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Pregnant in the field

Mini baby boom in archaelogy department heralds new era

By Janet Harron

Tennis great Serena Williams was pregnant when she won her 23rd grand slam tournament at the 2017 Australian Open.

Jacina Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, made headlines when she became the first world leader in almost 30 years to have a child while in office.

Images of hard working pregnant women are, surprisingly in 2018,  still uncommon, but here at Memorial we have our own trailblazers when it comes to being #pregnantinthefield.

Archaeologists Dr. Catherine Losier (assistant professor), Dr. Laura Kelvin (SSHRC post-doctoral fellow), and Dr. Amelia Fay (an alumnus of Memorial’s archaeology department who is now curator of Manitoba Museum’s Hudson Bay Company Collection) are all expecting their first child in October. All have been engaged in active fieldwork during their pregnancies.

Dr. Amelia Fay
Photo: Submitted

“Many people still mistakenly believe that pregnancy is some kind of special health condition that requires you to cease certain activities,” said Dr. Fay, who completed her PhD under the supervision of Dr. Lisa Rankin in 2016.

Unique challenges

While every pregnancy is different, the majority of women are encouraged to maintain their lifestyle during pregnancy, barring any unusual complications.

“If you’re a marathon runner before pregnancy you can likely continue to run marathons during pregnancy, so research and fieldwork should not be treated any differently,” said Dr. Fay.

As a male-dominated field, archaeology holds unique challenges to female researchers. Across Canada there are very few female archaeology professors; Memorial currently has the best gender split in Canada as four out of the 10 members are female.

“Until recently women who were pursuing PhDs were told, as I was, never have children or you won’t stand a chance in the discipline,” said Dr. Rankin.

“Even today field work remains a bit of an old boys club centred around challenging field conditions, manual labour, and post-work drinking.”

Departmental first

According to Dr. Rankin, women form the vast majority of the undergraduate archaeology cohort across Canada. It is pretty much an even split at the MA level, but at the PhD level men dominate.

“Along the line women drop out, and there are indications that this is associated with having children,” said Dr. Rankin.

Dr. Catherine Losier leads the St. Pierre and Miquelon field school and is the first faculty member in the history of Memorial’s archaeology department to be #pregnantinthefield.

“This summer’s field school was a great opportunity to share with my students my beliefs about women in archaeology,” she said. “I was able to demonstrate that women who are pregnant, or even already mothers, can choose to continue to carry out their normal activities – even in disciplines traditionally associated with men.”

Different perspective

Visibly pregnant scientists do more than serve as an example to their own students, however.

Department of Gender Studies head Dr. Jennifer Dyer says they can also expand our overall concept of gender and offer different ways of looking at the world.

“Now that we have queer, trans and feminist archeologists working around the world, previously unconsidered ideas, overlooked objects, and ignored possible social structures, including those related to gender, are now providing feasible explanations of the ancient world, thus giving a history of gender diversity that is also based on solid evidence,” she said.

“Different visions and practices alter what is seen as important, or even possible, in research. Without the visibility of pregnant scientists, our views of who can, and should, hold scientific knowledge or authority are narrow, and our science cannot flourish in ways that it might.”

Dr. Laura Kelvin

Dr. Kelvin, who has been working with Indigenous youth in Hopedale as part of the Avertok Archaeology Project, agrees.

“My experiences of womanhood, pregnancy, and academia are different from people who are from other ethnic, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds, as well as those who are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community and people with disabilities,” she said.

“It is important when trying to advocate for ourselves that we also listen to others and their experiences, so that we do not further marginalize anyone while trying to better our own situations.”

Dr. Kelvin points out that SSHRC has recently introduced paid parental leave for their postdoctoral fellows.

“It doesn’t just help financially,” she said. “It shows that they are investing in me and my research, and that they see value in my project and want me to complete it.”

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