She wanted to do her research; he wanted to talk feelings.
March 7, 2016 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Sexual harassment in science generally starts like this: A woman (she is a student, a technician, a professor) gets an email and notices that the subject line is a bit off: “I need to tell you,” or “my feelings.” The opening lines refer to the altered physical and mental state of the author: “It’s late and I can’t sleep” is a favorite, though “Maybe it’s the three glasses of cognac” is popular as well.
posted by sciatrix (171 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
 
"My male colleagues will sputter with gall, appalled by the actions of bad apples so rare they have been encountered by every single woman I know."
posted by straight at 12:15 PM on March 7, 2016 [180 favorites]


Yes! We get it, scientists! You have feelings! Deep, powerful feelings! And you should feel free to express those feelings in situations where it's appropriate to do so, which is actually almost all the time, because 99% of all potential life partners for you are not your students or co-workers.
posted by escabeche at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2016 [39 favorites]


He closes by assuring her, “That’s just the way things are and you’re gonna have to deal with me until one of us leaves.”

Oh my god. Grow. The. Fuck. Up.

(Can I say how very much I hate that one of the first comments on the piece that I accidentally caught a glimpse of declares that men who do this have Asperger's and are to be pitied? AAARRRGGGGHHH.)
posted by rtha at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2016 [35 favorites]


If this was an autism spectrum problem, or a social skills problem, they wouldn't so consistently cloak their advances in plausible deniability and room for denial.

It's a fucking entitlement problem.
posted by sciatrix at 12:23 PM on March 7, 2016 [156 favorites]


This makes me so fucking angry.

The thing that gets me is the way STEM is touted as basically the only path to financial security these days. I am trained and employed in the total girlzone of children's book publishing and I do okay (thanks in part to no small amount of privilege and luck), but young people in my field who admit to money worries get mocked pretty badly, like obviously it was an idiot move to go into anything other than STEM. I am not sure where that leaves women who don't want to get caught in this horrible double bind.
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:24 PM on March 7, 2016 [46 favorites]


It sounds like these guys need to act like grownups and get their shit together.
posted by freakazoid at 12:25 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


She forwarded an email she had received from a senior colleague that opened...
eliminate the extreme power differential and hierarchy between PI, tenured profs, senior researchers, down to grad students and undergrads and the character of this changes almost entirely. if you look at that from the opposite direction you can read this as "sexism and patriarchy are a threat to the rise of my students (and by extension myself) wrt power and money in science, therefore something must be done."

A system where students and junior faculty had real freedom to pursue research without endless subservience to those senior would both improve science and make it easier for women and other minorities-in-science to achieve meaningful results. but hardly anyone advocates for a more egalitarian society of science.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:27 PM on March 7, 2016 [18 favorites]


Yes! We get it, scientists! You have feelings! Deep, powerful feelings! And you should feel free to express those feelings in situations where it's appropriate to do so, which is actually almost all the time, because 99% of all potential life partners for you are not your students or co-workers.

And if your employment situation is such that your students or co-workers are literally the only people with whom you ever have the opportunity to interact on a regular basis, then you should either change your employment situation or resign yourself to dying alone.

Shit, I actually don't know whether I'm being sarcastic or not. Obviously these men are horrible people with entitlement problems, but can you imagine if someone suggested that a lonely, overworked woman should quit her job so she could go out and meet people? It would be a hellstorm! I guess I'll just blame the kyriarchy, as usual.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:28 PM on March 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


I was talking to a close male friend/ex this morning about what my near future plans are for school (I recently went back to study ecology) and how I was having trouble deciding on a few things. Then I read this and told him "Or maybe I'll just blast off in my spaceship" which is what I always say when the world pisses me off or makes me sad and I'm just DONE.

He had also gone back to school recently, got a physics degree, and now works for NASA. He replied that he really hoped that he has the chance to make things better for women in science. I told him he should probably just focus on building us all cool spaceships to blast off in.

Crone Island here I come!*

*in my brain I've always envisioned Crone Island as another planet or a cool moon orbiting Jupiter or something.
posted by primalux at 12:28 PM on March 7, 2016 [24 favorites]


This article made my jaw hurt because it made me grind my teeth.
posted by OmieWise at 12:30 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


The fact that financially secure/high paying professions are hostile to women isn't a coincidence. Though this definitely still happens in STEM fields that aren't rolling in money, too.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:30 PM on March 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


A great candidate response to overprivileged men going on and on about themselves: be the Little Miss Sweetie Pie they want you to be.

please stop, I'm bored! please stop, I'm bored! please stop, I'm bored!
posted by Dashy at 12:31 PM on March 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


but can you imagine if someone suggested that a lonely, overworked woman should quit her job so she could go out and meet people? It would be a hellstorm!
If women were using their busy jobs to justify sexual harassment, people might say that. You seem to be implying that people don't say that to women because of some special women-privilege. People don't say it to women because women rarely abuse power in this way. And when they do, they deserve condemnation the same as men do.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:33 PM on March 7, 2016 [43 favorites]


Every time I read something like this, I feel so lucky to have ended up in a department where I have never felt harassed or threatened by the faculty. My heart sinks for women who have to deal with this.

It is so, so, so angering. I want to burn them all down and use people making excuses for these entitled children as tinder.

If this was an autism spectrum problem, or a social skills problem

First, how insulting is this to people who actually have these problems, understand that this is a line you don't cross?

Second, we're not talking about something that is mysterious or hard to decode. We're talking about something that people have point-blank been told not to do. If you can't follow those instructions it's not a social skills problem, it's a "but the rules don't apply to me" problem.

Third, as if women are never on the spectrum or never have social skills.

A system where students and junior faculty had real freedom to pursue research without endless subservience to those senior

What would such a system look like? I think that the PI/lab set-up probably exacerbates it, but many fields have no such thing and there's still a problem. For example, I'm free to work on my own projects (constrained by the requirements of the degree -- I have to make progress on those), and any work I do for faculty is temporary and likely to change semester by semester (RA work, TAing, collaboration etc). Even then, if I had a senior colleague send me an email like this I wouldn't know what to do, because the field is small, and just by the nature of being a senior colleague he would have a lot of power to destroy my reputation.

And then there is the issue of academia being small, and there often being only a handful of people who are working on similar problems or who have resources you need. One of my advisors could easily torpedo my plans if he decided to no longer support me -- not because of any institutional relationship we have, but because I need his support to do my work.

So while I'm completely in agreement with the idea that we need to address these power differentials, I'm not sure how you would do it, without fundamentally changing how academia works (which is not likely). What can we do now?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:37 PM on March 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


Clearly, Men are too emotional and can't keep their feelings from effecting thier work and therefor should be discouraged from working in academia and sciences.
posted by The Whelk at 12:38 PM on March 7, 2016 [280 favorites]


Though this definitely still happens in STEM fields that aren't rolling in money, too.

I think it's about the protected status of the aggressors as much as anything. The thing it most reminds me of is the way horrible behavior gets overlooked in sports, really: a guy does something awful, but the community doesn't want to lose access to his rare skill set, so whatever women he victimized are left hanging out to dry. (And generally blamed, as people gotta have someone to blame.)

I'm not sure much will change until society at large stops letting predators hide behind 'I am hard to replace.'
posted by mordax at 12:39 PM on March 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


the flipside to this is professor/student romance, which is also common and super-gross to standby and watch. which reminds me, i'm going to a professor/student wedding soon which is unfortunately going to be dry.... going to have to get tanked before I show up.

people just accept the whole corporate HR-style "strong sexual harassment employee policy" "employee training" model without think that the whole point of HR is to preserve the management structure of the business. which is to say, again, that sexual harassment is ultimately a threat to the management role of faculty in a gender-integrated society of science. something must be done to preserve that role...
posted by ennui.bz at 12:40 PM on March 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


People don't say it to women because women rarely abuse power in this way. And when they do, they deserve condemnation the same as men do.

Oh, I know! I'm pointing out that the problem of overwork is real, and that these men may not have any opportunity for healthy social interaction. That in no way excuses their behavior, of course. But if there really is no third option beyond dying alone or sexually harassing one's peers, then the whole system needs to be blown up.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:40 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


"If this was an autism spectrum problem, or a social skills problem, they wouldn't so consistently cloak their advances in plausible deniability and room for denial."

Blaming harassment on ASD is kind of like blaming violence on mental illness. You get to excuse your own poor behaviour by slandering entire communities.
posted by mikek at 12:41 PM on March 7, 2016 [26 favorites]


I've heard that there are newfangled personal ads on the internets these days that will help with dating for busy people.

Seriously: I don't think this happens because men are busy or lonely. Plenty of productive, successful men in academia never behave this way.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:43 PM on March 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


And if your employment situation is such that your students or co-workers are literally the only people with whom you ever have the opportunity to interact on a regular basis, then you should either change your employment situation or resign yourself to dying alone.

That's an acceptable course of action if you can't find any time outside of work to make friends. If your work-life balance is that out of whack, either resign yourself to it or strive to change it no matter what field you're in. Coworkers are there to cowork, not to be your buddy.
posted by mattamatic at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh, Lord, the comments were all about the "it's men and women! They meet! At work! Deal!" If it's Twoo Wuv, then you can wait until the supervisory relationship is over before pursuing the romantic one. It's called...maturity? Adulthood? If you're a faculty member, then, yes, you've sacrificed the right to date your current students, because your professional obligations to them come first. See also.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2016 [62 favorites]


Articles like this are the exact reason student-professor romances are incredibly bad and terrible, awful, and destructive. They give licence and plausibility to this behaviour.
posted by bonehead at 12:45 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm pointing out that the problem of overwork is real, and that these men may not have any opportunity for healthy social interaction.

Oh, FFS. They have just as much opportunity for social interaction outside of work as any other hard-working person. I'm just...I'm speechless. The comments on this article and even here...

Professors aren't some kind of tank-grown specimen of human that goes from vat to lab! They get undergrad degrees along with all the non-tenure track headed people, and go home in the afternoons, and can spend weekends socializing as much as the rest of us.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:48 PM on March 7, 2016 [21 favorites]


> He describes being near her as “exhilarating and frustrating at the same time” and himself as “utterly unable to get a grip” as a result.

Just here to repeat the point others here have made: grow the fuck up, asshole. The worst part is how he implies that it's her fault he can't "get a grip." You are no longer a 13 year-old boy, you should be able to separate the personal and the professional, and above all you should be able to treat your female colleagues appropriately and with respect. And if you can't the problem is you.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:49 PM on March 7, 2016 [11 favorites]


Also, the chief sexual harasser in my department was married with small children. He was not some sad, lonely dude who was deprived of human contact and didn't have time to date.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:51 PM on March 7, 2016 [55 favorites]


Nicole Cliffe (@nicole_cliffe) has been retweeting these stories from women today, partially because the author of this article has started getting emails about how many high school women are getting the same treatment at even younger ages.

So many men get "warnings" and no punishment, so many get slight punishment and then employed at equally prestigious institutions, so many get promoted. In the course of the thread, I found out that one of my own teachers has since gone to jail for this behavior. It is everywhere. This behavior is everywhere.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:53 PM on March 7, 2016 [22 favorites]


But if there really is no third option beyond dying alone or sexually harassing one's peers

We get it, academia is intense and success often requires long hours, and that can make it difficult to meet people on the outside.

But this line of discussion is really weak. Men aren't harassing their junior colleagues because they're lonely; they're harassing them because they feel entitled. Female academics face the same problem--and they get lonely too, but the harassment problem is profoundly gendered.

Of course, lots of academics successfully meet and partner up with people who aren't their junior colleagues. Preying on junior women isn't a man's only option when he's lonely.

Even a man who works the most grueling hours and literally does not have a spare hour in the day has an option, which is to keep it in his pants anyway, and to accept that he is not entitled to a partner at the cost of women's right to work free of harassment.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:53 PM on March 7, 2016 [47 favorites]


I'm not sure how you would do it, without fundamentally changing how academia works (which is not likely). What can we do now?

That's sort of like saying: how can we change anything without actually changing anything. There are so many nightmarish stories involving senior PIs and young female asian researchers/students, even without getting into explicit sexual harassment. It's the problem with focusing just on conduct: young female asian scientists are abused because of culture, immigration status, and gender, but often without any actionable "harassment."

My first run at grad school was in physics and the attitude towards women (on a cultural level) was horrific, compared to say mathematics, but women were canaries-in-the-coal-mine for an academic culture that was toxic for everyone and always came down to abuse of power.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:55 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


What, the problem is that these men spend too much time at work? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAA
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 12:56 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, Lord, the comments were all about the "it's men and women! They meet! At work! Deal!" If it's Twoo Wuv, then you can wait until the supervisory relationship is over before pursuing the romantic one.

I didn't read the comments, but want to point out: nowhere in her piece did Jahren say that her former student was subordinate to the harasser. That's just another sexist assumption that we all make.
posted by Dashy at 1:01 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


If you're a faculty member, then, yes, you've sacrificed the right to date your current students, because your professional obligations to them come first.

