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To those that pose the question “does this really happen that often?” The answer is yes it really does. I have experienced it in all 3 positions I have had in science. The first time was as a grad student when a professor that came to hear my poster presentation tell me he would never hire a young woman as a postdoc because there is “too much risk for her to take time off to have babies.” The second time I experienced it was as a postdoc. My mentor constantly made comments and innuendos about sex and then at a conference after some drinks actually put his hands on me. It was reported to our superiors when we returned but guess what their response was? “If you don’t like how you are being treated you should leave.” And that was the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT! Even though they are supposed to be setting the example, they remain to be “the good ol boys club”. After leaving and getting my current position my direct supervisor knows what happened to me and has been supportive and frequently says how disgusting it was and how wrong it was handled, but he also makes constantly jokes, blonde jokes, jokes about other women and sex jokes. He doesn’t mean to be hurtful by them, he thinks he is being funny but doesn’t see how he makes people uncomfortable with these things. He has so much power within the university everyone is afraid to say anything about it. He has been known to target people and get them released from their contract if they got on his bad side. So where does that leave things? For me it leaves me stuck in a position and a veiled I have come to hate. What started out as a dream to make a difference has become a nightmare that must be endured just to get by.
@Stuck Not wanting to pay for paid leave is not discrimination or harassment and is both practical and moral.
Jason, “It seems that much of the fervor to “out” harassers is driven by a desire to show that men are responsible for the dearth of women in science”…. Are you commenting on the article? If you can point out where in the article this is suggested, I would appreciate it. If not, then this is a very dry and scratchy straw man. You are the one suggesting a cause “for the dearth of women in science”.
Sexual harassment happens in the sciences like it happens anywhere else, no doubt, but is it really as extreme as it’s painted in articles like yours on the Internet? One tends to wonder about advocacy journalism and the big F word: modern feminism and its relentless obsession to conquer STEM, despite the still impoverished count of women finding statistically significant enthusiasm in it.
“Still, she added, the recent uptick in reporting on the topic has proved one thing: “There are enough well-publicized cases that the hypothesis that it’s just a few isolated ‘bad apples,’”
Does it really prove that? The CDC showed an “uptick” in rape reported on college campuses, too. We thought we were having a rape epidemic on college grounds, until we looked at the parsimonious methods and overly broad definitions of rape the “study” employed. Feminist politics is on everyone’s minds these days. For all its marketability, it has created a hostile relationship between males and females in and of itself, in my view. If there is a larger number of women reporting harassment, that does not necessarily mean this is greater evidence of a real systemic problem with actual harassment. As the saying goes in science, correlation does not equal causation—especially when there is an obvious political agenda to one’s writing.
“[…]reluctant whistleblowers and tangled knots of competing interests and motivations have forever been the hard stuff of journalism, whatever the beat, and science journalists are as obliged as any member of the profession to keep digging, keep writing, keep exposing.”
But do you really think this is cutting edge journalism, Paul? I don’t find anything brave or particularly novel about yet another political speech disguising itself as “journalism” while it caters to the politically correct mandate du jour that is feminism. This is, in fact, a very tired and safe topic, one that has been repeated ad nasueam because it pulls lots of eyeballs, makes a lot of money, and garners the obligatory applause of one’s peers. It’s not the first to cash in on this subject and it won’t be the last.
Nicely executed site, beautiful design, and good writing quality, but I sense the intellectual rot of feminist advocacy and its common political foibles here. The agenda is questionable, in the least.
RE: “despite the still impoverished count of women finding statistically significant enthusiasm in it.”
Research shows that women are less interested in STEM when they are in the minority – so getting a critical mass of women might in fact improve their interest.
Well said Marc.
Janet Stemwedel is a first and foremost a feminist activist, despite whatever other academic positions she may hold. Paul should not have quoted her as an unbiased source on this issue and certainly not without bringing in a much needed counter opinion.
“There are enough well-publicized cases that the hypothesis that it’s just a few isolated ‘bad apples,’” Stemwedel said, “doesn’t seem plausible anymore.”
It’s great that the “bad apples” are being rooted out and that there is increased awareness around this issue. And certainly the guild-like structure of academia is ripe for abuse and would benefit from some restructuring. However, statements like the above from Janet Stemwedel would lead one to believe that there is an epidemic of harassment holding women back from careers in academic science. This seems ludicrous given how liberal and progressive academia is in general. It seems that much of the fervor to “out” harassers is driven by a desire to show that men are responsible for the dearth of women in science, rather than it being the result of women’s cumulative life choices. While both forces could be at play, the evidence suggests the latter has much more weight.
You’re kidding, right? “Women’s cumulative life choices”? You mean having the reproductive organs to have children? Because every woman I know in science has set out to do great things, and every woman I know has also been the subject of teasing, taunts, or ridicule due to their gender at work or in school.
I’ll admit its not only men but society overall that is a problem. Its a woman’s “choice” to take time away from work to birth/raise children, except that in order to have children at all most couples must acknowledge that the man gets paid more and that it’s more financially sound to have the mother take time off. Plus the social stigma at a stay at home dads, career moms, etc.
But with respect to the cases of sec’y a lb harassment coming out, it’s critical that we pay attention. When professor is a sexual harasser or predator, he won’t just affect the career of one woman. He affects literally hundreds. His sexist demenor keeps his dozens of female undergraduate advisees from seeking the mentoring they need. He oove-criticizes his female graduate students and under-praises them, causing them to “Master out” like flies. He treats his female post docs like lab techs, and his lab techs like personal assistants. Few to none of the females in his lab get the authorships, funding, or recommendations they deserve.
There are plenty of good, honest men in science. But the bad ones make a huge difference for those of us under their power.
Let it not be forgotten that this movement started not long after science writing endured its own harassment scandal, which Hughes and Stemwedel observed firsthand. It can’t be proven but it seems likely that experiencing the exposure of a serial harasser who was central to their community opened the eyes of many science journalists and created an environment where such stories could be told and accepted.
Great point! Before 2014 sexual harassment in science or academia wasn’t talked or discussed much. It breaks my heart to remember the fear of talking about anything related to it since that was just shameful to have gone through it.
We need more discussion to help survivors! We need more people talk about their experiences so that others feel more supported and less isolated! We also need more training through our institutions that involve explicit definitions, explanations of even the trickiest situations, and provide more information on resources or ways to get help! We need our department chairs to support our students and post docs, and help them accommodate their needs in times of crisis! We need universities care about every individual (student, post doc, staff, faculty, etc) regardless from the amount of grant money they bring or their tenure!