As a 52-year old woman in science, I have watched the twitter/blog drama with curiosity, leavened with a bit of “here we go again." In my personal life as a scientist, a “community leader” (I was head of a campus in a small city) and an educator, I estimate that I am inappropriately approached by male colleagues several times a year. Every year. I have been physically attacked (if having your blouse grabbed so hard your buttons rip off counts as an attack) by a “pillar of the community." I can’t tell you how many men have told me their "Woe is me, my wife won’t have sex with me" story. These are men who I know professionally, not personally.
On the other hand, the majority of men I interact with have no clue about these louts. OK, maybe it is a slim majority, but these decent folk are absolutely in the dark about the behavior of the other guys.
I was talking to one of these decent guys yesterday about the recent events in the online science community. We engaged in a little mutual “I don’t get it” and moved on.
But I felt unsettled after the conversation. Know why? Because I am part of the problem. I, like many of my female colleagues, just go on with our lives after encountering one of these idiots. We don’t make a big deal out of it, unless he is nominated as a Supreme Court justice or something like that. It would be easy for you to judge that lack of reaction as irresponsible. And it probably is. But if we did take action or go public every time something like this happened, two things would happen:
1) Our lives would be even MORE disrupted because we would have to deal with the bureaucratic red tape – and possibly victim-blaming – and that would compound the disruption that the incident already caused in our ability to be productive and just go about our business.
2) The world would just stop functioning. This happens so often that if business/research/education stopped every time someone harassed a female colleague, we would just be running circles around ourselves all the time. That sounds like hyperbole, but I assure you it is not.
Neither of those two consequences excuses me and my generation from not doing more to end this cycle. But I thought I would offer it as a lame excuse in the hopes that it helps inform the understanding of the guys who don’t understand why other guys do this.
When I talk to these goodfellas I often hear, “Why do they think this is acceptable behavior?” and then we just shake our heads in shared sanctimony. But this morning I was watching a little College Game Day on ESPN while answering email. This is the show where a team of announcers sets up an outdoor studio on the campus of a college that is having a big game this weekend. They broadcast for 3 hours, while fans and students jockey to get on camera behind them. As is customary, this morning there was a formation of cheerleaders in their short skirts, perfect hair and makeup, just standing behind the desk where the announcers were talking. They were just standing there like pretty little statues, smiling and shaking their pom poms. For most of the 3 hours. These. Are. College. Students. But they are slimmed down, slicked up, told to smile and “placed” there, on display, for our visual enjoyment. Listen: I know that cheerleaders do have a role in the game and for the school. (Disclosure: I was a high school cheerleader). They are also extremely athletic. What I object to is their being placed there for the cameras, not doing their role - just, well, being pretty.
Is it any wonder that the culture in which we are immersed produces the idea that women are pretty things put on earth for our diversion and enjoyment? Oh, I know, I shouldn’t make too much of this. It was just a show about football.
But maybe we should stop apologizing for making too much of stuff like this.sexual harassment, women in science