Generally, universities are made up of many different departments. If professors wish to date students, they can date the students of other departments, thus avoiding conflict-of-interest and power differential issues. Problem solved!

(Cue the chorus of poor, deprived faculty: "but I work so hard, and I am so dedicated to my job, my students are literally the only people I ever meet!")
posted by theorique at 1:03 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I just want to know if our only option is to wait for these assholes to offend and then nab them, which strikes me as painfully unfair to their victims and potential victims, or if there's some sort of systemic problem with academia (or with society writ large) we can address so this shit happens less frequently in the first place.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:04 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


to accept that he is not entitled to a partner

Therein lies the rub. Try asking one of these men to embrace the radical notion that they're not entitled to someone just because they've built the case in their head for a relationship.

In my past, I had been the unhappy recipient of several similar missives from smart men in science or engineering workplaces. I noticed that men who pride themselves on their rigorous thinking and agile intellects often get really, really angry when you assess their entire train of thought and say, "I see your case but I am under no obligation to consent to it."

And that anger gets expressed through visible yanking-away of professional opportunities, concerted efforts to wreck the professional relationships you have with colleagues independent of them, and even more correspondence assailing both your intellect and your character for your brainlessness in saying "No" to what is clearly an obvious outcome.

There's a reason I dated a lot of so-called "dumb jocks" during that time. First, they broadcast to the Men Most Likely To Harass Me that I was "shallow" and therefore unworthy of their affections. And second, those "dumb jocks" were a hell of a lot more straightforward and respectful of me than the men who loved telling me how my mind had inflamed their penis, so a smart girl like me could see there was only one obvious outcome.
posted by sobell at 1:06 PM on March 7, 2016 [99 favorites]


I emphasize to them that the first email is important because it is the one that the powers that be will point to and say, “Why didn’t you do something when you first got this?” I talk to each woman bluntly and advise her to write back immediately, telling (not asking) him to stop.

Good on her. This is exactly what I advise: Speak up sooner rather than later. Don't hope it goes away. The point at which this became a confrontation you cannot avoid is the first time he says/does something like this. More women need to hear this and be empowered to handle it more effectively. It will suck no matter what you do. Doing nothing doesn't make it suck less. It just let's the problem grow.

It isn't a confrontation any woman wants. But sticking your head in the sand won't make it magically not be there anymore and I think a lot of women do that because they are not taught to recognize the point of no return. They seem to think it comes much later, after something "obviously bad" (like rape) has happened).
posted by Michele in California at 1:09 PM on March 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh my god the comments on that article. I know I shouldn't read them, but I can't help myself.

A tangential aside...

We need to utterly and totally dispel this idea that a person can be in love with someone he's not yet been on even one date with. Infatuation, sure. Love, no way. It's not love if the object of your affection has absolutely no idea you have any romantic feelings for her whatsoever. It needs to be drummed into young people, boys especially, that if your first declaration of romantic interest is a statement of undying love, that is a sure sign that you've formed a totally imaginary and one-sided relationship that has mostly to do with your own loneliness and very little to do with unique qualities of the object of your obsession.
posted by scantee at 1:12 PM on March 7, 2016 [116 favorites]


Generally, universities are made up of many different departments. If professors wish to date students, they can date the students of other departments, thus avoiding conflict-of-interest and power differential issues. Problem solved!

Eh. I get that this is kosher from a legal standpoint in many universities, but it still seems icky to me. Even if they aren't your students, a prof dating a student is still a creepy power imbalance. But I guess for some people that kind of relationship is appealing (I mean, for both sides). Still, grow up, Prof. Your students are little babies, hardly formed, even if they are of the age of majority. Anyway, there is always the potential that they could sign up for one of your classes. What do you do then? (not you, but the theoretical professor in a relationship with a student).
posted by dis_integration at 1:13 PM on March 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


🎶 Feelings, nothing more than feelings / Trying to forget my feelings of love / Teardrops rolling down on my face—skrrrritttcchhhh.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:13 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


We need to utterly and totally dispel this idea that a person can be in love with someone he's not yet been on even one date with.

My rule of thumb: When your expression of infatuation is pretty much guaranteed to ruin my career and my life, you don't actually love me. Love involves giving a damn about my welfare.
posted by Michele in California at 1:15 PM on March 7, 2016 [86 favorites]


And if your employment situation is such that your students or co-workers are literally the only people with whom you ever have the opportunity to interact on a regular basis, then you should either change your employment situation or resign yourself to dying alone.

Yeah. If your job leaves you no possible social outlet outside of the one entity that holds your livelihood in its claw, you SHOULD quit. That's a sick organization that's exploiting you, not just economically but actively stealing your life force.

Video game/tech companies are great at that particular con. First, you hire a bunch of young men (#allmen? We'll get to it) right out of school, before they have a chance to become fully autonomous adults. Then you fill their heads full of lies about showing "passion" for your work, channeling their vocation and ambition into punishing schedules and borderline if not straight up illegal conditions. So what if you're working 80 hours/week for years with no benefits or security? You're living your dream, making video games (or building rockets, or studying dolphins, whatever)! And if you're not happy, there are thousands of people just like you gunning for the job, so have fun being a regular office drone somewhere else.

Part of the trick is having the institution fill more and more of those young men's non-professional concerns. The company brings you lunch and dinner, a gym and showers, laundry and groceries, so you don't have to worry your pretty coding/sciencing head about those. Same for social needs: beer fridge Friday, sports leagues, off-site retreats... Awesome! You never need to NOT hang out with coworkers ever again! Why even go home or make friends, or romantic partners, outside of your company?

The con is a bit tougher to pull on women, though. More of us are looking for things like work-life balance, parental leave and healthcare, rather than ping pong tables and a corporate Crossfit crew. So, if we even make it through the door in the first place, we quickly become a "bad cultural fit". And in the meantime, we get to be a rare outlet for all those romantic urges the company isn't (yet) taking care of for its mostly-male workforce.
posted by Freyja at 1:16 PM on March 7, 2016 [39 favorites]


I was once asked to mentor an incoming graduate student. On the very first day that we meet, while I am with her, my mentee is directly approached by a young, white, male who quickly discloses that he's from the Philosophy department. They proceed to converse, to the complete exclusion of me (gay, PoC), for several minutes.

That day, I learned that some men think that is how they supposed to socialize with others. It was the way that I saw him lock his eyes on her—the male gaze—from a distance of 10, 20 m, glide over, and do this incredibly friendly and charming performance. Coupled with, and really, contradicted by, an absence in his various actions: unlike my white, female mentee, I am suddenly rendered invisible in the conversation, until after what seems like an eternity, my presence is finally acknowledged.

Imagine my feelings as someone whose not encountered this behavior before. Being a non-straight, non-white male was a factor in enabling me to witness this. That, giving the benefit of doubt they probably (and hopefully) eventually became good friends, is beside the point. My interpretation is that these dynamics of what some people think they do is OK and doesn't affect other people, seem to have a very early basis.
posted by polymodus at 1:17 PM on March 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


Any person who
  1. wants to date someone and
  2. doesn't have time due to their strenuous work schedule to meet people to date and
  3. has a crush on one of the people they are supervising
has a clear, simple decision to make. They should decide whether the job or this particular potential chance to date this particular person is more important to them. If they decide that they simply cannot go without dating this person, then they should resign from their position.

This line of reasoning, as a rule, doesn't occur to men who find themselves with a crush on their supervisees. This indicates that likely the element of having authority over the person is part of the attraction, rather than just an inconvenient thing getting in the way of a hypothetical relationship.

I would therefore say that the relationship the supervisors want to establish is, like rape, less about sexual attraction per se and more about the use of coerced sex as a means of demonstrating and exercising power over the victim.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:19 PM on March 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


What would it take to actually change this culture?
posted by aniola at 1:20 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think it would take real consequences for people who perpetrate this behavior, regardless of their status or value to their departments.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:24 PM on March 7, 2016 [41 favorites]


My dad has always had colleagues who don't seem to want a life outside of their work. These are the people he used to have to have to talk to about not calling to talk shop for an hour at 6 PM on a Sunday. It's a choice those folks have made, not a requirement of the profession. Yes, it's an intense way to make a living. Yes, it's not a "normal" 9-5 gig. You work weird hours, you take trips to conferences, there are periods that require intense focus. But eschewing all other hobbies and all other opportunities for socializing over your entire career is a choice. A lazy choice and frequently a destructive one.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:24 PM on March 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is making me sick to my stomach. My daughter, almost 16....my smart, enthusiastic, people-pleasing (despite our best efforts to get her to be more self-assertive) wonderful, amazing daughter, wants to study in a STEM field when she's in college. Right now she's ridiculously interested in astronomy (she paints imagined galaxies for fun!) and neuroscience. She's going to experience this if she goes into STEM and it makes me want to cry and makes me want to tell her to forget it, just do something else, even though you LOVE these things you're interested in and you'd be SO GOOD at them and you would give 500% of yourself to whatever it is you decide to do...just forget it.

But I can't and I won't. We'll work on the assertiveness and make sure she has female mentors as good as the author of TFA. What else can I do? I don't know.
posted by cooker girl at 1:24 PM on March 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


What would it take to actually change this culture?

End patriarchy and reform the university system entirely?

All kidding aside, there's a fair amount of research work being done on the problem of increasing the participation of women in STEM (and philosophy). I think simply having more women in positions of power in these fields will do the most to reduce sexual harassment. The place where I went to grad school had almost perfect parity in male/female professors, and perfect parity in graduate admissions. Nobody would've gotten away with that kind of shit there for long, the real-deal feminists on the faculty committee would have thrown a shit-fit.
posted by dis_integration at 1:25 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was wondering if there would be any use in having a "what to do if (really when) you are sexually harassed" class as part of orientation. The downside to this is that if the person does not follow the procedure due to, say, fear of losing their position as a student (as an adviser can basically fire you), then they would face difficulty when trying to pursue remedy later.

I'm almost to the point of asking for all faculty email systems to be transparent to admins and to have some sort of smart algorithm running that would flag this sort of communication and alert the administration. Decrease of academic freedom, the system could be used to watch for other things that the administration objects to, etc. I suppose you could put it only on tenured faculty accounts, but who is going to trust the administration to only do that?

Going back to the class, I wonder if it could be presented in a way that did not mandate a fixed reaction. Instead if it said "here are your options, by the way, document everything and keep copies of everything." Just to make people (honestly, women) aware of claims the harassers will make when they are confronted. Of course, that would require the school to either actually handle this sort of thing well or acknowledge how bad it is at dealing with harassment cases.

A cultural change needs to happen, but I fear that it can't without a large number of these guys receiving serious penalties for their actions.
posted by Hactar at 1:27 PM on March 7, 2016


I think a line of thought that presumes academics literally do not have time outside of work to socialize or meet potential partners is 1) WRONG and 2) terrible distracting from the point, which is men in academia abusing their power to sexually harass people around them.

I would say, even, drop it because it is a MASSIVE derail, along the lines of "but did you see how short her skirt was?"

I say this as someone who has been immersed in academia since I was born, almost 50 yrs ago. Brought home from the hospital to married grad student housing and been around faculty ever since.

These people are not working THAT hard!
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:27 PM on March 7, 2016 [34 favorites]


Is this a problem that is specific to the sciences in academia? A lot of the same power dynamics & coercion would presumably come into play between graduate students and professors in the English or Anthropology departments. If there's something different about the culture in those fields that leads to fewer heinous stories like these, what can we in the sciences learn from them?

I ask because I'm a (male) professor of physics, and I hear these stories and I look at the 80% male faces in the classes I teach (not to mention the lack of minority representation), and I say to myself "something has got to change". But I don't know what that is.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:29 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


> What would it take to actually change this culture?

marxist feminist revolution.

barring that, a widespread refusal by academics at all levels to work in any capacity with researchers who even think about using their position of power to coerce sexual favors from the people they supervise, coupled with a widespread understanding that people who abuse their positions of power in this way are simply not to be trusted in any capacity. Basically, an understanding that if you use your position of authority this way, everyone will think of you as being basically equivalent to Bill Cosby.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:29 PM on March 7, 2016 [18 favorites]


I was wondering if there would be any use in having a "what to do if (really when) you are sexually harassed" class as part of orientation.
My university actually has something like that for all incoming students. It's online, and it covers topics related to sexual assault and harassment. I've never actually seen the content: I know it's heavily weighted towards encouraging bystander intervention in sexual assault situations, but I don't know what it says about harassment. It'd be interesting to know.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:29 PM on March 7, 2016


These people are not working THAT hard!

The older generation of faculty can be lazy, sure. But in the contemporary academic job market, you work till your eyes bleed or you fall behind and don't get a job. But yeah, I think it's a derail. These men would be terrible sexual harassers outside of the academy too if the opportunity presented itself.
posted by dis_integration at 1:30 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


marxist feminist revolution.

