Earlier this month, the Women’s Classical Committee UK wrote to the FIEC/CA programme and national committees about their recent call for papers. This is the text of that letter.
Dear FIEC Programme Committee and National Committee,
I write on behalf of the Women’s Classical Committee UK steering committee and liaisons to express our shared concern about the guidelines recently issued for the FIEC Congress:
It is the tradition of both FIEC and the Classical Association to represent as wide a range of speakers as possible. Panels are more likely to be selected if they include speakers from more than one country, and if they include junior as well as senior speakers. Panels consisting only of men or only of women are unlikely to be selected unless a powerful case is made for an exception.
We are glad to see the issue of all-male panels being explicitly addressed. However, the final line of this paragraph draws an unfortunate equivalence between all-male and all-female panels as if these represent the same sort of problem.
All-male panels have been dominant in the discipline since the institution of conferences as an academic practice. They remain common, and often pass unremarked, yet they are a sign of wider issues about the representation of female scholars in our discipline in many areas, not only conference presentations. Equating all-male and all-female panels ignores the history of women being excluded from classics and from the academy more broadly, and overlooks the structural sexism which still results in women’s voices being silenced in scholarship.
We are also concerned about the practical consequences of this policy for colleagues whose gender expression is not adequately described by the male/female binary, and who may be put under undue personal scrutiny in order to justify that a panel does or does not consist of a single gender.
While we welcome FIEC’s move towards inclusivity and addressing the historical systemic oppression of women through the opposition to all-male panels, we urge you to reconsider your policy on all-female panels.
This is a blog post by Donna Zuckerberg (Eidolon), following up on her keynote at our 2018 AGM. We would like to thank Donna again for her important contribution to the day.
Who Do We Think We Are?
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of (virtually) speaking to the attendees of the WCC’s AGM about harassment and abuse. I spent a significant portion of that talk recounting my own experiences, but I want to summarize my argument here – and hopefully encourage further discussion.
I believe that when you’re receiving a massive volume of trolling and harassment – much of which is specifically calibrated to make you doubt your sense of logic and reality, and much of which is designed to make you doubt your credentials and qualifications – and you’re also trying to cope with the near-certainty that some of the people you work with in a professional context either agree with the trolls or at least feel that you brought the trolling on yourself by engaging in public scholarship – it is almost impossible to respond to even the most respectful, collegial critique without feeling attacked, often to a degree that is entirely disproportionate to how the critique was intended. So if we as a field want to be thoughtful and compassionate toward victims of harassment, we need to rethink the tone, tenor, and timing of even our professional, collegial discourse.
Laurie Penny recently wrote: “Unless you’re on the receiving end, it might seem strange, even offensive, to equate mainstream critique with the outright violence of anonymous far-right and anti-woman extremists. But for those of us who go through it every day, the context collapses into a flat field where people are firing at you from all sides and there’s no cover, not for you… Whoever you ask, it’s always someone else doing the real harassment — it’s those men over there who are violent and sexist, whereas our way of dealing with difficult women is reasonable and fair. It’s legitimate critique.” She continues, “Most people experiencing the spittle-flecked, dedicated kill-you-cunt wank-mobbery of the comments section are also subject to the self-satisfied concern-trolling of the top half of the internet.”
I can attest to the truth of this statement. As I was receiving an avalanche of abuse, a former coworker of mine at the Paideia Institute sent me a message telling me that he was deeply sorry for what I was going through and his children were praying for me. But he also wanted me to publish in Eidolon a response he’d written to “How to Be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor,” the article I’d written that had led to my harassment. In his response, he argued that the real victims are the professors who are sympathetic to some of the Alt-Right’s less openly offensive ideas and who have been silenced and shamed by thought-policing arguments like the one I made in my piece. I was then pressured by another colleague to publish the piece to show the scope of my dedication to spirited yet civil disagreement. But while the tone of the dialogue was civil, and the tone of the first colleague’s email could even be called kind, I felt attacked.
I’ve also received many messages from people I don’t know that say, more or less, “I hate that you’re getting death threats, but I also think that you absolutely could not be more wrong.” On a surface level, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of message, and I believe that it is sent with good intentions. But I want to argue that it is unreasonable, even cruel, to expect or demand from someone to whom you send that kind of message that they respond by engaging dispassionately with your reasoned critique of their argument. And if we agree that we have some kind of ethical responsibility to protect, or at least support, our colleagues who experience trolling and harassment, we need to reconceptualize how we want to have professional disagreements with each other.
