About the SA Blog Network

Jeepers, Creepers: What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

I have been largely silent publicly about the events of the past week that ended with the resignation of our blogs editor, Bora Zivkovic, mostly because (a) I was waiting for all the facts to come in and trying to process those facts in the throes of considerable cognitive dissonance, and (b) others have addressed so clearly and eloquently the many knotty issues I would have raised. Honestly, I’m suffering from metaphorical PTSD (Note: this is not meant to diminish PTSD; it accurately reflects my shellshocked emotional state): Bora is a longstanding friend and colleague. I have spent the last week, like many others, grieving for what our small community has lost, and what the three young women who came forward have suffered. Each subsequent revelation was like a hard punch to the gut. Monica, Hannah, Kathleen — I’m so sorry. I truly had no idea.

And yes, I grieve for Bora himself, and his wife, Catherine, although I cannot condone his behavior, or deny the damage this has wrought. I cannot place concern for his well-being above that of the young women he has harmed through his actions. But human beings are complex, a mass of contradictions, and we are all, at various times, laid flat by our own frailty. His fall was just more precipitous than most, and because of his substantial influence, the fallout and collateral damage were more severe. As Ashutosh Jogalekar phrased it,

We can applaud the substance of Bora’s foundational contributions to the rise of science blogging even as we continue to denounce his actions. This episode is a reminder that human beings are flawed and that the same person can reach both the heights of achievement and the depths of failure.

Ashutosh is a thoughtful man, and he chose his words carefully, with plenty of caveats. But there was one phrase elsewhere in his post that bothered me, because it is one that I’ve heard echoed in comments all over the Web: that “in none of the three cases did Bora’s behavior descend into overt sexual or physical harassment.” It’s the same point Hannah Waters made in her post when she talked about “not-quite-harassment,” and when Monica Byrne confessed that at first, she wasn’t entirely sure what happened to her constituted “real” harassment.

I wish I didn’t feel compelled to talk about this. I just want to explore through my writing all the cool science and culture stuff out there and share my enthusiasm with others, augmented with the occasional funny video. But clearly we need to talk about what sexual harassment looks like, because it’s not always black-and-white, and no two cases are exactly alike. I would argue that the insidiousness of those borderline gray areas can sometimes be more damaging, in the long run, than the blatantly obvious cases — particularly for fields that wish to attract and promote more women within their ranks. An accumulation of incessant little things can gradually create an intolerable environment, and sexual harassment is a often a significant part of that. (Cf. the “chilly climate.”) It’s especially impactful when it happens early in one’s career. As this post noted: “Events at the beginning of your career timeline are, by definition, formative.” So it’s important that we openly acknowledge when these kinds of things happen, and act swiftly to address them.

Like pretty much every woman out there, I am no stranger to harassment. It’s just part of what a friend recently described as the persistent “background noise” of being a Woman in Public: the whistles and catcalls, the random slurping sounds, the public masturbators and the gropers, the chatty men next to you on the subway who keep trying to make “friendly” conversation when you just want to be left alone to read your book, the exhortations to “smile, sweetheart,” and, when you protest, the defensive insistence that they were just “being friendly, geez, what a bitch.” It’s a daily barrage, and frankly, it gets exhausting. (One of the loveliest things about married middle age is that one is increasingly invisible as a sexual target — and I mean that sincerely.)

Matters become more complicated when it’s someone you know in a professional or even a semi-professional setting, especially if there is an imbalance of respective power. I’m going to describe two separate case studies from my own misspent youth to illustrate how fuzzy the lines can be. Which would you consider overt sexual harassment? And which do you think had the greater impact on me and my future professional development?

Case #1:

I was just 22, quiet, painfully shy, and achingly naive, working as a copy editor at a publishing company. One of the male senior staff offered to buy me a friendly drink after work, just to welcome me to the fold. I thought it was a little weird but didn’t want to appear impolite when I was just starting a new job, plus I didn’t know many people yet, so I agreed. More than 20 years later, I still vividly recall the sudden chill when the joke he was telling unexpectedly turned sexually explicit. Very explicit, deliberately so. Leering slightly, he stared intently in my eyes as he savored every naughty detail, oblivious to my attempts to avert his gaze, my crossed arms, my nervous chuckle as I sought escape. It wasn’t remotely sexy or erotic; he sounded like a horny 12-year-old sniggering over Daddy’s old Hustler rags.

