of gradually reducing funding from the Trust with the host university putting in more and then guaranteeing a proper job at the end. I approached one university, which didn’t want me. I then tried Reading, where the then-Head of History could see the scope for a joint appointment with Classics, factoring in probable retirements over the next five years, and he set up interviews and negotiated with the Trust. So I was back in the ‘university sector’ again. That meant becoming an employer rather than a candidate, and in 2007 I wrote some advice to job applicants from that point of view.

I moved from Reading to the OU for a range of reasons; not least of them, that the (excellent) Classics department were all put at risk of redundancy, in a cynical move about which I should probably say no more here. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professor, with a strong REF entry, and all the other things we’re supposed to have: the process of writing a 2-page document on ‘What I can offer Reading in the next 5 years’, as a way to save your job, gives you a strong urge to say ‘I can offer my resignation…’ Coincidentally, the OU advertised for a professor at the time I was writing this document. I’d applied to the OU maybe 20 years earlier (where haven’t I applied, over the decades?) and was turned down after interview. This time, I made it successfully through two days of interviews, to a job which I described then as ‘going as far as you can in UK HE without falling off the edge’.

Is it worse now?

What do I conclude from all this? That, yes, some things are worse now. You’re supposed to have pretty well written the PhD before you’re offered any funding to do it. You’re supposed to have the publications, the teaching experience, the big grant, the experience of outreach and the possible impact case, even before you have a proper job. And there are so many more people with PhDs, and the squeaky new PhD with a thesis that is likely to become a monograph within the next two years will always look attractive for the REF. But some things are better. One of the side effects of the grant culture, and of proper maternity leave (and more women in permanent jobs!) is that temporary posts are even more common, although the pattern of moving from one of these on to another, with completely different teaching to prepare each time, is demoralising and not conducive to research. The presence of more women in the academy means that it’s more common for the long-hours culture to be challenged and meetings to be held within the working day. I didn’t have children and didn’t marry until my forties, so I often worked on Saturdays: I don’t expect any of my colleagues to do this now.

Looking back, my advice would be to network. Attend conferences. Ask questions. Acquire possible referees, treat them well (no last-minute requests for a reference) and if you have any suspicions that they are just churning out the same generic reference rather than targeting it to the person spec, get new ones. Write the book: don’t get side-tracked by any other writing until you’ve done that (I ignored that advice – I couldn’t have got away with it today). Live with your imposter syndrome: most of us have it, and you just need to do what you do as well as you can. And, as I said at the WCC pedagogy event, make sure you do something else, whether it’s caring for a family, growing vegetables, helping in your community, devoting energy to your hobby – the inevitable disappointments and rejections hurt more if what is rejected is all that you are.

Finally, the best piece of advice I ever received, from a colleague at LIHE: ‘Be yourself – only more so.’


By Prof. Helen King @fluff35

Classics and Feminist Pedagogy Storify


Missed the Classics and Feminist Pedagogy event? You can still take part by reading a Storify of tweets from the day, put together by Liz Gloyn.

Choose either the comprehensive collection of all the tweets from the day, including thoughts and reactions from participants and readers around the world, or a curated selection of tweets with suggestions for teaching practice and further reading.

Read the full Storify here.

Read the curated “top tips” here.

Image by Julia Hamilton.

Image by Julia Hamilton.

Why Feminism Matters. Reflections on Feminism and Classics 7: Visions


By Carol Atack.

It’s great when a conference keynote sets the tone for the event as a whole. Alison Wylie (Washington) achieved this with her opening address to Feminism and Classics 7: Visions, held in Seattle in May. In exploring ‘What knowers know well: why feminism matters to archaeology’ she made a strong case for feminist approaches to gender archaeology and the study of early societies. From her perspective, non-feminist approaches were the ones that should be challenged, especially when they were importing assumptions about the domestic arrangements of early societies, as she demonstrated with textbook illustrations in which men were the focus and women domestic drudges in the background – one of many ways in which the conference theme would emerge in papers over the coming days. Combining humour, self-reflection and a combative stance, Alison Wylie exemplified a powerful mixture of knowledge and practice, leaving a large audience of conference attendees and the wider Seattle public better informed about both early societies and feminist approaches to studying them.