But does this ethical responsibility exist? Obviously, many among us would say that it does not. I speak about this issue very much from the context of someone who was educated in and operates in the United States, where whether to engage in public scholarship is still a choice. My understanding is that the situation in the United Kingdom with the REF is much more complex – that, indeed, one could make an argument that public engagement is mandatory in the UK, and not a choice at all. In that case, the ethical responsibility would seem to me to be obvious. But even if one does have a choice in the matter, as my colleagues in the U.S. do, I think that responsibility still exists. This is a key part of an argument made by Tressie McMillam Cottom, who argues that “public engagement” is often conceptualized as a de facto good without reference to a cui bono. She argues, in effect, that the neoliberal university encourages professors to put themselves into positions where they are likely to become the targets of vicious online attacks. She writes, “Academic capitalism promotes engaged academics as an empirical measure of a university’s reputational currency.” This is important to remember because the “decision” to engage publicly can, to an observer, look like shameless self-promotion or attention-seeking.
Many people who engage in public scholarship do so out of a genuine desire to democratize knowledge about our field and partially because of immense pressure from both within and without the university to justify the existence of the humanities through public engagement. That kind of pressure is real and very powerful. So while the question of whether or not to engage in public scholarship may indeed be a personal choice, it is a choice that benefits not only the person who engages, but in some ways the entire discipline. There are many of our colleagues who don’t really want to write for the general public, even in the face of all that pressure, and we should absolutely support that decision – but those colleagues may then have an even more pressing obligation to support those of our colleagues who do venture out into the treacherous domain of the internet and are then punished for it.
So if you agree with me that we have an ethical responsibility to support our colleagues who are harassed for their public scholarship, and you also agree that it is extremely difficult for those colleagues to respond in an appropriate manner to reasoned critique, how do we protect our ability to critique each other? Because, of course, that ability is of the utmost importance to us. It is, more or less, what academia is for: we put forward our ideas, we disagree with each other, we try to move discourse forward. We have to be able to disagree, even vigorously, with our colleagues. And sometimes the harassment of those colleagues is triggered by an argument that we may feel needs to be critiqued and contextualized. How we handle that critique and contextualization, however, will be the key question here.
Many of my suggestions here are simple common sense. If your colleague is being harassed, be kind. Be supportive. Tell them her you respect her, and resist the efforts made by trolls to minimize her accomplishments and frame her as a vapid attention-seeker. That kind of support can really make a difference to a colleague who’s experiencing gaslighting. Troll attacks are designed to make their victims doubt reality, and you can help her remember what reality looks like.
But maybe you feel that the reality is that your colleague was wrong, or could have made her argument with more thought or nuance. If you feel that way, and you’re tempted to engage her about it, think carefully first about what you’re trying to accomplish by it. Are you hoping to convince your colleague that she made a mistake? Because I guarantee, if she’s experiencing a troll storm, she already feels that way. She probably feels like it was a mistake to ever express any opinion in public. Or maybe your goal is to show that reasonable, civil discourse can still exist between colleagues?
If so, I would like to suggest: don’t address your critique directly to your colleague. Think carefully about who your intended audience really is. If the harassment is ongoing, then it is cruel to make your colleague the intended audience of your critique, and you may be contributing to her trauma. So don’t frame it as an attempt to engage, or an “open letter.”
By all means, make a bigger, more thoughtful argument about why what your colleague said was made from flawed premises. Stay far, far away from ad hominem attacks – engage with the ideas, but not with the individual. When the tidal wave of abuse has gone back out to sea, maybe she’ll be able to confront your argument in a substantive manner and really hear you and take it to heart. But let it be her choice whether to come to you and debate the issue, and maybe extended her a little more latitude than you normally would if her response to you seems a little disproportionately emotional or defensive. To you, it may just be another professional discussion, but to her it’s part of a much larger and nastier phenomenon.
But remember: if your intended audience for your critique is not your colleague, but rather a general public to whom you want to explain why her arguments were flawed, then your goal is, in fact, to engage in a form of public scholarship. Which means that you’ll be putting yourself out there too. You may be the next target. You won’t deserve to be, of course, but if you are, you’ll need support.
People like to say, “If you do X, you’re letting the trolls win.” If you let them get to you. If you pay attention to them. If you let them silence you. But I think the biggest victory for the trolls would be if we let them poison further our professional environment. So how we treat each other will reveal not just who we think we are as a discipline, but who we really are.
Donna Zuckerberg is the Editor-in-Chief of Eidolon. She received her PhD in Classics from Princeton, and her writing has appeared in the TLS, Jezebel, The Establishment, and Avidly. Her book Not All Dead White Men, a study of the reception of Classics in Red Pill communities, is forthcoming from Harvard University Press in Fall 2018.