Yes! Now we're getting somewhere!
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:31 PM on March 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think the point was framed in a very unfortunate manner, and I wish there was a way to kill the attention the unfortunate framing is getting, but I think the main point underlying Faint of Butt's comments was "Is there anything we can do to change the system that starts from an assumption that men and women are both victims of the system instead of assuming men are just all evil asshats?" And I think that is a question worth asking.
posted by Michele in California at 1:32 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Try asking one of these men to embrace the radical notion that they're not entitled to someone just because they've built the case in their head for a relationship.

This reminds me of two of Mallory Ortberg's most amazing tweets:
@mallelis at least once a month I think about how Jon Safran Foer left his wife for Natalie Portman but forgot to ask Natalie Portman first

@mallelis
Step 1: leave wife
Step 2: begin beautiful life with Natalie Portman
Step 3: get Natalie's buy-in
Like, for these dudes, the idea that the object of their desire might instead be a subject is just MINDBOGGLINGLY UNFAIR
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:33 PM on March 7, 2016 [86 favorites]


But in the contemporary academic job market, you work till your eyes bleed or you fall behind and don't get a job.

lol. I work daily with current PHD students and new faculty in a top 10 program - I'm sticking with my opinion.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:33 PM on March 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


If there's something different about the culture in those fields that leads to fewer heinous stories like these, what can we in the sciences learn from them?

No, it happens there, too. I mean, the platonic ideal stereotype version of the lechy academic is an English professor, right? It's just that right now everyone is wondering why more women don't go into STEM fields, so people are paying attention to the harassment and abuse that takes place in those fields. It also happens in every single other department.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:33 PM on March 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


Is this a problem that is specific to the sciences in academia?

Nope. I tell this story because 1) it is amazing, and 2) it shows that this garbage is literally everywhere:
Natalie Portman signed on to produce the documentary based on Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, the one that changed her life. When production began on the film, Foer was also on board to co-produce so the two of them had to communicate and interact throughout the process. Like most of us who have jobs that require interacting with other people, a lot of this communication went through email. Somewhere between a "Re: Tomorrow's Meeting"-type exchange and the finite nature of human existence, Jonathan Safran Foer, famous author, non-eater of animals, became a little smitten with Natalie Portman. This would be cute and all had Safran Foer not already chosen a wife, named Nicole Krauss, who is also an author, and Natalie Portman not already chosen a husband, named Benjamin Millipied, who is a French dancer.

Yet, Jonathan Safran Foer was not going to let either his author-wife or a French dancer come between him and his new soulmate, the notable actress who dug his book. So Jonathan Safran Foer did what any person who likes to jump out of a perfectly good airplane using only a Hefty bag as a parachute would have done and told his wife that he was in love with Natalie Portman. And then he decided to give Natalie Portman the heads-up on what he'd told his wife, too, because she's both the producer of the film adaptation of his book and the person he wants to not eat animals with everyday until death tears them apart.

Here's the one thing Jonathan Safran Foer didn't take into consideration: What if Natalie Portman is still in love with her French dancer husband?

Guess what — she is. And guess what else? Natalie Portman was completely cuhhh-reeped by Jonathan Safran Foer's overtures and wanted no part of that pig shit whatsoever. In so much so that the rumor is Natalie Portman completely blew up his spot (through email) to some of the other important people involved with "Eating Animals" (the film) just to make it perfectly clear that, whatever the fuck Jonathan Safran Foer is thinking right now, it's all his doing and she just wanted to make his goddamn book into a goddamn movie so keep this guy away from her.
What's different about academia is that the power dynamic is so screwy that very few women have the power Natalie Portman had to say "NOOOOOOPE" and still have a career.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:39 PM on March 7, 2016 [115 favorites]


Is this a problem that is specific to the sciences in academia? A lot of the same power dynamics & coercion would presumably come into play between graduate students and professors in the English or Anthropology departments. If there's something different about the culture in those fields that leads to fewer heinous stories like these, what can we in the sciences learn from them?

I see a different subtext to the nytimes article. It's not what the science community can learn from humanities departments; it's that even science, that which is (sadly) considered by people inside and outside of academia to be more advanced, valuable, progressive than the traditional disciplines, is a) not immune to this internal problem, and b) suffers the same bootstrapping/blindedness to the open-endedness of the problem. Things would be easier if one could simply turn to an outside authority to "learn" the answer, so the first step is to dispense with that notion.
posted by polymodus at 1:42 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


nowhere in her piece did Jahren say that her former student was subordinate to the harasser.

the harasser is described as a "senior colleague," which in itself is a euphemism since the relationship between postdocs and tenured faculty/PIs can be a lot less than "colleague-ial"

These people are not working THAT hard!

yeah, no. good friend is a postdoc in the biological sciences, top 10 program, a typical work week is 6 days, 6am to 6pm. she regularly works 30 hours straight because one of the protocols she uses demands it. it's totally exploitative: she is almost entirely at the mercy of "senior colleagues" if she wants to continue to have a career.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:42 PM on March 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


I think about how Jon Safran Foer left his wife for Natalie Portman but forgot to ask Natalie Portman first

Extremely proud and incredibly gross.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:44 PM on March 7, 2016 [60 favorites]


What would it take to actually change this culture?

Lawsuits, I think. This sort of behavior, specifically the "here are all my feelings documented in HR-appalling detail, now they are your problem, perhaps you will touch my peepee now?" emails, is far less an issue in business environments so long as there's someone in authority there afraid of being sued. There are other grooming techniques, but IMs can be logged and text messages are screenshottable and even companies that don't give a rat's fuck about the target will at least consider the perpetrator a liability. And even the ones who work real long sad hours or don't have sterling social skills know that.

I think the problem with academia is rooted in that very strong culture of long-term employment contracts, decentralization of management, kind of no actual management structure at all departmentally, and Old Boys' Club. And every freshly-tenured Dr. Babyman may individually think that his feelings are Important and Poetic and he just really really needs someone to touch his peepee ("Passionate"), but his treatment of the "girls" as job benefits makes him invested in perpetuating this culture in which they are lesser and he is okay to act like that.

It seems like economic forces are already underway to turn schools into businesses, but of course the tenure system and educational employment law will be the very last to change since it's white guys who benefit the most from it. But once it starts losing the school significant money, it'll fall too.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:44 PM on March 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


I would absolutely support a new Safran-Foer-inspired system where every scientist who wants to date his student has to at least officially quit his job before telling her he is interested.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:48 PM on March 7, 2016 [42 favorites]


Men as a class are neither evil asshats nor victims of the system, and the way I see it, either framing contributes to the very problem we are here to discuss, which is the total lack of either RESPONSIBILITY or CONSEQUENCES for their despicable actions. These guys know exactly what they are doing and any suggestion otherwise (yes, even if it also condemns them for their actions) feeds into the problem by validating their framing of all this as normal man-woman dealings instead of as them knowingly preying upon vulnerable women.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:50 PM on March 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


Also, that link to the Twitter feed about high school girls getting sexually harassed makes me physically ill.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:51 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


What would it take to actually change this culture?

Strong social, legal boundaries which prohibit certain kinds of relationships. Just as it's gross and illegal to date a cousin, it should be similarly gross and illegal to date or, more importantly for this case, contemplate dating any co-worker who is "close enough". Student-teacher absolutely, manager-report, yes, but even close co-workers.

The case raised in the article were co-workers, as mentioned in the last paragraph.

If women (and men, etc...) do not want to have to deal with those they are forced to reject, those men who crush must not feel they are allowed to initiate with women they have intimate daily interactions with. And that should be the new social contract: not just cousins, but co-workers too.
posted by bonehead at 1:58 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


intimate daily interactions with

Say, perhaps better: work-related/professional daily interactions with, instead.
posted by bonehead at 2:01 PM on March 7, 2016


BRB. Setting everything on fire. With my brain.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:03 PM on March 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's not what the science community can learn from humanities departments; it's that even science, that which is (sadly) considered by people inside and outside of academia to be more advanced, valuable, progressive than the traditional disciplines, is a) not immune to this internal problem, and b) suffers the same bootstrapping/blindedness to the open-endedness of the problem.

Fair point. I do see a certain danger in this line of thinking, though; it may encourage people to say "oh but it's a problem with SOCIETY" and throw up their hands. The sciences, in particular, have a tendency to view themselves as somewhat apart from society at large, and academics tend to hyper-specialize on one area of their expertise. This leads to a tendency to say "I'm not equipped to solve this problem, society at large has to change."

The error in this reasoning, of course, being that there is a society of scientists, with its own norms and culture, that most scientists are largely unaware of; in fact, the scientific process does its best to remove these personal norms from consideration. ("Science is supposed to be about the evidence, not the people presenting the evidence, therefore the interactions between the people are irrelevant.") We as scientistic have much more ability to change this sub-culture and make it a more welcoming place for everyone, but the first step is to become conscious of what our sub-culture is. Perhaps a course in "Science Studies for Scientists" should be required of all science majors.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:04 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Your Boner Feelings: Not an Excuse for Being an Ass" sounds like a level 101 course that's badly needed.

Also, I am squicked on Ms. Portman's behalf but feel somewhat justified in not liking Foer now.

"That’s just the way things are and you’re gonna have to deal with me until one of us leaves.”

So that would be a threat, then.
posted by emjaybee at 2:23 PM on March 7, 2016 [27 favorites]


Perhaps a course in "Science Studies for Scientists" should be required of all science majors.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:04 PM on March 7 [3 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


yes and there should be several tenure-track jobs in teaching this course and they should all start next year or maybe the year after.

also it is especially important that universities in places with pleasant climates and active left political scenes start requiring these courses and hiring new assistant professors to teach them.

very important.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:25 PM on March 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


bonehead: "Just as it's gross and illegal to date a cousin"

It's not illegal most places.
posted by Mitheral at 2:28 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would like to put together a Flying Crone Squad. We could visit the guys who do this, hang out in their office, tell them stories of exposure, embarrassment, legal action, jail time, and social media swarms. Like five or six of us, middle-aged, frumpy, gimlet-eyed, well-versed in the relevant laws and statutes, just itching to write some letters, make some phone calls, create some hashtags. Not accusing or being specific, just sharing important information he might not know.

"Just wanted you to be aware!" we'd say cheerfully as we leave, smiling like sharks.
posted by emjaybee at 2:35 PM on March 7, 2016 [119 favorites]


I would like to put together a Flying Crone Squad.

I would like to back your Kickstarter.
posted by mordax at 2:41 PM on March 7, 2016 [43 favorites]


Is this a problem that is specific to the sciences in academia?

At this point within universities, there have been sexual harassment and/or assault incidents with relatively wide-reaching reporting in philosophy, astronomy (twice!), sport medicine, marching bands, and anthropology. Outside of universities, there are similar reports from tech, the atheist and skeptic communities, sci-fi/fantasy conventions, truck driving, janitorial work, television, the military, video games, and restaurant work.

This certainly incomplete list comprises well-educated women and women who have less than a high school diploma, relatively well-to-do women and poor women, women who do physical labor and women who do office labor, women who work in male-dominated environments and women who work in fields with more women, and women of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. Some of these women are at greater risk than others, but workplace sexual harassment and assault are pervasive.

Sexual harassment and worse can occur in any human institution that doesn't seriously and actively grapple with the problem. Any academic department that thinks itself exempt is almost certainly in for a rude awakening.
posted by palindromic at 2:52 PM on March 7, 2016 [32 favorites]


This indicates that likely the element of having authority over the person is part of the attraction, rather than just an inconvenient thing getting in the way of a hypothetical relationship.

This is absolutely the case. A lot of this stuff is an artifact of the way that "love" and "romance" are sold to guys in our culture. Men get a lot of messages about how feelings for someone subordinate to you are natural and romantic, to the point that the condition of being subordinate to you starts to become something romantic in and of itself. (To say nothing of all the very old cultural baggage about how women are supposed to be subordinate to a man they're in a relationship with in a bunch of ways, which is... well, we probably all feel pretty much the same way about that so let's move on but it definitely bleeds in here.) Then there's this idea that the noble thing to do is to express your feelings even if you think they can't possibly be requited (as opposed to the more realistic idea that foisting your feelings off onto somebody else is putting them under an obligation and is wildly inappropriate in a lot of situations), and that as a man your romantic duty is to pursue pursue pursue and that if she turns you down and you just keep pursuing you're showing how powerful your love for her is and won't that really impress her? The senior guy dropping the drunk mash note into his mentee's email really does probably feel like he's putting himself out there at risk, like he's doing something noble and almost self-sacrificing for love. He is, in most cases, not doing the math and going "Oh yes, this will be a safe predation that is unlikely to lead to consequences for me!"

Think about all the fucked up romantic messages for guys in our culture. Think about that fucking Andrew Lincoln scene from Love Actually. Think about the romantic plot in A Beautiful Mind. Think about the lyrics of popular music and how the average age of a leading man's romantic interest in movies doesn't go up when his own age does. I'm not saying that any of this is an excuse, because it's not, but I am saying that this is where a lot of this shit is coming from.