Feminism and Classics is a well-established conference that now attracts around 200 delegates for three days of papers, panel sessions, and plenary lectures; this, the seventh meeting, was held at the University of Washington in Seattle. Its feminist heritage is evident in the programming, with academic research papers scheduled alongside consideration of academic practice and the politics of campus life, and frequent intersections between theory and practice. Attendees ranged from the doyennes of feminism in Classics to a new generation of engaged and activist graduate students, all eager to learn from each other and happy to share knowledge and experiences. This was a very friendly conference.

The first panel session I attended, ‘Revealing gendered violence in the academy’, opened discussion of international concerns about women’s experiences on campus. After an introduction from panel organiser, Allison Surtees (Winnipeg), Judith Hallett (University of Maryland, College Park) and Fiona McHardy (Roehampton) each presented an assessment of the current climate for women (spoiler: depressing by and large, but we’re working on fixing it). Fiona drew on research carried out with her colleague Susan Deacy, and also presented an analysis of WCC UK’s own survey of the climate for women working in Classics in UK academia. There were some interesting differences both in the problems faced and attempts to respond to them from the USA and UK.

Fiona’s presentation of worries about the dangers of unchecked ‘lad culture’ on the UK campus was particularly compelling; respondent Maxine Lewis (Auckland) brought in experiences from New Zealand, and suggested strategies for tackling hostile climates. Many audience members had much to contribute, both underlining points made by the speakers and challenging them on what constituted ‘gendered violence’ – do micro-aggressions count, for example? For the rest of the conference, UK delegates such as myself found ourselves explaining UK ‘lad culture’ to intrigued Americans; sadly, since the conference, it is the fraternity culture of US the campus that has been in the spotlight. As this first panel showed, the distinctive cultures of academia around the world, and the different student and faculty populations in terms of gender, class and ethnicity, mean that experiences vary from campus to campus and country to country, although we may diagnose the underlying causes to be similar.

The next session, ‘See and be seen’, was a highlight in the way its novel structure engaged all attendees as participants and brought the ‘Visions’ theme to life through discussions of our lived experiences. Organisers Sarah Blake (York University) and Jody Valentine (Scripps College) began by showing an episode of John Berger’s 1972 TV series Ways of Seeing, in which he first displayed the male gaze in action, demonstrating it through camera work, and then discussed it with a panel of women including feminist academics. After this they opened a discussion, inviting the audience to come up and tag the starting panel members, taking their place on stage and sharing their experiences of working under the male gaze. If perhaps we might have gone more deeply into a critique of Berger’s depiction (and instantiation of it), the sharing of experiences felt empowering, almost a return to 1970s practices of consciousness-raising.

The Visions theme also attracted some wonderful explorations of the continuing but changing depiction of classical women in art, theatre and especially film. Rhiannon Easterbrook (Bristol) explored the depiction of Galatea in WS Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea, a theme echoed by Matthew Fox (Glasgow), who explored women’s encounters with classical sculpture in 19th-century fiction. Teaching and being taught in classical sculpture cast galleries will never be the same for me after the clips he showed from Leslie Howard’s 1941 Pimpernel Smith.

There was also a place for straightforward classical scholarship with a feminist stance. Panels ranged over genres from Greek drama, Latin poetry (impossible not to address Ovid) and philosophical prose, periods from archaic Greece through Imperial Rome and receptions from late antiquity to contemporary pop culture, with plenty of material culture along the way.

The integration of discussions of classical texts and scholarship and the social and political context in which that scholarship takes place was informative and inspiring. Sexual violence is a charged topic in our texts and on our campuses. Kathy Gaca (Vanderbilt) has long interrogated the sexual violence within Homeric epic, and here turned her attention to ‘Pretty women as lookers’; she explored the performative and status-generating elements of sexual abuse in war-time, and drew powerful comparisons between militaristic sexual predation and values and hierarchies on campus. Helen Morales (UCSB) argued for the careful deconstruction of metaphorical language in our assessment of gendered language and behaviour, questioning where the boundary between violence and its metaphors lies, and arguing for a scepticism with a British tinge whenever there was a risk of conflating violence and its metaphors.

Outside the formal sessions, the discussion did not stop. With our WCC UK hats on we met committee members from the US WCC and also the team from Eugesta, the pan-European network for gender studies in antiquity. Both those groups generously provided insights from their own experiences which will help us to develop the WCC UK. In turn, we were able to discuss further the data from our survey; Fiona’s presentation made a real impact and was much discussed throughout the conference.