Following our AGM on Wednesday, we have some changes to our committee!
First of all, we express our sincere thanks to Elena Theodorakopoulous (co-chair) and Lucy Jackson, whose term as steering committee members has ended; we are incredibly grateful to them for all they’ve done, and look forward to continue working with them as members. We also thank Chloe Hixson for her work as our postgrad disability liaison, and Rhiannon Easterbrook for her work as our graduate liaison. This meeting also marks the formal end of Katherine McDonald’s term as ECR liaison; we’re very glad that she will now be acting as our website and social media coordinator.
When the WCC UK was founded, we co-opted members on to the steering committee for fixed terms; due to personnel change, we found ourselves needing someone to act as co-chair for April 2018 – April 2020. The AGM approved the steering committee’s decision to co-opt Virginia Campbell, who has been working with the WCC UK as our elections officer since we started having elections! Virginia takes on the co-chair role with Amy Russell, and we’re looking forward to working together with them.
Our two new committee members, following the 2018 elections, are Laurence Totelin and Ellie Mackin Roberts; Laurence will be co-chair from April 2020.
In terms of liaisons, we formally welcome our ethnic minorities liaisons, Mathura Umachandran and Sukanya Rai-Sharma; they joined us after the last AGM, but this is the first opportunity for us to formally welcome them. We also welcome Katie Shields, who will be taking on the role of graduate liaison. We are also grateful to Emma Bridges, Irene Salvo, Jane Draycott and Joanna Johnson for renewing their terms as liaisons.
Following the AGM, we currently have the following vacancies:
Disability liaison, postgraduate
Disability liaison, staff and post-PhD
If you would like to volunteer for any of these posts, please do drop us an e-mail at womensclassicalcommittee at gmail.com.
The Women’s Classical Committee invites expressions of interest from anyone who would like to be part of a task force to tackle everyday elitism in departments of Classics, Ancient History and Classical Archaeology in the UK today.
Class and socio-economic background inform how we research, teach, and communicate with each other. The advantages and disadvantages that come with our different backgrounds affect us before coming to university but also continue to shape our experiences long after our first degree. We hope to bring together a group of people who have felt marginalised by this frequently unacknowledged source of prejudice, and begin a constructive discussion to challenge elitism at every level.
If you would be interested in leading, taking part in, or listening to this conversation, please email womensclassicalcommittee at gmail.com by April 30th 2018, giving any information you think relevant, and an indication of how involved (leading, taking part in, listening) you would like to be in setting up a task force for, initially, organising/participating in a day-long workshop on the subject.
We are delighted that the Women’s Classical Committee UK will have a very strong presence at the upcoming Classical Association conference in Leicester. If you’d like to catch up with us, here’s what’s going on…
Take A Graduate Student To Lunch
We will be running the first of our mentoring events as part of our aim to advance equality and diversity in Classics and to provide support for junior colleagues in the profession. Modelled on the Women’s Classical Caucus SCS ‘Research Coffees’ scheme, this process promotes mentoring connections between established and junior scholars. We hope that junior researchers will get together informally with established scholars to gain from their expertise and discuss their research and career aspirations. We will do our best to match up mentors and mentees appropriately, and then pass on mentees’ contact details to their mentors, who will then get in touch to arrange the meeting. Participation is open to current members only and an e-mail with more details will be going out soon; if you have questions about how to sign up, please e-mail us at womensclassicalcommittee at gmail.com. You can find out how to join the WCC UK here.
Saturday 7th April
8pm – social event, the Marquis Wellington pub. Coordinator – Liz Gloyn. Turn up, have a drink or a smoothie, and chat to like-minded classicists – and be ahead of the crowd for the conference disco which begins at 9pm!
Sunday 8th April
9am-11am – WCC UK organised panel 1: Materiality and Gender I
Chair: Liz Gloyn
S. Sheard – Gendering the Projecta Casket
S. Rainbow – The Gendering of Lefkandi Knives
E. Mackin Roberts – Girls’ Bodies as Religious Objects in Classical Athens
L. Webb – Gendering The Roman Imago:Clarae Imagines from Filia to Funus
2pm-4pm – WCC UK organised panel 2: Materiality and Gender II
Chair: Rosa Andújar
K. Backler – Μνήματα Χειρῶν: Textiles and their Authors in the Homeric Epics
M. Gerolemou: Material Agents: Hesiod’s Pandora and Posthuman Feminism
K. Ladianou – Material Girls in Sparta: Language, Performance and Materiality in Alcman’s Partheneion
C. Blanco – Women Feminising the Womaniser: The Case of Deianira in Sophocles’ Women of Trachis
Please also keep an eye out for members of the WCC UK sporting badges featuring our brand new logo, once more coordinated by Ellie Mackin Roberts. We are delighted that once again the CA will be including membership form for the WCC UK in conference attendee packs this year, and hope that our membership will grow from our profile at the conference. If you’re reading this post, will not be at the CA and would like to join, our membership form is also available online.