So what would actually fix this problem? Short of the aforementioned Marxist feminist revolution, I think we need to fix the way we talk about love and romance in our culture, and I especially think we need to make it obvious to these men (one of whom I could easily have been but for the grace of women in my life making it clear to me how things affect them) that this shit is not romantic and that it's actually quite cruel. Your confession, heart in your throat and all, is not an act of supreme devotion to her, but rather a thing that is going to blow up her life. You want to prove to her that you care for her? Don't let your "heart" take a big steaming shit in her career. It's selfish. In short, I think that articles like this are actually really helpful. Some men are predators and that's a different problem that has to be dealt with in a different way, but some men are just ignorant and convinced that these behaviors are somehow not just okay but actually kind of sweet and corny and old-fashioned, like this is something they'll be telling their kids some day. These men can be educated and saved, which incidentally saves all of the women they would have fucked up. I know because I was one of them and it happened to me.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons that the answers above of "Make it really illegal! REALLY, REALLY PUNISH THEM!" aren't going to work. Apart from the fact that "make more punishment happen" isn't a real strategy for curbing unwanted behavior (trust me, the American court and prison system has tried every version of this), and that privilege insulates a lot of these guys from punishment even when they do things that are clearly illegal or against other set-in-stone rules, part of what's happening in these cases of deluded harassers is that they think they're doing something that's noble. They already know that they're not supposed to--they've had the sexual harassment training--but they seriously do not understand WHY it's a bad thing to do. They think that defying the rules in the name of love is a morally good thing to do, and they're not thinking about how selfish and childish they're being. You have to make the perpetrators understand, really in their gut understand, that they're doing wrong to get them to stop perpetrating. This also means making them understand WHY it's wrong, not just asking them to trust you. People do not, in general, have a lot of respect for rules that run counter to their own feelings about morality, and also everybody expects that they'll be the one to get away with it and really it was totally justified by their feelings anyway.

(Kind of but not really off-topic: Every time I see a romantic comedy or a Disney movie or any movie where a male protagonist falls in "love at first sight" I want to scream at the screen lately. So many movies promulgate this idea that love is something that happens to you rather than something you do, and it's infuriating because I know it's poisoning people's minds. No, Aladdin, that thing that happened when you first saw Jasmine was not love. You just have a crush and a hard-on.)
posted by IAmUnaware at 2:58 PM on March 7, 2016 [62 favorites]


Emjaybee it won't be a week before somebody compliments you on your pretty gimlet eyes, why don't you wear your hair off your face more often?
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:59 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


emjaybee: "I would like to put together a Flying Crone Squad."

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY
posted by scrump at 3:01 PM on March 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


And here's some sweet, sweet pap from the NIH:
Over the next few weeks to months, we plan to work with governmental, academic and private-sector colleagues to identify potential steps to translating our expectations into reality. An important first step will be to gather as much data as possible to more fully understand the nature and extent of sexual harassment among scientists. These data should guide us in determining what kinds of policy and procedure are most likely to help. We will also work to determine what levers are already available to influential stakeholders — us as funders, as well as university administrators and departments, journal editors, and organizers and hosts of scientific meetings.
That link, by the way, is a) the entire article, and b) was initially published as a pay-walled article in Nature, but was opened up after some criticism.
posted by palindromic at 3:04 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Flying Crone Squad

#cronestrike
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:05 PM on March 7, 2016 [38 favorites]


Emjaybee it won't be a week before somebody compliments you on your pretty gimlet eyes, why don't you wear your hair off your face more often?

Crones are impervious to weaksauce negging compliments of this kind. Moreover, the type of guy who tries to date younger subordinates is ill-equipped to deal with the powers of a fully-realized crone. Much less a squad of them.
posted by emjaybee at 3:09 PM on March 7, 2016 [44 favorites]


He is, in most cases, not doing the math and going "Oh yes, this will be a safe predation that is unlikely to lead to consequences for me!"

As someone who was asked for a date by a senior programmer in the department I wanted a job in, I posit that men absolutely do stop to think about how much danger their career is in while simultaneously not giving one nanosecond of thought to what it does to her career. So, tongue in cheek or not, I think they do stop and do that math and absolutely conclude "this will be a safe predation pursuit for me!" while not giving a fuck what it means to her 99% of the time.

He may well be taking a risk and putting himself out there and blah blah blah, but the evidence is this usually does not actually ruin his career. But merely being asked for a date by someone who could potentially be your boss if you get your career goals met closes doors for the woman. And it is a unilateral decision that she has no control over.
posted by Michele in California at 3:09 PM on March 7, 2016 [27 favorites]


Then they just shut the door. Be sure to speak in hushed tones and use only plausibly deniable forms of communication.

I can't read the original article right now because I feel a bit nauseous even thinking about it. This shit happened to me (I documented everything, starting from the first bullshit email, but plenty was in person and not by email).

Oh and conveniently it started just before I was applying to jobs for the first time-- i.e. Right when I most needed this asshat's rec letter. I know it hurt me professionally to have to continually reject him and I know I would have been better off if this shit hadn't happened to me. But I will never know how much, or if it continues to (I no longer speak to the person in question, and don't get rec letters from him either, but who knows what wrong things get said about me where I can't correct them).

One thing I think perpetuates this behavior, and worsens its effect, is that much of academia is set up with a single supervisor. There is one major person who can destroy a junior person's career. If your advisor turns out to be an idiot who can't think with the correct head, what are you supposed to do? There is no one else whose opinion can save your career.
posted by nat at 3:10 PM on March 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


They think that defying the rules in the name of love is a morally good thing to do, and they're not thinking about how selfish and childish they're being.

...Most of them are not defying the rules in the name of love; they're defying the rules in the name of lust.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:13 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Even if they aren't your students, a prof dating a student is still a creepy power imbalance.

Yes, this, completely. The number of my male academic friends dating former grad students (even if they weren't "their" grad students) freaks me out completely. And the mental backflips they do to explain to me why this trend is not gross and/or doesn't apply to them because their special case is special is pretty funny to watch.
posted by frumiousb at 3:13 PM on March 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


> ...Most of them are not defying the rules in the name of love; they're defying the rules in the name of lust.

and because practicing rapists know how to use positions of power to commit rape without consequence.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:23 PM on March 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


The "don't date anyone at work, losers, don't you have any hobbies" advice has always seemed a little problematic to me because work, where people relate on the basis of shared intellectual interests, probably has a greater potential for facilitating relationships between equals than dating sites where you list your age and weight preferences, or bars where you decide whom to approach on the basis of appearance, or contrived hobbies that you get involved in just to meet potential dating partners. I think it's unhelpful to conflate academics of equal standing dating each other with academics exploiting power differentials to sexually coerce junior colleagues. (Maybe because my husband and I met as undergrads, so we were colleagues of a sort, I guess.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:36 PM on March 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


Also my hobby is posting on Metafilter from a city that never has any meetups, so.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:38 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


ugh this is yet another one of those problems we wouldn't have to deal with if we could just ban work.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:40 PM on March 7, 2016 [20 favorites]


I am so glad these things are finally being widely discussed. But I'm just so tired of it. Every time there's a new article or allegation, I lose hours (days, in some cases) of productivity to ruminating and anger and overwhelmed feelings and sadness and so on and so forth.

My closest friend in my department is a really awesome guy who also studies wild primates in equatorial Africa. Watching how different our grad school experiences have been has been really instructive. I left my second year of fieldwork three months early because I got so fed up with the sexual harassment; he stayed an extra few months because he wanted to get a little more data. He goes out drinking with his field assistant, I literally had one try to break into my room while he was drunk and angry that I wouldn't be with him. This translates into productivity. He's got an extra paper out based on data he collected during his extended fieldwork. He's never the subject of off color jokes from the people we work with. And, while he's amazing and will talk with me about this stuff and acknowledges the structural inequality and the stacked deck against academic women, he can go home and think about something else and work on another paper or grant our dissertation chapter. Or here's an example: there is a panel about harassment in academia at our discipline meeting this year. It's at the same time as a panel on something I am very interested in. Which side of my academic life do I prioritize? And why don't men have to do this?

I don't want this shit taking up my limited brain space and energy and time. But I feel like I need to participate in these conversations and be active in solving them. It's a hard balance to strike.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:44 PM on March 7, 2016 [104 favorites]


ugh, yeah, this whole thing sucks.

although i would like to say that at least jon safran foer seems to have told his wife *before* trying to have an affair, which is at least better than trying, failing, and not telling or trying, succeeding and then telling. not good, but not as bad as possible.
posted by Maias at 4:07 PM on March 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yes! We get it, scientists! You have feelings! Deep, powerful feelings! And you should feel free to express those feelings in situations where it's appropriate to do so, which is actually almost all the time, because 99% of all potential life partners for you are not your students or co-workers.

Well that's clearly no good. Laypeople are outside the tiny world where I'm really awesome. To them, I might as well be just another person, instead of the guy who studied under Dr. X and wrote the paper on Y. To date outside my department, I'd have to appeal to people on the basis of my personal qualities alone, which, yikes, no thanks! My new student though, I feel like she's the only one who sees the real me. No one else understands. How could they? They don't have the background.
posted by officer_fred at 4:15 PM on March 7, 2016 [22 favorites]


Johnny Assay, there are a lot of resources here: http://iwitts.org/proven-practices. This doesn't address the sexual harassment angle, but has is useful.

In addition, explicitly discuss issues of gender equality, belonging, our brains being plastic (we can learn new things), and values in classes can help.

I wish there was a better collection of classroom and/or departmental interventions (e.g. http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/proceeding/aipcp/10.1063/1.4789737).
posted by lab.beetle at 4:22 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


the problem with academia is rooted in that very strong culture of long-term employment contracts, decentralization of management, kind of no actual management structure at all departmentally, and Old Boys' Club.

Do professors ever act like a profession, that is, mutually regulated according to the ethics required by their expertise? There's mutual regulation in granting the PhD, and some people get thrown out (formally disvested?) for research malfeasance, but is malfeasance in teaching punished by faculties any more or is that too tied up with legal liabilities of the universities?
posted by clew at 4:26 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Third, as if women are never on the spectrum or never have social skills.

Fourth, somehow this supposed "spectrum-ness" or social awkwardness entirely fails to express itself all over the man in question's superiors, or even usually his male peers. He's perfectly capable of understanding the rules when he needs to, when there are actual consequences lurking if they're not followed. Most of us have known (or been) someone with genuine social handicaps. They're not that selective.
posted by praemunire at 4:26 PM on March 7, 2016 [26 favorites]


No shit. I'm about 8-years post-PhD now. Worked in a number of universities, in the environmental biology real.

In every single institution I've worked or studied at, this has gone on. It's sickening.
posted by Jimbob at 4:29 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


My friend is a mathematician, which means that she read this entire piece aloud to me over breakfast this weekend.

It also means that she's got a few stories of her own to add.

It's time for us to realize that, whether in police forces or academia, "a few bad apples" is a euphemism for "bone-deep systemic problem I can't be bothered to do anything about."
posted by Navelgazer at 4:29 PM on March 7, 2016 [36 favorites]


As someone with a daughter who is still young but shows a lot of potential for a STEM based career this sort of crap horrifies me because I understand that it's quite likely that she will encounter a great deal of sexism and sexual harassment from potential coworkers if she decides on a STEM career down the road.

Hopefully the STEM professions clean up their act between now and then but it seems like people will still be promoted based upon grants and research capabilities rather than actual ability to work in a respectful manner with coworkers.
posted by vuron at 4:37 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


The "don't date anyone at work, losers, don't you have any hobbies" advice has always seemed a little problematic to me because work, where people relate on the basis of shared intellectual interests, probably has a greater potential for facilitating relationships between equals than dating sites where you list your age and weight preferences, or bars where you decide whom to approach on the basis of appearance, or contrived hobbies that you get involved in just to meet potential dating partners. I think it's unhelpful to conflate academics of equal standing dating each other with academics exploiting power differentials to sexually coerce junior colleagues. (Maybe because my husband and I met as undergrads, so we were colleagues of a sort, I guess.)

Yeah I was actually gonna say in response to the whole thing about academics not having any time to meet people outside of work - that no one said you can't meet someone of similar age and standing to yourself through work- but then someone did say it?

Just as it's gross and illegal to date a cousin, it should be similarly gross and illegal to date or, more importantly for this case, contemplate dating any co-worker who is "close enough". Student-teacher absolutely, manager-report, yes, but even close co-workers

I dunno, it can be a bad idea sometimes but - okay so I have a bias here because my parents met working in the same lab - it doesn't quite seem like the same thing. I mean, it almost seems to be legitimizing the idea that it's really not possible to take a "no" politely and move on. And conversely continuing to deluge someone with come-ons after they have already said no is not okay even if you don't work with them. But maybe it depends on what "close" means here.
posted by atoxyl at 4:48 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Did nobody ever explain to these people that fraterenizing with coworkers, particularly subordinates is a really messy area with HR departments and usually results in someone's removal or dismissal? I mean, come on. Even if you are married and find yourself in a relationship that has problems, probably nuking your professional career is totally unnecessary sort of a self inflicted double wound.

