Still trying to process ongoing sexual harassment allegations of the last few weeks. At the time I wrote my last post, I don’t believe that this post from Kathleen Raven had been posted. Kathleen describes two stories of harassment and abuse- first at the hands of a high school teacher/coach, and then a lengthier story of her interactions with Bora Zivkovic.
Much has been written in the science blogosphere about that second bit ( it has even hit Nature)- but for some reason it was actually reading the first part of her post that made me feel as though I really wanted to cry. I did, in fact, sit in my office and cry. I cried for the vulnerability of all teenage (and younger) girls, who, with fragile confidence and little real world perspective look for external validation of their talents, gifts and abilities from people who seem to know more. There is always some person (a man usually) there in a position of power- a teacher, a coach, a family friend, willing to use that vulnerability to suit their own needs.
And in your innocence and inexperience- you don’t know enough to think they are creepy- because they tell you they are your friend, they are looking out for you, and you are special. You crave that validation of your fragile teenage self confidence, and you trust in the essential goodness of people. It is crushing to realize that they just needed you to satisfy their desires- and that the attention they paid to you had nothing to do with who you are- other than the fact that you possess a vagina along with 50% of the general population. It is humiliating to feel like you should have known better. There is overwhelming sadness too- to feel like you lost someone you loved- even though you don’t understand yet what real love between equals looks like…. and this definitely wasn’t it. You stay silent, not because you are OK, but because there was real damage.
I was once this girl, and I now have two daughters at this vulnerable age. What happens to my daughters at the hands of boys at school, of teachers and coaches at school, of boys they meet in college, keeps me up at night. On one hand you don’t want your children to know the ugliness of the world because you want to protect them. On the other hand, you cannot protect them and that it is essential that they know the ugliness of the world so they can protect themselves. You work against the backdrop of a less-than-enlightened culture reflected in the school system- where girls are blatantly taught that they should ‘dress modestly to avoid being distracting’ to the boys. Where there is no official lesson teaching the boys that it is their own responsibility to control themselves- that girls are not objects to be leered at or used, and that these boys need to keep their eyes on their paper. When are we going to teach boys that they are fully responsible for their own actions?
These boys eventually become men. Men who mysteriously got the message that women are objects to be used to satisfy their desires, whatever those may be. Men that learned in their youth that they either can’t or don’t need to control themselves because someone else is responsible for that…… and the cycle repeats itself for life.