We are delighted to announce that the 2018 Annual General Meeting of the Women’s Classical Committee UK will take place on Wednesday the 18th of April, at the Institute of Classical Studies, Senate House, London, from 10am to 5pm.
Our theme this year is ‘Activism’. What does it mean to be a classicist and an activist? How does activism intersect with research, teaching, administration, outreach? How can we make sure our activism remains mindful of structural inequality and advantage, including our own? How should we approach the risks that come with public activism?
Events will include keynote addresses by Nancy Rabinowitz and Donna Zuckerberg, a panel on outreach as activism featuring Mai Musié and Marcus Bell, and a plenary workshop “Whiteness: privilege, advantage and becoming an ally”, delivered by professional facilitators from the Equality Challenge Unit. More details on the workshop, which is designed for both White and BME attendees, are available on our website, along with a provisional programme for the day.
The day will also feature spotlight talks (five minutes each) on classics and activism. Anyone of any gender and career stage who would like to contribute a spotlight talk is invited to send an expression of interest to amy.russell at durham.ac.uk by Monday 12th March.
Registration details and the final programme will be circulated in March. Registration will be free to members. People of any gender expression or identity who support the WCC’s aims are welcome to attend this event. Further details, including our aims and activities and how to join, are available here.
The WCC is committed to providing friendly and accessible environments for its events; the call for registration will include full details about access, dietary needs, and childcare. We have generous funding from the Classical Association and the University of Oxford’s Craven Committee to enable the participation of postgraduate and early career attendees, including reasonable travel expenses for speakers and travel bursaries for attendees.
The Women’s Classical Committee UK is organising an event aimed at mid-career scholars, to be held on Monday 26th March 2018 in the Classics Department, Durham University, from 11am to 4.30pm. These times allow for same-day rail travel from as far as St Andrews and London.
Attendees at our first mid-career workshop in December 2016 reported that they found it incredibly helpful in developing their ideas and strategies concerning the issues and challenges that face women academics at mid-career, and as a result we plan to make this an annual event, held in different venues around the country in turn. Topics to be discussed may include decisions about whether and when to move institutions, questions around disciplinarity/interdisciplinarity and collaboration in research, expectations about international mobility and balancing this with family/caring duties, managing institutional expectations (which may be gendered) around types and levels of administrative service, taking on leadership positions, and strategies to tackle unconscious bias in the workplace. Those who register their interest in participating will be invited to fill in an online questionnaire, the results of which will inform the precise choice of topics for discussion sessions. We envisage that the day’s discussions will help to set priorities for resource development and future campaigns by the Women’s Classical Committee.
The WCC recognises that the term ‘mid-career’ is open to a range of interpretations, but also that different challenges face women in classics in different situations and career stages. This event is aimed primarily at women who have already achieved employment stability and established a publication profile. If the event is oversubscribed then we will give priority to women in this situation, but we welcome applications to register from anyone of any gender who feels they would benefit from attending.
The Women’s Classical Committee is committed to making our events as inclusive as possible, and recognises that the financial and practical challenges of childcare often impede people from participating in workshops and conferences. Anyone who needs to bring a dependent child or children with them in order to participate in one of our events is usually welcome to do so, but we ask you to inform of us this in advance so that we can take them into account in our event planning and risk assessment. The safety and well-being of any children brought to our events remain at all times the responsibility of the parent or carer. While we do our best to ensure that rest and changing facilities are available for those who may need them, this will depend on the individual venue we are using. Again, please contact us in advance to discuss your needs, and we will do our best to accommodate them.
Elections are now open for two positions on the Steering Committee of the WCC UK for April 2018 to April 2022. The Steering Committee runs the WCC UK, including organizing events, workshops, and overseeing future development of the WCC UK. Committee members serve for four years, and may stand for a second consecutive term. Four members of the WCC UK have been nominated to stand for election to the Steering Committee. A short CV and statement have been provided by each candidate for review by members of the WCC UK prior to voting.
Voting opens on 21st December 2017 and will run until 9th February 2018. The elected members will be announced in late February, and will assume office at the AGM in April of 2018. If you are a member of the WCC UK in good standing, you will receive an email with a link for voting online. If you do not receive an email or have any questions, please contact the Elections Officer, Virginia L. Campbell, virginialcampbell at gmail.com.