By a show of hands ladies, how many of you have been interested in dating a stalker after they've been identified?
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:53 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


> Did nobody ever explain to these people that fraterenizing with coworkers, particularly subordinates is a really messy area with HR departments and usually results in someone's removal or dismissal?

But we know this is untrue: many, many people (men) never get dismissed for this stuff, and if they're in academia, and especially in a field with a lot of grant money and they are grant-money-bringers, they may really really never even get a slap on the wrist. So they don't see the downside of this kind of thing, because for an awful lot of them, there aren't any consequences. Usually who gets removed is the subject of the unwanted attention, and generally she does it herself.
posted by rtha at 5:02 PM on March 7, 2016 [28 favorites]


We need to utterly and totally dispel this idea that a person can be in love with someone he's not yet been on even one date with.

This, a million times.

but some men are just ignorant and convinced that these behaviors are somehow not just okay but actually kind of sweet and corny and old-fashioned, like this is something they'll be telling their kids some day.

A sweet story starring Brilliant Dude and whatever set piece shaped like a woman they stumble across at the "right" time. I've been fortunate enough to not have real professional implications to deal with when on the receiving end of these out of the blue declarations. But every time it's happened, it's never been about me, just whatever idealized vision they have of a partner projected on to me. When it's someone I don't know well, it's usually* only mildly irritating. It's completely infuriating to be told by someone who should know you better that your reaction is "uncharacteristic" and "disappointing."

On a happy note, the general topic (mentor/mentee relationships) came up in a group Post-docs I was having lunch with the other day. Both men and women were adamant that there were no excuses for it, it is not something that can be allowed to happen. So...things may be improving? Especially once we all have our own labs. Any day now.

*I did have one dude who followed me to my car in the dark after I got out of work. In a large, mostly empty parking lot. It was fine, he was just completely oblivious. Maybe his parents just have a weird how we met story.
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:05 PM on March 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think that new graduate students should be reminded to cc all questionable emails, from staff, to the department head. If not the department head, then the department which proactively handles harrassment for students. certainly students should cc these to their academic advisors, unless the offender is the academic advisor. There should be some sort of waterfall list that works no matter from which direction the harrassment comes.

Threatening emails from other students should be treated the same way.
posted by Oyéah at 5:13 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


More than that there needs to be a material effort made to ensure the academic/career security of people who report sexual harassment from their superiors at their labs. People have to know that they will in no way endanger their careers if they make a superior's abuse of power public knowledge.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:24 PM on March 7, 2016 [17 favorites]


Humanities here, not even technically an academic, but still ended up involved in a student-to-student sexual harassment case because one of the senior academics dropped the fucking ball on it. Which means at our school level induction for new PhDs I got called out as the 'person to talk to who will advocate for you with haste' because they know I'm outside the system, and fueled by fury, and will just keep acting until something is done. Mini-Crone squad, basically.

But yeah, if you think this is about a certain 'way' men think in an industry, you're missing the point. This happens everywhere at every level.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:39 PM on March 7, 2016 [18 favorites]


Ugh. After watching this play out an astonishingly large number of times with guys who just cannot see the power imbalance much less work out why there's a massive ethical problem, I kind of want to flowchart the conversation that ought to have happened at the beginning for my junior male colleagues:
"Hi I want to start a relationship with my female colleague!"

(1) Okay, do you mean "colleague" or "subordinate"?

(1a) Well, "subordinate" technically, but it's okay because... -> NO. STOP NOW. SHUT IT DOWN.
(1b) No, she's totally a colleague....

(2) Really? If I ask HR and your boss about this they'll confirm that there's no formal or informal authority involved here?

(2a) Okay, maybe a little bit but it's ... -> NOPE. STILL HARASSMENT. STOP.
(2b) No, they're cool...

(3) Are you sure? Because I'm actually really good mates with the Dean. I can totally ask if you like?

(3a) Um.... -> SERIOUSLY DUDE CUT IT OUT.
(3b) Yeah that's fine, I'm honestly really really sure that there's no power imbalance here.

(4) And I've spoken some female colleagues about these scenarios, and this sort of thing is usually really creepy.

(4a) Oh. But I'm different, because, um... -> NO YOU'RE NOT.
(4b) Yes, I agree, and I worry about that kind of thing too. But I've really thought this through, and I've spoken to a lot of people male and female and they all agree that there's no power imbalance here, I've thought through what might happen if she's not interested in me (please see the attached well-considered grown up perspective that I bring to all my endeavours), there is honestly nothing more to it than asking a colleague on a date.

(5) Okay... and you know that even when actual proper grown-up colleagues with no power imbalances date each other it goes wrong a surprising number of times, right? This is totally a "here be dragons" scenario even in the best of cases.

(5a) Well, yeah, but it won't happen to me because um... -> BETCHA IT DOES.
(5b) I know, but I'm super careful -> UGH. FINE. WHATEVER. I guess I can't prove this is harassment, and honestly that's the best endorsement you're going to get from a flow chart okay? Please don't be a dick. Because seriously, about 95% of people I see who make it this far are still being dicks.
I know it won't have any effect whatsoever because the kind of person who does this is utterly convinced that they're A NICE PERSON, but I at least get to wave it in their faces when the "I fucking told you so you dickhead" conversation finally materialises several years down the track.
posted by langtonsant at 5:43 PM on March 7, 2016 [35 favorites]


I like the idea that professors are so busy but still have time to stalk/harass/rape their students. If they're so fucking busy they can go home and beat off and it will take a fraction of the time that stalking and abusing a young woman does!

Plus, this isn't just about academia. It's about high school teachers, too-- they do the same damn thing. Sure, teachers work hard, but not so hard that they don't normally have families and friends outside of work. The bottom line is they see an opportunity to abuse their power to fuck or get thrills out of a much younger person, and they take it.

During my time in college, I was (in ascending order of horribleness), just off the top of my head:
- Asked to have sex by a random man on campus while I was walking home from class
- Had a letter taped to my door by a fellow student who had never met me but had seen me and thought I looked nice ("better than the other girls around here") and wanted to go on a date with me
- Broke up with a guy in my department (in a STEM field) who then used his personal website he shared with all our classmates to call me slutty
- Was kissed/groped against my will at a party by someone who later ended up to be a grader/TA for one of my classes
- Was later stalked and sent inappropriate (and mean!) messages by a dormmate with anger issues
- Was stalked by a university librarian who I met at a social function and wouldn't stop contacting me for years despite the fact that I never replied
- Hit on by a professor who took me to his home and tried to have sex with me despite the fact that he knew I was a first generation college student and barely knew what was going on or what was normal



And I'm pretty lucky, in that I was never drugged or outright raped or blackmailed by a professor, like so many women in college. This was just the experience of me, a naive female college student in STEM.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:22 PM on March 7, 2016 [17 favorites]


What would it take to actually change this culture?

Here are some things that might be steps in that direction:

1. Universities adopting policies which completely prohibit sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and students.

2. Universities adopting policies which completely prohibit sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and non-students whose work they supervise.

3. Granting agencies pulling grant funding in situations where PIs are sexual harassers.

4. The Department of Education pulling some federal funding from universities which fail to adequately address faculty members who are harassers.

5. Regular audits of research laboratories that include addressing workplace climate.

6. Universities developing competent offices that can objectively investigate harassment complaints, so that students and employees need not rely solely on reporting concerns to other academic personnel or to human resources.

7. Universities revisiting the policies that allow them to dismiss faculty members to ensure that faculty members who have been found to have been sexual harassers can actually be dismissed for that behavior without months or years of lawsuit-like proceedings.

8. Universities explicitly asking, during the hiring process, whether candidates for hire have been the subject of harassment complaints at their current institutions.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:26 PM on March 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


The core thing is you need to change the structures so that advisors/faculty don't have so much uncheckable power over their students' careers. That's why this stuff goes on -- the women can't report without torpedoing their own careers. Say only one faculty member at your institution specializes in your sub-field, a common enough situation. If you get him fired or censured he can't write you letters; or even if it comes out that you were dating him, or if he spreads rumors about you having slept with him, the letters are going to be discounted... you either have to switch institutions or switch sub-fields, and either solution isn't a guarantee, because these are very small very interconnected research communities.

It's in the nature of academic work that individual researchers may become very powerful because they specifically are needed, they bring rare expertise/prestige/whatever, and the department and the institution both want to keep those things. If you report and a star leaves, you're also denying other students in your program the chance to work with that star -- and working with a star/getting letters or co-publications with that star, might be the deciding factor in whether a new PhD gets a job.

Similarly, pulling grant funding if a harassment charge sticks will just discourage women from reporting, I'd think -- it's hard enough to decide to report if you'd get a senior "star" in trouble, but if you'd also lose your lab its funding and everybody associated with the lab gets cut?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:45 PM on March 7, 2016 [25 favorites]


It's in the nature of academic work that individual researchers may become very powerful because they specifically are needed, they bring rare expertise/prestige/whatever, and the department and the institution both want to keep those things. If you report and a star leaves, you're also denying other students in your program the chance to work with that star -- and working with a star/getting letters or co-publications with that star, might be the deciding factor in whether a new PhD gets a job.

Similarly, pulling grant funding if a harassment charge sticks will just discourage women from reporting, I'd think -- it's hard enough to decide to report if you'd get a senior "star" in trouble, but if you'd also lose your lab its funding and everybody associated with the lab gets cut?


This is a vexing problem and reminds me of the similar position people are in when they are harassed by the owners of small businesses. Who wants to be the person that takes on a harasser if the one of thebest case scenarios is that your claim is taken seriously, the harasser is held accountable, and as a result you and all of your colleagues lose your jobs?

The problem is even more acute in academia because you can't exactly just pick up and find another job elsewhere in your field like it's no big deal.

But at least pulling grant funding would spread some of the pain and risk associated with harassment out among various other important stakeholders--the university that loses the grant, the PI, and even other lab members (which, yes, is totally shitty, but who also sometimes are complicit in this culture of tolerating harassment, and it might encourage people to speak up and speak out when they notice things that aren't okay because if problems can be identified and addressed early chances are grants wouldn't be lost).
posted by MoonOrb at 8:06 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is a vexing problem and reminds me of the similar position people are in when they are harassed by the owners of small businesses. Who wants to be the person that takes on a harasser if the one of thebest case scenarios is that your claim is taken seriously, the harasser is held accountable, and as a result you and all of your colleagues lose your jobs?

Hmm, seems to me like surprise surprise, this all loops back around to simple economic justice. In a healthy society, unemployment would not be an event so crushing and disruptive to quality of life that people would put up with situations like sexual harassment just to avoid it...but it is, so they do. Just another way capitalism reifies the vulnerability of women and other historically oppressed people.
posted by threeants at 10:00 PM on March 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


And if your employment situation is such that your students or co-workers are literally the only people with whom you ever have the opportunity to interact on a regular basis, then you should either change your employment situation or resign yourself to dying alone.

Hahahahahahaha. These guys are already married. I especially like the part where they compare you to their wife and surprise! you come out on top! It's soooo flattering!

My policy as a woman in science with guys like these is to string them along without ever doing anything I can get in trouble for or sleeping with them (gross!), go to lots of meaningful lunches and happy hours and use them for everything I can get, all the while plausibly denying I'm interested in a very mild way in writing and texts. Then I save all their emails and texts begging me to marry them so I can get them fired if they displease me in any way. I kid, my real policy is to tell them to knock it off, discuss how stupid what they are doing is, then talk to all the other women immediately so we can compare their lame come ons.

It really isn't all guys, it's only 10-15%. Most of the guys I work with are great and 100% clueless about how big and clumsy of man whores their co-workers are. All the women discuss it openly though. So if you're a woman in science and you get an email like this, take it to the nearest friendly woman. She'll help you out. Just make sure she isn't his wife or gf first.
posted by fshgrl at 10:39 PM on March 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


Do professors ever act like a profession, that is, mutually regulated according to the ethics required by their expertise?

No they loathe each other far too much to ever do that.

There are actually tons of great people in academia and science in general and people do tend to date or marry because they are similar. It's not all horror and tears. Most of my friends are scientists, and they are quite nice. They do tend to tolerate too much bad behavior imho but not as much as, say, theatre people do.
posted by fshgrl at 10:45 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


What would it take? Honestly, there is something about being a man with penis and raging testosterone that brings out this urge to harass a woman into banging him, in all professions, in all age ranges, all over the place. There's got to be a root of this problem somewhere that people in science (okay, let's face it, MEN) can investigate as to why men think it's okay to act like this and that it's going to pay off well for them in all kinds of pussy.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:02 PM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


threeants: " this all loops back around to simple economic justice. In a healthy society, unemployment would not be an event so crushing and disruptive to quality of life that people would put up with situations like sexual harassment just to avoid it"

Possibly I'm misreading the scope of your comments, but I'm not so sure that the problem can be stated so simply. I do agree that the economic issues play a big role, but I also feel like I know women in academia who have had tolerated things they shouldn't have to, even in cases where they have no financial concerns at all (e.g., they have money from other sources). If it all came down to economics you'd sort of conclude that they were irrational, but I don't think that's a fair reading of their circumstances. In many cases people want to work with a "star researcher" not because this will bring them more money, but because they have a genuine love of the research area and want the opportunity to work with one of the top researchers in the field. As I see it, the fact that many women get driven out of fields they want to work in (or tolerate terrible environments in order to stay) is inherently bad, quite independent of the economic consequences. Economic justice matters, but not all justice can be characterised as a matter of economics.
posted by langtonsant at 11:05 PM on March 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


Sorry, I wasn't trying to 'splain workplace sexual harassment as a pure function of economics, as I mostly haven't experienced it myself and am not thus in a position to do so-- was just saying the destabilizing effects of capitalism sure don't help the matter.
posted by threeants at 11:49 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also, the chief sexual harasser in my department was married with small children. He was not some sad, lonely dude who was deprived of human contact and didn't have time to date.

