By: Beth Alpert Nakhai,  University of Arizona

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter reflected on the question, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” (July/August 2012; vol. 310/1: 84-102).  For women working in Near Eastern archaeology, this question is likely one they have asked themselves (and their colleagues, partners, spouses, and friends) many times!  For several years, I have been engaged in a research project designed to describe and assess the status of women in ASOR.  Last fall, ASOR president Tim Harrison appointed me to spearhead an Initiative on the Status of Women in ASOR.  I sent out an email inquiry to our membership, asking people to share their thoughts on the status of women in ASOR and in Near Eastern archaeology.  Slightly more than 2000 people received the email.  The fact that almost half those people opened it indicates a high degree of interest in the topic; more commonly, only a third of ASOR emails are opened.  Some 160 people, divided fairly evenly between men and women, sent me responses.  These responses were mixed: brief, long, bullet-pointed, stream-of-conscious, positive, negative, enthusiastic, battle-weary.  A number of people, junior and senior alike, requested anonymity – but others were willing to be named.  I have opted to keep all responses anonymous, since attribution is not a valuable condition for this project.

Among the most typical comments are the following:

    • It is difficult for women to become field directors;
    • The field of archaeology values field directors over other kinds of archaeological professionals;
    • Funding follows field directors rather than other kinds of archaeological professionals;[1]
    • Family and child-rearing decisions disadvantage women professionally, in ways that they rarely disadvantage men.
    • Academia favors men;
    • Family and child-rearing decisions disadvantage women professionally, in ways that they rarely disadvantage men;
    • There are many female undergrads and grad students but few women with tenure-track or tenured positions;
    • Open positions in Near Eastern archaeology and related disciplines often disadvantage women.
  • ASOR:
    • Some women find ASOR a very welcoming professional association while others find it alienating;
    • ASOR, like Near Eastern archaeology in general, lacks senior women who can serve as role models and mentors;
    • ASOR is a reverse pyramid, in which a large number of women attend meetings and present papers – but few fill leadership positions;[2]
    • Secondary education, a field in which there are many more women than men, is less valued by ASOR than is baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate education.
    • The Middle East is a challenging place for women to succeed professionally;
    • Women wrote positively – and negatively – about their experiences working in specific Middle Eastern countries.

A number of suggestions for how ASOR might help to remediate these problems were offered.  They include:

  • Provide childcare at the annual meetings;
  • Advocate for family-friendly excavations;
  • Work to promote gender equity at colleges, universities and seminaries that are institutional members of ASOR;
  • Facilitate mentoring between senior and junior women;
  • Create an ASOR database that can track the vital statistics necessary for improving the status of women in ASOR and in archaeology;
  • Engage in a concerted effort to effect change.

It seems obvious that some of these issues are huge and reflect societally based problems, while others may lend themselves more readily to ASOR fixes.  I am posting this piece to the ASOR blog in the hope that it will further discussion and help us move together toward positive change.  I welcome your comments and thoughts, and look to ASOR’s membership as partners in change.  If you are interested in joining the Initiative on the Status of Women, please contact me at

All are invited to attend a new workshop at the 2012 annual meeting in Chicago, Women in Near Eastern Archaeology: An Open Forum.  This workshop will provide a forum for discussing both constants and changing dynamics relating to the ways in which women worked in Near Eastern archaeology in the past and to the ways in which they are professionally engaged in our own era.  Four senior women will discuss their own experiences in the field.  In addition, it will offer an opportunity to see the latest in ASOR’s digital resources for women in archaeology.  See the upcoming ASOR program for further information.


[1] There are 74 male directors/co-directors and 37 female directors/co-directors in the 67 excavation projects affiliated through ASOR’s Committee on Archaeological Research and Policy (34 field projects and 33 publication projects).  There are 2 male directors and 1 female director at ASOR’s three affiliated research centers (Jerusalem, Jordan and Cyprus).  NOTE: ASOR plays no role in the selection of excavation project directors and affiliated research center directors.

[2] On the Board of Trustees, 2 of 9 officers and 10 of the 27 trustees are women.  Of ASOR’s 14 standing committee and sub-committee chairs/co-chairs, 10 are men and 5 are women.  Of their 72 committee members, 42 are men and 30 are women.  Of ASOR’s 7 ad-hoc committee and sub-committee chairs/co-chairs, 3 are men and 4 are women.  Of their 26 ad-hoc members, 14 are men and 12 are women.  All five editors of ASOR’s journals and monographs are men.  ASOR’s executive director is a man.  ASOR’s staff (including assistants) is comprised of 1 man and 6 women.


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  1. I know I am going to be hated for the following comments but they must be said. Women just do not get it. Their role in life is NOT to be men or leaders. Their role was defined at creation as helpmeets, which was reinforced by the Book of Ephesians and others.

    It is not a second class role or one that makes them unequal but it is a defining one. There has to be a hierarchy one person in charge or nothing would get done and God ordained the man as the leader. This is consistent with both the OT & NT teachings.

    Someone has to be in charge, everyone cannot be the top dog and that responsibility falls to the man. The women have other duties to fulfill and they should stop trying to usurp authority from men.

    Does this mean that women are not to be educated? Of course not. An educated helpmeet is important to a family’s organization’s health. Does this mean that women do not get to have input? Of course not. Women have insights and gifts from God that are vital to a relationship or other activity and their input should be considered.

    Does this mean that women are second class and unequal? Of course not. it just means that men have one role and duty to perform and owmen have another. Woemn who reject their role are disobedient to God and sin and men who abuse theirs do the same.

  2. Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws prohibiting job discrimination include: (i) Equal Pay Act of 1963 protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination; (ii) Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; (iii) Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older; and (iv) Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides monetary damages in case of intentional employment discrimination.

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