I wanted to post this on my Facebook page, but I’m afraid of the backlash to my personal and professional life (which is sad in itself, that I should be afraid of the repercussions of speaking the truth).
By the time I was 13 I knew to hang my head and walk quickly past groups of men (both high school boys and full grown men). By high school my friends and I had, much like other prey animals, learned the value of safety in numbers. By college, that knowledge had evolved into a highly intricate system of checks and balances where Girl A was responsible for Girl B who watched Girl C who watched Girl A. No one was ever out of sight for more than a few minutes. Sadly, this system didn’t always keep everyone safe. Many of us were sexually assaulted, 2 were raped. Every single one of us was harassed. I thought after college this would end, but it just changed. It became more subtle, more insidious. I learned to walk with my head up and look men in the eye, hoping that I would seem strong and capable, less like prey. That didn’t always work. As a 22 year old waitress in Hollywood I was objectified, harassed, groped and stalked (I had to get a restraining order against a patron who would leave messages at the restaurant saying “that if he couldn’t have me no one would”). When I started graduate school I assumed I had left that type of person, and that type of behavior, behind. After all, academia is a place where intelligence, thoughts, ideas, and creativity are what’s important – far my important then what you look like, what you wear and what you have between your legs. Wrong again.
My objective here is not to denigrate the academic community, but to point out that misogyny and harassment (and the accompanying fear and frustration) is everywhere. #YesAllWomen isn’t just about catcalling on the street or getting groped on the subway or in a bar, although that has happened to every single woman I know. It’s not just about crossing the street “just in case” when you see a man coming towards you, or about carrying your keys between your knuckles (which I always do, without a second thought). And it doesn’t just involve low-class, uneducated rednecks or drunk college boys. Here are just 2 examples I’d like to share.
My second year as a masters student I was asked at a conference to meet and discuss my research with a well-known and well-respected scientist in my field (this is common practice at these conferences). We met at the agreed upon time and place, where he proceeded to become increasingly physically aggressive despite my clear and repeated declaratives that I wanted him to stop, that I was here to discuss research, that I wasn’t interested. He persisted, becoming more and more angry. I left quickly, scared and annoyed. When I told a fellow (male) graduate student what happened his response was “Well, you didn’t actually think HE would be interested in YOUR research did you? That’s kind of on you. You should have known better”
My first year as a PhD student I was introduced by a friend to a very senior male scientist from another university. “Dr. Fancy professor this is W, she’s a new PhD student of Dr. so and so”. He frankly looked me up and down and said “I could have guessed that by the bra size,” and then high-fived his friends, also male, tenured faculty. Much laughing ensued, and I walked away, humiliated and furious.
These are not isolated incidents-not by a long shot. I, and other female grad students, could regale you for hours with stories of sexism, intimidation, and sexual harassment (both subtle and blatant) that we have experienced in “the ivory tower”. These people were well-respected, well-educated men. And in each case, the inaction (or reaction) of the “bystanders” was as hurtful as the action of the perpetrator. Certainly, #NotAllMen are like this. But Not One Man ever stepped forward to help. Not One Man ever called them out on their sexist and harassing behavior. And that is almost as bad.
***On a side note, it’s has been interesting and shocking to be pregnant. I didn’t realize how inured I was to inappropriate comments, blatant up-and-down looks and small “innocent” inappropriate brushing and touching in crowded places. Now that I’m hugely pregnant all of that has stopped. It’s very restful. And it frightens me that I was so used to it that I didn’t notice it until it was gone.