That matches what I saw in grad school. I had exactly one run-in with a gross creep, who was married with kids. It was a classic gate-keeper moment -- I went to his office to ask for his support/mentorship, and he made it very clear that it was a pay-to-play situation. I noped out of there and found an alternate path to study that subject, but I'm sure it worked with plenty of other students. Being married gives cover for the harassing, without being an impediment to it at all.

(I only had the one encounter because I am male; my female colleagues dealt with this all the time. One professor in my department was on either his second or third grad student wife at the time, but most of the other harassers were just looking for side action, not marriages.)

Gross behavior happens all over academia, but there are structural issues in some of the STEM fields (such as labs, PIs, and big grants) that magnify it. Some labs have mostly foreign students and post docs, which creates another layer of vulnerability beyond the superior/subordinate one affecting everyone.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:11 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


What would it take? Honestly, there is something about being a man with penis and raging testosterone that brings out this urge to harass a woman into banging him, in all professions, in all age ranges, all over the place. There's got to be a root of this problem somewhere that people in science (okay, let's face it, MEN) can investigate as to why men think it's okay to act like this and that it's going to pay off well for them in all kinds of pussy.

This isn't a biological problem, it's a social problem. Men do this because they have been taught that it is acceptable behavior, because it has not been discouraged enough, because it is a perk of patriarchy, because it's built into the structure of their world. Even if we were to posit some sort of sex addiction, the issue here isn't the sex, it's the power to harass without suffering consequences. Have as much sex as you want, just don't coerce other people into having it.
posted by OmieWise at 7:25 AM on March 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


[Several comments deleted. If your comment amounts to "I'd like to explore the ways these men might be justified by their passion, or at least how we should feel sympathy for them, poor guys", that's really pretty tone deaf as a way to jump into this thread.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:48 AM on March 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


Apologies if that's how my contributions came across, and I appreciated the thoughtful responses I got before they got deleted, too. :-)
posted by clawsoon at 7:56 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


> Hmm, seems to me like surprise surprise, this all loops back around to simple economic justice. In a healthy society, unemployment would not be an event so crushing and disruptive to quality of life that people would put up with situations like sexual harassment just to avoid it...but it is, so they do. Just another way capitalism reifies the vulnerability of women and other historically oppressed people.

I know you've already walked this back, and kudos for that, but I think it's important enough to spell out: this is not about simple economic justice or capitalism. God knows economic justice is vitally important, but it's not as important as the oppression of women, and if this seems controversial to you you may be Bernie Sanders. (I love Bernie, but I don't think he really, on a gut level, gets that there are things more important to minorities and women than economics, and this is why he has problems with minorities and women.) The more time I spend on this planet, and on MetaFilter (thanks once again for your courage and eloquence in sharing and explaining your stories, women of MeFi!), the more certain it seems to me that the oppression of women is the original sin of humanity, and until we get that fixed we're not really going to fix anything else, because there will always be oblivious empowered guys who don't understand women or how to behave around them or how to avoid ruining their lives, and until there are powerful mechanisms in place to keep them from doing that, these things are not just going to keep happening, they're going to keep being a dominant factor in the lives of women in and out of academia.
posted by languagehat at 7:58 AM on March 8, 2016 [21 favorites]


I also see that IAmUnaware already covered most of my points.
posted by clawsoon at 8:18 AM on March 8, 2016


Yeah, it's definitely not about economic justice. Economic injustice is a theater where coercion and abuse can take place, but that's all it is.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:59 AM on March 8, 2016


(Kind of but not really off-topic: Every time I see a romantic comedy or a Disney movie or any movie where a male protagonist falls in "love at first sight" I want to scream at the screen lately. So many movies promulgate this idea that love is something that happens to you rather than something you do, and it's infuriating because I know it's poisoning people's minds. No, Aladdin, that thing that happened when you first saw Jasmine was not love. You just have a crush and a hard-on.)

One of the ways Frozen is a winner. (Spoilers!) The dude who latches on to the vulnerable woman (girl, really, since if she's younger than the sister being coronated so she must be under 18) is an opportunistic creep, and they even comedically telegraph the falsity of the connection in their song:

"The way we finish each other's-"
"Sandwiches!"
"That's what I was going to say!" (liar)

Then he escalates way too fast (marry me?) and oh look, he turns out to be a violent jerk.

Bonus: the true love interest practices affirmative consent.

Too bad it's still a monarchy-normalizing story...
posted by phearlez at 9:06 AM on March 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


God knows economic justice is vitally important, but it's not as important as the oppression of women, and if this seems controversial to you you may be Bernie Sanders. (I love Bernie, but I don't think he really, on a gut level, gets that there are things more important to minorities and women than economics, and this is why he has problems with minorities and women.)

I strongly disagree, as a woman who has had these problems in science. Economic injustice enables and exacerbates the oppression of women in a million important ways - ask my mom, who didn't have enough money to leave her abusive husband for years because if she had, we all would have lost our health insurance and not been able to afford rent. Intersectional feminism means acknowledging the importance of class, too, and women with less economic power are much more vulnerable to oppression and harassment by men.

Academia is a different structure, of course, and I think in the particular case of women in science, as many have already said, the biggest issue is the disproportionate amount of power that one advisor gets to have over a student's life with little recourse - it's essentially their way or the highway if you want to get ahead. I have a friend who received gendered harassment (more abusive, not sexual) from her advisor, and she won't leave his lab or hold him accountable because she knows it's her best and possibly only shot at getting a professorship down the road. Those jobs are scarce and in very high demand, and everything she can do to give herself a shot is worth doing for her. Is that related directly to economic justice? Not as much as it would be in a straightforwardly capitalist setting, but the job market absolutely does shape the extent to which women feel like they can get justice for these occurrences. I think it does a huge disservice to poorer women who are more vulnerable to this stuff because they simply need to gig more to ignore the role that class plays. I'm not saying that more affluent women aren't vulnerable to it too, by any means, only that the extent to which you can afford to "rock the boat" by seeking justice is in many ways determined by your economic situation.
posted by dialetheia at 9:22 AM on March 8, 2016 [15 favorites]


More than that there needs to be a material effort made to ensure the academic/career security of people who report sexual harassment from their superiors at their labs.

I agree with this, it's just as I think about this, it seems almost impossible to do. First, you have to somehow get these jerks out of academia entirely. So they have nothing to do with grant funding, promotions, or publishing in any way. That includes administrative staff at another University or grant mechanism (like the NIH).

And even then, depending on how small your research community is, that jerk may be one of the few people who can really fairly evaluate your work. Chances are he'll have ties of some kind to all the others (so even if you can make sure he doesn't directly have anything to do with you any more, his close friend, who otherwise behaves and has never seen any "real evidence" of jerk's problematic behavior, will be looking over your grant or article). So even if you can get him completely booted, there's still potential for problems down the line. Problems that could be tempered if you just put your head down and got outta there as fast and quietly as possible.

To be fair, every academic has to learn to navigate around the occasional petty tyrant who lets personal feelings write their grant or article reviews (or sometimes it's just about showing off). And men and women academics will be diplomatic when dealing with Jerk A for any number of reasons. But women have to deal with the normal clash of personalities as well as those motivated by their gender. If you report a problem, that's probably going to just make that list of problematic people grow even larger for you.

A lot of the potentially sexist stuff can be subtle enough that you aren't confident about it. Not until you realize the men in your field have mixed interactions with Person X, while all of the women have negative ones. And even then the women can be few and far between, so maybe (ha) it is just a sampling error, and Person X is a regular jerk, not a sexist one. It can be positively crazy making, because a plain a old jerk can sometimes be won over (which can be helpful for various reasons), but a sexist one is a lost cause and not worth the effort.

So even if we can implement some kind of protective system, it's still going to take a lot of women stepping up and increasing the potential pile of crap they need to deal with. It's exhausting to think about (and I've been fairly well protected by my mentors, men and women, from this stuff).
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:56 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


jenfullmoon: Honestly, there is something about being a man with penis and raging testosterone that brings out this urge to harass a woman into banging him, in all professions, in all age ranges, all over the place.

I really don't want this to come across as "not all men," but I really think it's important to emphasize that these harassers behave this way not because they are men, but because they are selfish, entitled, and (unfortunately too often correctly) believe they are part of a social system that will countenance and protect such behavior from men. If harassing behavior really were an essential feature of masculinity, then we would have no real options for preventing it other than denying all men the opportunity to harass by sexually segregating our society as much as possible; this is exactly a position feminism spent much of the 20th century fighting against.

I am a man with a penis and testosterone which may or may not be raging, and I've never felt an urge to harass a woman into banging me. I am also an academic, and while at the current stage in my career I have relatively little power to change things, I try to do my best to have my female colleagues' backs on this, by being part of the informal warning network about which individuals should be avoided, and passing along the advice I've heard from my more experienced female colleagues on handling harassment to more junior female colleagues who might not get to hear it from them directly. Many of my male colleagues, at similar or more junior stages of their careers, are pretty much at the same page as me here (I avoid associating with the ones who are not). If my academic career succeeds and I end up with some ability to influence policies, you can bet I am going to do my damnedest to get harassers in whatever department I end up in fired or banned from advising students, and I will work to prevent known harassers from other institutions from being invited for seminars, regardless of the prestige of their work. You can also bet I will be looking to my female colleagues, senior and junior, for their advice in handling these situations; likewise, I am tremendously appreciative of the women in this and other threads on Metafilter for sharing their experiences, frustrating and painful though it must be for them. I am learning from you every day.

If the comment was intended to be a cathartic expression of frustration rather than a literal statement that being a man brings out an urge to harass women, I apologize for misinterpreting, and I agree with your frustration.
posted by biogeo at 10:05 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Re: economic justice.

I am homeless and struggle to get enough to eat every month. Nonetheless, I still get a great deal of "The only reason she could possibly be speaking to me is because she is looking to fuck me. I know this because, damn, my dick gets so hard when she speaks." The fact that I am in literal danger of starvation and have had no roof over my head for over four years fails to convince men that my motivation for talking to them is my financial and career goals. Nope. They have a hard on, thus I must be looking for sex.

This mindboggling, you got to be kidding me! experience has convinced me that economic injustice and oppression of women very much go hand in hand. In a nutshell: Interfering with a woman's ability to support herself is a primary means to force women to put up with all kinds of incredibly shitty behavior and also literally and figuratively force many women into earning their keep on their back.

I totally think a woman should be allowed to sell her sexual services if she so chooses. But the current state of society means that many women have no real choice because they have no other viable options that pay well enough to take care of your bills if you have children or high expenses of some sort for any reason whatsoever.

I have come to believe that, on a very deep (subconscious) level, a lot of men are opposed to women getting access to opportunity because in their bones they know that they would never get laid again if life threatening coercion of women were not so casually available in a manner that in no way raises any eyebrows. In fact, if you try to point this out, people act like you are some kind of lunatic, often while simultaneously feeling an urgent need to shut you down.
posted by Michele in California at 10:22 AM on March 8, 2016 [18 favorites]


I'm not done reading through everyone's comments, but this discussion managed to unearth an "incident" from the bowels of my memory that could have gone bad, had there been any ulterior motives.

In my sophomore year at a tech school we got our new advisors in our major, and mine was nice enough that he had us over to his house in little batches (3 or 4 sophomore students plus our in-major mentor, who happened to be a woman in junior year). He cooked us dinner and for our group he decided it would be fun to read a play, with each of us playing a character. It was fine, until things got weird and there were flirty lines I was supposed to read to his character. I said I wanted to skip over those and we moved on, though for the rest of the evening I was much less comfortable.

Later he sent an apology email to my little group. One of the other sophomores was a guy I knew and was friends with from freshman year. The next time I saw him I brought it up, looking for some validation, but all he said was that he didn't understand why our advisor apologized, nothing happened, what was the big deal? Then I felt like I had made a fuss over nothing and was embarrassed.

The good news is in subsequent interactions with the advisor, he was nothing but supportive and friendly in a way that advisors should be towards 19-year-olds in their care. But the reaction of my classmate was pretty damaging--if there had been any more creepy vibes I would have brushed them off as nothing, wouldn't have spoken up, and wouldn't have even known whom I could talk to about it.