I have rarely gained so much insight and inspiration from a conference on this scale; the only frustration was the impossibility of seeing all the papers and the inevitable clashes that meant I missed talks from Nancy Rabinowitz and others. The organisers had taken some risks in experimenting with topics and formats beyond the standard conference panel. This use of novel formats, including the associated ‘Just One Look’ exhibition of book arts on the theme of women and vision, contributed to the success of the conference and the interesting discussions generated. I look forward to the next Feminism and Classics, and hope that one day we will be able to bring the conference to the UK.

WCC UK members who presented at the conference, along with their paper titles:

  • Carol Atack (Warwick): ‘Feminist Approaches to the Performance of Status and Gender in Xenophon’s Political Thought’
  • Rhiannon Easterbrook (Bristol): ‘Galatea from the Inside’
  • Chris Mowat (Newcastle): ‘First Person, Second Sight: the Sibyl, Apollo, and feminine prophecy in the ancient world’
  • Irene Salvo (Göttingen): ‘Visions of Gender from the Athenian Curse Tablets’

CFP – Classics and Women: Ancient and Modern


Call for Papers: WCC UK Panel at the Classical Association Annual Conference 26-29 April 2017

Classics and Women: Ancient and Modern
Deadline for Abstracts: 2nd August 2016

The WCC UK invites submissions for our inaugural panel at the CA. Our aim is to demonstrate how much there is to gain from recognising historical, conscious, and unconscious bias in the ancient classical world (broadly defined) and in studies of the ancient world. The panel seeks to showcase recent academic work from a range of perspectives, underscoring the benefits of embracing heterogeneity in the study of Classics. We welcome in particular papers that seek to diversify Classics in approach, findings, or methodology.

We invite submissions that focus on (but are not limited to) the following: gender and the non-human, resistances to hierarchy, new approaches to ancient and modern pedagogy, women in war, gendered bodies, women in material culture/archaeology, gendered economies, and pioneering women in classics, ancient history and archaeology. We warmly encourage Classicists at any career stage and of any gender to submit abstracts.

Please send anonymous abstracts of no more than 200 words to either virginia.campbell@classics.ox.ac.uk or lucy.jackson@balliol.ox.ac.uk by Tuesday August 2nd 2016.

Posted by Victoria Leonard.

Classics and Feminist Pedagogy – Practical Tips for Teaching


The Women’s Classical Committee is delighted to announce its first event, a workshop for ECRs and graduate students exploring what feminist pedagogy is and how it might be useful for thinking about teaching classics. The workshop will take place on Friday 29th July at the University of Birmingham.

There’s much more information about how to book and a program of the day’s events available on the event page of this website.

The WCC UK thanks the Education Committee of the Council of University Classical Departments for their generous support of this event.

Posted by Liz Gloyn.

Women in the Humanities Fellowship


Of interest to early career Classicists and others:

Women in the Humanities is an interdisciplinary programme which aims to explore how gender and sex play out in history, art, philosophy, music, language and literature, as well as the ethics and politics of gender identity and equality in the Humanities. It seeks to promote the opportunities Oxford offers to women working in the Humanities at all career stages, as well as promoting the study of women’s lives within the Humanities at the University.

Postdoctoral Writing Fellowship

A postdoctoral writing fellowship worth £5,000 is available to early career scholars within three years of the award of a doctorate who do not yet hold a permanent academic job. The fellowship will be tenable for between 3 and 6 months from 1 October 2016. Funding may be used for travel expenses, living expenses and research activities that will enable the Fellow to publish their doctorate or aspects of their doctoral work. The Fellow will be a scholar whose work promises to significantly advance knowledge of women’s lives, experiences and/or representation. They will be mentored by an experienced academic in their field, and will be expected to be a regular participant in WiH activities.

More information is available on the TORCH website. The deadline for applications is 10 June 2016.

Join the WCC


After a hugely successful launch event, we are very pleased to say that you can now join the WCC. Membership is open to all. Membership for the 2016 calendar year will be £20, or £5 for students, unemployed, retired and underemployed members. Subscriptions will help to support the WCC’s future activities and events.

Check out the “Join Us” page of this website for further details.

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