Continuing fallout

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.

Stay within the lines. The lines are your friends.

Starting this post by saying:

1. I stand with DNLee.

Everyone who has been watching the science blogosphere in the last week knows what that means. Everything that happened to Dr. Lee from Ofek to how the removal of her post was handled, to excuses that were made for this and that……was a big snowballing shit load of wrong. I’m so sorry that Dr. Lee was victimized.

2. I stand with Monica Byrne, Hannah Waters, and every woman who has been the target of sexual remarks, harassment, or abuse in the workplace. That, as should be apparent by now, pretty much includes everyone who goes to work bearing two X chromosomes. The end results of this kind of thing are never good- they damage the victim (you can read the two posts above, or maybe talk to your own wife or daughter about how this hurts if you still don’t get it) and also have consequences for the perpetrator sometimes.

Honestly, I feel kind of shell-shocked from watching all of this unfold.  I’ve read all the posts, at least as many as I could find particularly regarding the business of men making sexual remarks to women at work, or where a professional power differential exists. Sometimes it is just really hard for me to believe that in this day and age, some men could be so fucking clueless. Its not like this is the first time you have encountered a girl in the workplace y’all. (and no, I don’t want to paint you with a broad brush, because I know and work with some really professional guys)

This morning Seth Mnookin has another post about this at PLoS Blogs….in which, I think, he tries to take a bold step of saying let’s DO something about this problem right NOW. Seth comments thusly:

One obvious step is to insist that there be consequences for people who engage in inappropriate behavior regardless of whether they were aware that their behavior made someone uncomfortable at the time.

I’m on board with that, but many of the commenters on Seth’s post were not. Commenter NIkita said:

I think I may be missing something, but could you please clarify where Bora acknowledged that he “sexually harassed” Ms Byrne? Could you also cite evidence of Bora harassing Ms. Byrne? So far I have only seen that Ms. Byrne was offended over a misunderstanding. I see no evidence of sexual harassment. (bold is mine)


You are looking for heads to roll for Bora, an innocent individual who’s only mistake seems to have been that he misunderstood context of a conversation and opened up to a stranger without any intent to offend or harass.

and Bruce K. says:

This person cannot even articulate what the other person did wrong and you say he must be punished for it, EVEN if he did not know he was doing anything wrong?

and Tom B. says:

I’m not condoning his behaviour, just simply noting that as Nikita points out it seems to be the result of a miscommunication between people with different boundaries,

I can’t read any further down in the comments because I can’t take any more of the same tired argument. I don’t give a rats ass about people’s intentions. I really don’t. Isn’t there some saying about the road to hell being paved with them …. Let’s get one thing straight: Talking about strip clubs and your sex life with a woman in a professional setting is NEVER a ‘misunderstanding’ a ‘miscommunication’. Do you even understand how offensive it is to suggest that the victim was so stupid that she ‘misunderstood’ the perpetrator’s intentions????? Don’t even try to mansplain that away.  If I came home from work and told my better 1/2 that some guy I work with was telling me about his trip to the strip club and about his sex life, I’m pretty sure DrMrA would not think that was a ‘misunderstanding’ or a ‘miscommunication’.

And the second trope that always follows this one is the ol’: does this mean we can’t flirt with anyone at work, does this mean that we can’t hug anyone at work, does this mean that we can’t ever look our female colleagues in the eye for fear we will be accused of harrassment, …. we don’t know where the boundaries are. Oh noes!

On this one too, I say- give me a fucking break already. This is NOT mysterious. It just isn’t.  Implying that you guys can’t figure out where the lines are is to make you appear as the vicitim, and insult all of our collective intelligence. I’m so tired of fighting this. Just tired.

So let me lay it out there for you, so you know where the lines are:

1. Do not, under ANY circumstances, make ANY remarks to your female colleagues of a sexual nature. No jokes. No comments. No analogies. None. ZERO.

2. Do not, under ANY circumstances, make ANY remarks to your female colleagues regarding their anatomy. None. ZERO.

3. The ‘good intentions’ defense will NOT excuse you if you disobey #1 and #2.

4. School your colleagues, your friends, and your sons in this.

THAT, is all.

P.S. Another post appeared about this at Slate, while I was putting together this post.