I feel like I got off lucky, since that and other unrelated anecdotes I could point to were never "that bad," but it just highlights how important it is for the whole community to watch out for it and support each other. All I needed there was for my friend to say "yeah, that was kind of weird, I can see why you'd be uncomfortable." When it's safe to bring these things to light, it's much harder for the real bad actors to stay in the dark.
posted by j.r at 10:25 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


> Economic injustice enables and exacerbates the oppression of women in a million important ways

Well, of course it does! Did you miss the part where I said "economic justice is vitally important"? I would never dream of denying or downplaying the importance of economics, but something has to be the most important thing, and I'm convinced that thing is sexism. We can both point to societies that do pretty well at not allowing people to starve, but none of them are societies in which men do not dominate women. Of course, you're welcome to disagree, but please don't misrepresent my position.
posted by languagehat at 10:35 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


[cw: sexual predation, including children]

The money is a tool to facilitate, not a side effect.

I think it's really difficult for men who aren't wired that way (or weren't taught to be wired that way, or maybe ARE wired that way but either choose not to exercise it in public or don't get the chance) to understand (or truly recognize when they see it, and they do see it) that some men literally get a thrill from this behavior. It feels goooood. It's fun, and it's funny to other men who also enjoy this form of entertainment, and it is one of the ways those men perform masculinity for each other as they jockey for pack hierarchy. And it's those guys who race for the top of the senior management to keep the system working, and it's their buddies that help them for the rewards they get along the way.

It might not actually get them hard (but sometimes it does! they have ways of letting you know!) but making women uncomfortable or putting them in a position where they have to endure sexual attention or be forced to be vulnerable and threatened is delicious and their god-given right as (almost invariably) white men.

Women have dealt with this for so long that pretty much all of us have memories of an adult man being weird to us in a real specific way for the first time at 6 or 8 or 11 (depending on the man and our development) that did not make sense until we were 16 or 22 or 30.

I don't think most men have ever had the experience of being publicly or semi-publicly humiliated (usually with "jokes") by someone who was telegraphing their sexual enjoyment* over making a woman ask repeatedly for something, or giving her incorrect directions/instructions so she has to come back and ask again and be treated as stupid, or withholding something from her (her order, her payment, a form she's asking for, one of her own possessions that's been taken away) until she gives him something he wants, which might be stated as "the magic word" or a smile or some other socially-acceptable demand but they both know are euphemistic references to his cock.

Sometimes that man is a relative, to boot. That's always nice.

This happens to us as a matter of course. This is buying stamps or trying to get a form signed or buy a car or get your ideas heard in the meeting. It's watching some shitbag at the next table fuck with the waitress and smile his "mah dick's twitchin'" smile. It's watching your dad do it to the receptionist at the doctor's office. Even when he's 70.

We know it's sexual. We've been trained since childhood to know it's sexual. And even when it's wrapped in this very modern pseudo-sensitive "truth bomb" email about how she's just more understanding (likely to put out) than the other women in the department, and hipper (freakier in bed) than them, she can really hang with a mind (dick) like his and he has all these incredibly strong (boners) feelings and he neeeeeeeds her to know about them and reciprocate (at least with her mouth if not other orifices) and if she doesn't he can almost effortlessly destroy her (because men have designed this system to work very well for them).

The whole point is to make women beg and need you. To make people of color dependent on your good will. To make all of them fight each other for your regard (entertainment, and erections, plus it keeps 'em too busy to take your job). You do have to see someone as lesser in order to justify that, that's absolutely part of the system, but the expression of it (including in a lot of racism, if you stop and look at it) is deeply sexual in tone and content, and it is difficult not to draw some conclusions about the role testosterone plays in that system.

And rape culture is critical to the system. Because you need rape as in the theft of something that belonged to you by someone who didn't deserve it ("legitimate rape") to be bad but rape as in I deserved something that wasn't being given to me ("all the reasons we excuse rape") to be good.

And for the men who don't primarily interact with the world in these ways: has that helped your career or nah? Because I've seen executive sausage parties shut out talented-but-Not-Our-Kind men in pretty much the way they do women (though those men will be trusted with more prestigious work, and just never get that last promotion). It's almost like those aren't the kind of guys they'd share a woman with so they're not really the right people to run this roof-cleaning empire or whatever.

*Women will certainly gatekeep, but it's usually to hoard power-as-job-security rather than power-to-dominate-for-fun-and-profit. And women in the right circumstances of entitlement (usually safety in numbers, in one of the circumstances where women's money is the primary target) will perform these parodies of sexual dominance on either men or women of lesser status/power, but I don't think women generally use that behavior to actually obtain sex in the ways that men do.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:36 AM on March 8, 2016 [30 favorites]


I would never dream of denying or downplaying the importance of economics, but something has to be the most important thing, and I'm convinced that thing is sexism.

I fundamentally disagree with your framing and I think it's unhelpful to intersectional critique to set them up in opposition to one another. It's unnecessary and it hurts poor women. Economic injustice prevents women from having the economic and political power that we need to successfully fight and escape sexism and oppression. While there are absolutely still problems with sexism and rape culture in e.g. Nordic countries, and economic justice does not solve all of our problems by any means, they do better on most gender equality measures than most countries like the US where there is greater income inequality. Economic justice should never be set up in opposition to gender equality - the idea that we have to decide which one is "more important" is strange and seems to function as a way of minimizing the role of economic justice. As a poor woman, knowing I could still make a living wage and access health insurance would make the biggest difference in terms of feeling like I had the power to redress the sexism I encounter in my professional life.
posted by dialetheia at 10:44 AM on March 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


> I have come to believe that, on a very deep (subconscious) level, a lot of men are opposed to women getting access to opportunity because in their bones they know that they would never get laid again if life threatening coercion of women were not so casually available in a manner that in no way raises any eyebrows. In fact, if you try to point this out, people act like you are some kind of lunatic, often while simultaneously feeling an urgent need to shut you down.

This is why the concept of "rape culture" is so important. We're in large part ruled by the norms set by powerful-but-insecure men who work out their insecurity by forcing others to debase themselves to them; most pointedly by coercing unwanted sex out of women by holding the threat of starvation over them, or holding the threat of social ostracization over them.

It is the worst thing. The system that we've been born into, the one where social power means the ability to debase others for fun, and where the victims of power have to play along — "playing along," here, is just another way of saying "performing emotional labor" — lest they find their lives badly circumscribed, this system is the devil. Even though here are no gods and there are no demons, rape culture is, nevertheless, the devil.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:57 AM on March 8, 2016 [13 favorites]


Michele in California: I have come to believe that, on a very deep (subconscious) level, a lot of men are opposed to women getting access to opportunity because in their bones they know that they would never get laid again if life threatening coercion of women were not so casually available in a manner that in no way raises any eyebrows. In fact, if you try to point this out, people act like you are some kind of lunatic, often while simultaneously feeling an urgent need to shut you down.

This point was well-evidenced previously, in social inequality breeds game.
posted by clawsoon at 10:58 AM on March 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I was eighteen, the processor was fifty. When I realized abuse would follow me to college, I put it off for a decade, giving myself a chance to strenghten , and have more of my own experiences. Then I went back to school, and also could hide within my marriage. The next school I went to, the art instructors dated and married their students. Locally it is still called the boy's club, though there are now some female faculty.
posted by Oyéah at 11:07 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


powerful-but-insecure men who work out their insecurity

Except I don't think it in any way leads to them "working out" their insecurity. They get some needs met (sex, housework, whatever) that they have no idea how else to take care of, but they actually deepen their insecurity because they create a situation where the people closest to them actually loathe them and wouldn't ever do a damn thing for them without coercion. On some level, they have to know this. It makes them paranoid. They know they cannot genuinely trust anyone.

No one is completely safe. Even Roman emperors got killed by their royal guard if their behavior was shitty enough. The woman who cooks your meals can also poison you. Historically, poisoning is one of the chief ways women have committed murder.

There is nothing good about this, not even for the men "benefitting" from the situation.
posted by Michele in California at 11:08 AM on March 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


solving patriarchy won't solve capitalism. solving capitalism won't solve white supremacy. solving white supremacy won't solve the patriarchy. solving imperialism won't solve police violence. solving poverty will give victims a little bit of wiggle room to get the boots on their faces off their faces for a second and maybe some breathing room to organize against the other interrelated threats to their well-being, but it is just the start.

Left perspectives that focus entirely on capitalism — on freeing the victims of market exploitation from market exploitation by destroying capitalist markets — respect the idea of total market control over society, to an extent that not even hardcore libertarians do. Because they have this idea of the market as a total organization, they believe that fixing the market will result in the end of all other forms of oppression, as if the market were a vampire lord in a dungeons & dragons campaign, and as if killing the vampire lord likewise killed all of its vampire sidekicks. As if all we need to do is find the thing's root and then rip it up by it.

Instead of a vampire lord to kill, we've got something much more complex. A big, messy, world-circling, rootless or omni-rooted, throbbing mass of tangled relentlessly intersecting strands of oppression, made of yarn and finely detailed lace made by small fingers, and of copper and cotton and blood and steel, a big wet veiny ball dripping the blood of humans and animals and money and rare earth metals and fracked natural gas and it's the metal chains locked around the wrists and ankles of enslaved Thai fishers and the fishing nets they haul up full of shrimp and bycatch, and it's sewing machines worked all day by eight year olds forbidden to hum or sing while they work, and factory-scale brothels where the pimps and the cops take all the money from the workers and all the whoremongers go home happy with their wallets lightened and their consciences clear, and it's made of brightly colored threads marking off the people (black people, brown people, women, trans people, queer people) who if you're lucky and the bloody polymorphous thing likes you you can torment especially hard for their value or just for fun, and it's made of political campaigns that might be grift but might be not, and might be hopeless and might be not, and it's the institution of marriage and the idea of the family and the idea that some people get inheritances while others get evicted, and it's national borders that are more important than the lives of anyone on any side of those borders — borders that suddenly become porous when money rather than people flows through them — it's a great huge mess that we're tied up in and surrounded in, bloody veins of it tied to our hands and wrapped around our stomachs and hooked into our mouths and wrapped around our genitals, limiting what we can say and do and think and speak and live and love and eat and always threatening to rip our guts out if we fall too far away from it and its bloody pulsating commands.

And the job of the left is to perform open-heart surgery on this sick-minded, bloated, omnidisgusting thing that moderates our metabolism with the world, because if we just kill it without building anything to take its nasty place, we all starve.

And so while we're working on fixing all of that... we can also in a small way make the world better by naming, shaming, and ostracizing professors who think their strong feelings of attraction toward their subordinates give them the right to coerce those subordinates into submitting to rape.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:33 AM on March 8, 2016 [17 favorites]


Lyn Never: I think it's really difficult for men who aren't wired that way (or weren't taught to be wired that way, or maybe ARE wired that way but either choose not to exercise it in public or don't get the chance) to understand (or truly recognize when they see it, and they do see it) that some men literally get a thrill from this behavior. It feels goooood. It's fun, and it's funny to other men who also enjoy this form of entertainment, and it is one of the ways those men perform masculinity for each other as they jockey for pack hierarchy.

This is entirely true. However, I've observed at least two more groups of men who also actively engage in sexual harassment:

- Men who do exactly what you describe because they'll been told or observed that it "works", i.e. it results in sex. They don't get a thrill out of it - it may in fact make them feel shitty - but they do it anyway. (Usually a stage involving the self-justification of, "I used to be a Nice Guy, but women prefer assholes.") They have observed how successful the men you describe seem to be with women, and are willing to quash their scruples to achieve the same result.

- Men who, as IAmUnaware describes above, have watched one too many movies and believe that they are taking a great romantic risk, surrendering to Fate and Passion and Damn-The-Consequences.

It'll be interesting to figure out whether all three groups can have their behaviour changed by the same inducements, or whether something multi-pronged is required.
posted by clawsoon at 11:34 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


They have observed how successful the men you describe seem to be with women, and are willing to quash their scruples to achieve the same result.

Let's take a moment to weep for the men who are just compelled to overcome their consciences and harass women because, even though they know it's wrong, that's the only way they can get laid.
posted by praemunire at 12:18 PM on March 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


that link to the Twitter feed about high school girls getting sexually harassed makes me physically ill.

And it's not a new phenomenon in the slightest. I had to take US History over again during my senior year of high school because I'd failed the class during junior year due to lack of attendance, and my lack of attendance was because Mr. Mineo had seated me in the front row of the classroom so that he could stare at my breasts for 50 minutes every day. When I finally came clean to a guidance counselor who had me dragged into her office over the attendance problem, I was told that I'd need to learn to deal with it, because we can't expect men not to ogle the underage girls they are paid to teach.

My junior year of high school was 1994-95.
posted by palomar at 1:02 PM on March 8, 2016 [13 favorites]


praemunire: Let's take a moment to weep for the men who are just compelled to overcome their consciences and harass women because, even though they know it's wrong, that's the only way they can get laid.

Why?

