Sexual Harassment

There’s been a lot of talk lately about sexual harassment in male-dominated fields.  That’s because there’s a lot of it.

In this post, people share their experiences with harassment or the feelings that they have wondering why they haven’t been harassed.  All in tweet form.

I have to say, my first thought was also, “Why haven’t I been harassed?” And I’m going to attribute that mainly to two things (but I’m going to use more than two points).

1.  Luck

2.  Being warned off creepers and knowing not to take their classes or to have anything to do with them (also luck, also potentially hurting my career, though in my specific case, the creepers also tended to be not as good as the people who substituted for them, and that was lucky)

3. Having a big burly partner who looks like he could beat someone up (also luck)

4. Being on edge to be professional with male colleagues at all times in a way that men do not have to… this may be why I naturally gravitate towards female coauthors and mentors even though there are so few… I can talk normally around them (something men don’t have to do that could well be hurting my career)

So I thought about all of that, and then I remembered that before work, before graduate school, and before college, I actually was sexually harassed fairly frequently.  That’s probably part of the reason for #4.  The physics professor who couldn’t keep from putting his arm around girls and told us at the beginning of the first class he had been told not to frequently but he didn’t mean anything by it so he would continue to do it and we shouldn’t bother to complain because we were wrong to complain and we should just expect it.  He also copped a feel on my breast that one time.  The weird men at the grocery store who couldn’t stop leering at my 16 year old figure.  The girl who called me “queer” as an insult when I was so young and naive that I thought she meant I was weird and said I stuffed my bra before I even wore one.  The guy in middle school who I thought was jealous that I was doing better in geometry and then later realized must have had a crush on me but now I’m thinking that maybe that first belief was more right.  What an asshole.  Throughout the week more memories of incidents have been coming to my mind unbidden.

But I’ve been lucky.  What if I hadn’t had older women in my major telling me which male professors to stay away from?  Knowing what I know about them is a big reason I didn’t go back to teach at my undergrad, even though they were hiring in my field.  I didn’t even apply, even though I applied places much less fun to live and ended up at a place not as good for my partner as that city would have been.  What if I’d wanted to go in that field in graduate school with the guy who I’d been told had affairs, though I guess mostly with his students’ wives and junior professors?  I was able to avoid him entirely.

What if I didn’t have that big partner?  If I was on my own?  My single friends have to fend of creepers that see the guy standing next to me and decide to move on.

And what have I lost being unable to be “one of the guys”?  Would I have more coauthorships?  Would I have more conference invites?  Would it be easier to publish?  Of course.

I hope things get better as we get more women into my field.  Nobody should have to worry about sexual harassment.  Nobody should sexually harass people.  Work is work.  And it isn’t really about personal vs. professional anyway.  It’s about power.  And this is one way that asshats working for the patriarchy keep women down.  Absolutely we should name and shame, because if we don’t, nothing is going to change, and that’s not right.

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