Have you fallen off a mentorship cliff? Are you wondering how to balance research, teaching, and administrative service? Do you wonder how, or if, you should move into leadership positions? Are you struggling to find work-life balance as a university academic?
Following the success of our December 2016 event, the Women’s Classical Committee UK is organising a second day of informal discussion focusing on the issues and challenges facing mid-career scholars. We will meet on Monday 26th March 2018 at Durham University from 11.30am to 5pm, which should allow train travel on the day from as far as St Andrews, Oxford, Cambridge, or London. The programme will be tailored to the interests and needs of those attending.
This event is aimed primarily at women Classicists who have already achieved employment stability and established a publication profile but have not yet, or have only recently, been promoted to Professor. If the event is oversubscribed we will give priority to applicants who fit this description, but all are welcome. It will be free to members and £10 for non-members, to include lunch, and the usual WCC event policies will apply (meaning that you are welcome to bring a child or children with you, and that we aim to meet all participants’ accessibility needs).
Keep an eye open for fuller details and registration, here and on the Liverpool List, in the new year!
The International Medieval Congress, held annually at the University of Leeds, is the biggest event on the European medieval studies calendar. The 2017 conference hosted 2,100 actively-involved participants coming from over fifty countries to present their research or contribute to round-table discussions. The WCC established a presence at the IMC in 2017 with two round-tables on feminist pedagogy and periodisation. Following the success of these events, the WCC is pleased to announce that a double-panel on late antique empresses will feature at the forthcoming IMC, organised by Prof. Julia Hillner (University of Sheffield) and Dr Victoria Leonard (Institute of Classical Studies, London). The panels are jointly sponsored by the WCC and the Medieval and Ancient Research Centre, University of Sheffield (MARCUS).
All are welcome!
Session 218 – Mon. 02 July – 14.15-15.45
Panel 1: The Late Antique Empress, I: How to Read, Write, and View Imperial Women
Historical studies on late antique empresses have usually been biographies of well-known empresses or single dynasties. This session – the first of two proposed – offers an interdisciplinary perspective on imperial women’s representation and agency. It explores three methodological approaches to the topic: biography, topography, and iconography. Paper
A assesses the benefits and challenges of the biographical approach in light of gender history; paper B investigates how the study of public space impacts on our understanding of imperial women’s role at court; and paper C analyses the relationship between the late antique empress’s image and the cult of the Virgin Mary.
Organised by Julia Hillner, Department of History, University of Sheffield and Victoria Leonard, Institute of Classical Studies, University of London
Chaired by Robin Whelan, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) / Brasenose College, University of Oxford
Paper A: Julia Hillner, ‘Empress, Interrupted: Writing the Biography of a Late Antique Imperial Woman’
Paper B: Robert Heffron, Department of History, University of Sheffield, ‘Women on the Move: Representations of Imperial Women and Urban Space in Late Antique Rome and Constantinople’
Paper C: Maria Lidova, British Museum, London / Wolfson College, University of Oxford, ‘Late Antique Empresses and the Queen of Heaven: On the Correlation between Sacred and Secular in the Imagery of a Female Potentate’
Session 318 – Mon. 02 July – 16.30-18.00
Panel 2: The Late Antique Empress, II: Imperial Women between Court Politics and ‘Barbarian’ Kings
This is the second session offering new work on late antique empresses. It focuses on case studies that are rarely discussed or in need of reassessment, as they have significant things to tell us about late antique ecclesiastical, military and political developments. Paper A investigates the changing relationship between state and church through Justina’s role in 4th-century Milan; paper B asks how a reinterpretation of Galla Placidia’s Visigothic marriage as war captivity affects our understanding of Roman-Barbarian relationships; and paper C explores the rising power of late 5th-century imperial women through the burial of the disgraced Verina by her daughter, Ariadne.
Organised by Julia Hillner, Department of History, University of Sheffield and Victoria Leonard, Institute of Classical Studies, University of London
Chaired by Richard Flower, Department of Classics & Ancient History, University of Exeter
Paper A: Belinda Washington, Independent Scholar, Edinburgh, ‘Reviewing the Roles of 4th-Century Imperial Women: The Case of Justina’
Paper B: Victoria Leonard, ‘Galla Placidia as ‘Human Gold’: Consent and Autonomy in the Early 5th-Century Western Mediterranean’
Paper C: Margarita Vallejo-Girvés, Departamento de Historia y Filosofía, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, ‘Return of the Confined Empress: The Burial of Verina’