I'm confused when people mistake analysis for sympathy.
posted by clawsoon at 1:05 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I used too fancy a word: "observation" would be more accurate than "analysis", if it matters.
posted by clawsoon at 1:15 PM on March 8, 2016


Observing the behavior, categorizing it, and even attempting to discern and understand the root causes of it does not imply approval of the behavior. It's useful to figure out what motivates men to do this if we want to interrupt these harassing behavior and replace it with more positive behaviors.
posted by theorique at 1:24 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm confused when people mistake analysis for sympathy.

I consider the near-total invention of a potentially sympathetic subgroup in a large group of malefactors to be something more than neutral analysis or observation. That is: I do not believe there is a significant group of adult men who suffer meaningful scruples about harassing women but go ahead and do it anyway because they believe that otherwise they cannot hope to have romantic success. If you genuinely believe that such behavior is wrong, you won't do it to someone you purport to care about in order to compel her into your arms.
posted by praemunire at 2:08 PM on March 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


(May I say also that is a time-honored tradition to try to discover sympathetic reasons for horrible behavior by powerful groups in the midst of discussions about how to stop the behavior. One might even call it a classic derail.)
posted by praemunire at 2:10 PM on March 8, 2016 [17 favorites]


I'm not sure if there's a significant group, but I can confirm from my own observation that at least a couple of them exist. It's fair of you to point out that this may not represent a meaningful slice of any population. (A large enough sample for a New York Times trend piece, perhaps.)
posted by clawsoon at 2:25 PM on March 8, 2016


There's also something to be said for questioning who gets all the attention directed to them, and all the energy of discussion, when something like this. I think I explained once how the pattern of rape culture weights discussion of women who are targeted vs. men who are accused of harassment or rape. Women who say "I was raped" or "I was harassed" get their motivations dissected with an eye to discrediting them. Men who are accused get a whole lot of attention paid to their motivations with an eye to diminishing their offense or talking about the terrible consequences of being exposed as a harasser. The empathy gets pointed at men a lot in these discussions. It's a pattern that I'm reminded of now.

Respectfully, clawsoon, a lot of that discussion on men's motivation is reading to me as though they don't mean to do it, and if men were only educated better they wouldn't be such terrible harassers. (The question of who is supposed to do that educating is, of course, relatively open. My expectations of men doing the work of educating other men are... low, based on past experience.) I don't actually care whether you're meaning to reinforce this pattern, but it's standing out to me here. Sure, we need to socialize men better. That doesn't mean that senior men are not also behaving as if they're entitled to junior women's romantic, sexual, or emotional affections in academia. At some point, we have to figure out how to make this stop now without having to basically wait and let anyone over the age of 15 go on as they have been.
posted by sciatrix at 2:33 PM on March 8, 2016 [21 favorites]


Which is to say : sure, why they do it is interesting in a theoretical way, but not nearly as interesting as figuring out how to make them fucking stop now is.
posted by sciatrix at 2:34 PM on March 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


It's kind of a moot question anyway, because if those guys' motivation is that the behavior works (for some value of "works") for the real assholes, and there is something that can make the real assholes stop (or for that behavior to stop working for them), then of course it will also stop the behavior in the second group. They're only mimicking what they perceive as successful behavior. If it's no longer successful, they'll stop.
posted by hades at 2:39 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'd tend to think that this problem isn't one that will be solved by diving into the psychology or motivations of the men who commit and enable harassment. So whenever we wind up on one of these "well when you think about it from the harasser's point of view" tangents it is tedious and aggravating and doesn't get us much closer to figuring out how to improve the situation. But it is very effective on reorienting the discussion toward the thoughts and concerns of men, and that's problematic in its own right.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:43 PM on March 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


I.e., "Shut up with the simplistic 'analysis', it has already been done and does not lead to actionable insight."

Fair enough. Simplistic analysis is all that I do on any Metafilter thread, but I am slowly starting to understand that these threads are different, and I am, indeed, often tonedeaf. Great points sciatrix, hades, and MoonOrb.
posted by clawsoon at 2:49 PM on March 8, 2016


Relevant article in Slate today:
When Cool Turns Creepy
In stories of classroom sexual harassment, popular teachers are often the perpetrators.

I'd add: in my experience, this applies to youth leaders, community teachers, and other authority figures too.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:03 PM on March 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm reminded of a story that was related to me in some ethics training I took, about someone who interviewed a bunch of white-collar criminals serving time for things like embezzlement and insider trading. Long story short, the interviewer noted that the people who committed such crimes fell into two broad categories. The first, which comprised most of the interviewees, were people who had taken absolutely no steps to hide their crime and were utterly shocked when law enforcement came knocking on their door. Many of them didn't think what they had done was a big deal, because "everyone does it," or that they had a really good justification, like "Sure I took some money out of the employee's pension fund to pay for some unexpected business expenses, but I was going to pay it back, so no harm would have been done" ("The money was just resting in my account!"), but most of them also seemed to show some remorse for what they'd done. A second, much smaller group of people had taken extensive steps to hide their tracks, and showed every sign of full awareness that what they were doing was illegal, and only regretted getting caught. The take away point for our session was that the purpose of ethics training is to prevent ethical lapses by people who would fall into the first category by educating them, with a recognition that no ethics training is going to prevent people who would fall into the second category from doing whatever they want, because their problem is not a lack of knowledge but a lack of concern -- for them only an enforcement strategy will work.

I understand the idea of focusing on the thoughts and concerns of men does seem problematic in this context, but the problem is the behavior of (some) men. Of course I agree it's useless and indulgent to try to psychoanalyze male harassers, but if from a prevention perspective, I also think it matters whether there are some potential harassers who we might be able to educate to recognize that no, their creepy harassing behavior isn't actually cute or wanted, and no one really cares about how strongly their female students make them feel, and whether there are some men who will simply exploit the opportunity to harass because they get off on it. Again, the problem is male behavior, and we need to fix or police this behavior, and in order to do so we need to understand it. It's not because men are more important, it's because they're (we're) the problem here.

I must also say that I feel very uncomfortable being a man in this discussion saying "No no, think about the men," and I am acutely aware of the risk of being tone-deaf or contributing to the problem. I hope I'm successfully communicating why I think this is a particular case for which it is actually important to think about male motivations, not for empathy but for prevention. If I have failed to do so, or if I'm failing to fully appreciate how my comments may be contributing to a male-centric dynamic, please let me know: I will apologize and go back to shutting up and listening until I understand better.
posted by biogeo at 3:29 PM on March 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I hear you, biogeo, but so many of the steps that can be taken to reduce the frequency of this happening have nothing to do with understanding why men do this; it's sufficient just to understand that men actually do this. I'd offer up the list of eight possible steps that could be part of changing this culture that I rattled off upthread. None of them require any effort at all to understand why this is happening. I mean, isn't the level of required understanding here easily summarized by "because sexism is a real thing that exists, this is a natural consequence of men having an inordinate amount of power over women"?
posted by MoonOrb at 3:38 PM on March 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


biogeo: I am actually largely in agreement with you. I previously started to reply to clawsoon, then didn't want to be part of the pile-on. Clawsoon seemed ready to walk away. I am speaking up not to "pick on you" but to prevent guy number 3 and guy number 4 and guy number 5 et cetera ad nauseum from chiming in.

I am sometimes accused of being a "rape apologist" for trying to talk about things from what I feel is a larger perspective -- a perspective that I have personally found useful and effective in reducing the amount of crap I have to put up with from men. So I try to find ways to share it not to dismiss the views of other women, but to try to empower them in some way.

But the thing is this: I try to understand the male perspective so that I can find diplomatic solutions if at all possible for things I personally have to cope with. And the men jumping into this discussion to say "but what about the men" are not really proposing effective solutions. So it is, in fact, coming across as "Wow, I find this discussion personally threatening and I need to say something in order to protect myself in some way." And that is a luxury women mostly lack.

While I have a great many views that are sympathetic to the male side of this, what you and other men in this thread are doing is not the way to handle this. What you are doing is "part of the problem, not part of the solution."

I would be happy to chat with you privately or direct you to some of my blog posts where I talk about my views on that, but this is really not a good time or place to insert that stuff, especially in a certain way. "Tone deaf" does not begin to cover what the issue is here. It is more like stepping on someone's toes whose toes are infected and blistered and feeling like they are overreacting and like you don't need to do anything differently. But, really, they aren't overreacting and you do need to do something differently.

Think about that: You yourself are saying that "male behavior" is The Problem while engaging in problematic male behavior. In situations like that, the real answer is to walk the walk and drop the talk. Talk is cheap. And sometimes poisonous.
posted by Michele in California at 3:55 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


MoonOrb, thank you for the response. Your point is very well taken, and sadly I suppose we're still at the stage where simply getting institutional recognition that there is a problem and adopting appropriate enforcement strategies would be great progress. On the whole I think your eight steps would do a tremendous amount to address the issue of serial harassers (I am more ambivalent about policies to "completely prohibit" relationships with a power imbalance, because I have friends who met under such circumstances, married, and are quite happy and non-creepy, but they are definitely the exception rather than the rule and took significant steps to make things non-creepy, so I still get where you're coming from with those steps), and you're absolutely right that none of that requires an understanding of the harassers' motivations. I do think there is a role for education in prevention; we currently have mandatory sexual harassment training at most (all?) institutions of higher education, but at every one I've worked at it's been a worthless joke, and I think it could and should be done better. But perhaps that is "next-level": addressing enforcement and prevention with strategies like what you've proposed is indeed more immediately actionable.

Michele in California, thanks also for your response; I have read your posts on Metafilter for years now and always appreciate what you have to say. I do not want to divert the discussion to me and my education; I would be happy to have a private conversation or one in a different forum more appropriate to the topic. Suffice it to say I hope you understand that I really am doing my very best to "walk the walk." To extend your metaphor, I'm sensitive to the fact that the women in this situation's toes are infected and blistering, and I don't think there's any overreaction on their part. My intention was to try to discuss how we (men) can act differently so as not to step on those toes and let them heal, but it seems that I clumsily stepped on them again, for which I apologize. Navigating between the Scylla of contributing to patriarchy by remaining silent and the Charybdis of contributing to patriarchy by speaking inappropriately can be tricky. I hear you saying I should bow out and listen, so I will do so.
posted by biogeo at 4:54 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


biogeo: The take away point for our session was that the purpose of ethics training is to prevent ethical lapses by people who would fall into the first category by educating them

hades' point is also applicable here: Visibly enforced punishments are also a form of education. (And they are a form of education which is more likely to be rapidly and effectively disseminated to those who need to hear about it than are the contents of a mandatory training session.)
posted by clawsoon at 9:33 AM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Relevant article in Slate today:
When Cool Turns Creepy
In stories of classroom sexual harassment, popular teachers are often the perpetrators.


I was expecting to see reference to Hugo Schwyzer, the self-professed male feminist and professor who melted down publicly a few years ago. He seemed too good to be true - he said all the right things, held all the proper views, was highly charismatic and charming. How do we protect students against a guy like this?
posted by theorique at 11:58 AM on March 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, I think that as with actual diseases, it's more about herd immunity. You make it clear to perpetrators that their actions are wrong and will not be tolerated. You make it clear to targets that they are completely supported and that nothing bad will happen to them as a result of reporting. Right now we aren't remotely close to either of those positions. Just achieving one would really help. Achieving both would make a serious serious difference.
posted by OmieWise at 12:32 PM on March 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Texas.
posted by finallymarki at 7:27 PM on March 9, 2016


...and meanwhile in California:

...the university had concluded that Choudhry violated the sexual harassment policy and "admitted to hugging, kissing, messaging and/or caressing plaintiff at least multiple times per week."
Campus officials ultimately decided to dock the dean's pay by 10 percent for a year, and he wrote Sorrell a letter of apology [...]
A campus official later told her that he had "seriously considered terminating the dean but that the reason he had decided not to was because it would ruin the dean's career, that is, destroy his future chances for higher appointment."

posted by hippugeek at 8:02 PM on March 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Texas.

...and meanwhile in California:


BURNING THIS PLACE TO THE GROUND *AND* BLASTING OFF IN MY SPACESHIP
posted by primalux at 10:40 PM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: every freshly-tenured Dr. Babyman
posted by benzenedream at 11:08 PM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in Southern California...
posted by mogget at 3:25 PM on March 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not to be outdone, Northern California responds with the resignation of a high-profile law scholar.
posted by theorique at 10:39 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Ontario...

"The student was relieved by the outcome of the investigation, but then she was told she couldn't share the results with anyone and that she would never know how the university was going to discipline the professor.

"At that point I left the process feeling like why did I even put myself through it for four months, because in the end I'm not allowed to talk about it and I'm not allowed to know if they ever did anything about it," she said."


It looks suspiciously as if the professor was allowed to continue teaching, even after an internal investigation concluded he had sexually harassed his student, up until the point the media got involved and started asking questions.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:28 PM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]






Naturally, she's created hundreds of pages.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:37 PM on March 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


I only wish "hundreds" was as dramatic as it initially sounds. Give it time, she will hit thousands if she keeps at this.
posted by Michele in California at 3:12 PM on March 13, 2016


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