Friday, October 18, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Harassment Edition

This week, my feeds were full of discussions of sexual harassment in science, due to the unfolding story at Scientific American and Science Online. Here is a good summary, which will lead you back to the post from Danielle Lee that started this all. You'll note that the original incident had definite notes of racism as well as sexism, and that the science world has once again missed an opportunity to talk about the racism in our ranks. I sincerely hope we can rectify that soon, once the current sexism storm plays out.

Instead, we are talking about sexism, and in particular, sexual harassment, because as the summary spells out, no sooner had a resolution been reached to the original incident than new revelations came out about harassment committed by Bora Zivkovic, the now former blogs editor at Scientific American. He is a well-known and well-liked figure in the online science field, and it seems many people were so shocked by the news that they didn't know how to respond. Janet Stemwedel covered that really well.

There are many more excellent posts about these events out there, some poignant Storifies, and more. This guest post by Hope Jahren resonated with me particularly strongly, perhaps because it is written from a perspective similar to mine, of an older, established scientist looking back at the crap she had to put up with to pursue her career. The Lady Bits section on Medium has a call for submissions out for posts discussing harassment, and this post will lead you to some of the submissions. 

This entire episode is dredging up memories I've kept long buried, from college and later. The Filner episode here in San Diego dredged them up earlier this year, and I squashed them back down. I'll do the same now, I think. I should probably let the memories come to the surface and process how I feel about them now, years- as many as 20!- later. But instead, I've stopped reading, for fear that I'll derail my own career with the anger those memories engender, as the disgust with what I had to put up with to get to this point in my career compounds my uncertainty about whether the "here" that I've ended up at is really where I want to be.  

But hey, in some good news, earlier this week, Filner pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from his harassing behavior.

So maybe we are making progress, because back in 1993, when I experienced the worst of the harassment incidents in my past, the people in charge to whom I complained just told me to stay away from the guy. And I accepted that answer, because I wanted a good letter of recommendation from the professor who was boss to both me and the harasser.

I am on the periphery of the online science community, an industry scientist who is not as free to discuss her science and whose career goals and experiences diverged from those of the prominent science bloggers many years ago. I've never been to a Science Online event, and do not consider myself a "science blogger." Perhaps that is why I am not shocked by this news- it isn't in my own online circle. Bora Zivkovic is just a name to me. Still, as I said on Twitter, really the most surprising thing to me about the entire story is how many people are surprised.

It is not just that harassment is endemic in science (although it is), it is that harassment is endemic in our entire culture. My earliest memories of events that I can clearly classify as harassment go back to junior high. And no, I am not defining harassment as some guy making a crude joke, I am defining it as using sex and/or sexual innuendo as a tool to exert power over me.

I wish I could say that I hoped my girls would not experience these things, but frankly, that does not feel like a realistic hope. Instead, I hope that I will be able to teach them how to navigate this environment and thrive despite it. I am not sure I am the best teacher for that, because I am not sure how well I have really done at navigating these issues myself. But I hope I can rise to the occasion.

This is a bit if an unusual links post for me. Sorry about that. Feel free to leave suggested reading links in the comments, even if I decide not to read more about these events, others might find the links helpful.


  1. Anonymous3:38 AM

    Our post on this topic goes up Tuesday. The patriarchy sucks. (And that includes the full kyriarchy)

    1. I look forward to reading it. Or wish it didn't have to be written. Or something like that.

  2. Anonymous3:44 PM

    I followed the harassment stuff too - and it dredged up thoughts from my grad years. mostly made me sad for the young, lovely, excited ugrads in my lab. what can we do for them so that their way is a little easier than ours was??

    1. I really, really wish I knew.

  3. Shandra5:37 PM

    I'm so glad you are writing about this because I really wondered what you would say.

    1. I think if I let myself, I'd have a lot more to say. But it is not a convenient time for me to get sidetracked by my past, so I am keeping things mostly bottled up.

  4. Anonymous8:39 AM

    Not that it is the solution, but I often thank my parents for sending me to girls only school and college. This had two effects, 1. We were fiercely competitive and good academic performance was often awed by others, so it was good for me, 2. it kept me away from a lot of sexual harassment issues at my primitive years.

    Now in USA when my daughter is reaching to teenage, I think very often about my own upbringing and if this will be a good idea for her? Don't know yet...


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