I told him that I needed to get home, insisted on paying for my own drink because I didn’t want to feel obligated in any way to this man. He remained oblivious, taking my elbow as we walked down the street, leaning close and murmuring that it was too bad he’d given up his apartment in the city because then we could have gone there for the night. I was stunned. Did he honestly think he had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting me into bed? Had he really not noticed my growing discomfort, my stiff posture, my instinctive pulling away, my incredulous expression at the very idea of sleeping with him?

Yes. He did. And no. He hadn’t. I was just a prop in his personal fetishized sexual fantasy, in which he was the erudite, sophisticated sex god offering to initiate the pretty ingenue into the delights of carnal pleasure. My wishes were irrelevant, my boundaries disregarded; he didn’t see “me” at all.

His self-delusion reached new heights when he stopped by my cubicle a couple of days later and condescendingly informed me that he felt we should really just be friends, that he was actually seeing someone. He hoped he hadn’t led me on and that I could “get over” him and move on with my life. I just stared at him with a “WTF?” expression and finally shrugged and said sure, no problem. He seemed a bit taken aback by my nonchalance; I’m sure he convinced himself I was frigid. Clearly any woman who found him repulsive had to be frigid. It was my first encounter with the manipulative, “If you weren’t such a prude, you wouldn’t find this offensive” line such men routinely feed their targets. It wouldn’t be my last.

This man was senior to me, but he was not my direct superior and he mostly left me alone once he’d determined I wasn’t an easy mark, apart from occasionally brushing against me in the hall (his office was near my cubicle) and giving a knowing smirk. No harm, no foul. Men will be men, right? It’s not like we all have a god-given right to never feel socially uncomfortable. But it poisoned my experience on the job. I was wary of socializing with co-workers after-hours, even in groups, unless my one trusted friend (who remains one of my best friends) was present. I largely kept to myself, and leapt at the first new employment opportunity that came my way. Later, I heard through the grapevine that he’d been cited for sexual harassment; apparently he’d been sending anonymous dirty emails regularly over the company servers to a female colleague, who tracked him down and reported the abuse. I have no idea if he kept his job.

Case #2:

I was working at a different company, a little older, not much wiser. At an official company dinner, I found myself seated next to a 60-ish high-ranking administrator — let’s call him X — who became progressively inebriated. When I felt his hand slip onto my thigh under the table, gently squeeze and start to slide upward, I quickly stood up and said I needed a refill from the bar. And I stayed in the bar for the rest of the evening, enduring the ribbing of several co-workers, who guessed why I had left my seat. The man had a reputation as an incorrigible horndog.

At first I had no intention of reporting him. I’d gotten a bit more jaded by then, intent on playing the role of Post-Feminist Free Spirit. (Spoiler alert: it really didn’t suit me.) A spot of drunken groping paled in comparison to the PR rep who insisted on meeting at his home office to discuss the freelance article I was writing. That guy answered the door wearing nothing but a bathrobe, and promptly laid down on the oversized sofa, suggesting that if I wanted access to his client, perhaps I could “massage” his legs — especially the upper inner thigh region. The sight of those flabby white thighs and barely-visible testicles peeking through the robe’s folds haunted me for days. (You’re welcome for that visual. Share my pain!) And no — I never wrote that article. I guess I just didn’t “want it enough” to pay that high a price.

I figured I just had to avoid X from now on. Except the ribbing from co-workers continued for the next couple of days, with people teasing that I was the “future Mrs. X” — someone even pasted a doctored photo on my computer monitor, with my face and X’s imposed on a stock wedding pose. Finally, embarrassed and fed up with the breezy acceptance of X’s lecherous behavior more than the behavior itself, I marched into Human Resources and said I wanted to lodge a formal complaint. I was lucky: the woman seated on the other side of X that night had witnessed the whole thing — and she just happened to be the head of HR.

X denied it when she first confronted him, but she countered, “I was there. I saw you.” And he caved. With his guilt established, she asked what I wanted to be done about it. Honestly? I just wanted it to go away. I didn’t even want an apology. Ultimately I asked that he get a stern talking-to about how poorly his behavior reflected on the company and how he should probably regulate his drinking at future company events. Despite this uncomfortable incident, I enjoyed my employment there.  It was easy to avoid X, given the company’s size and his seniority. Looking back, did I make the right choice? I don’t know. I’d like to think that black mark on his personnel record chastened him somewhat, but it’s just as likely that he continued to cheerfully get drunk and grope young women all the way until retirement.

Case #2 is a fairly straightforward example of mild sexual harassment, and there is comfort in that kind of clarity. It happened in a professional work environment and — crucially — when I spoke up, someone believed me, and appropriate action was taken, which, sadly, is not always the case. (Having a witness didn’t hurt.) So that work environment, to me, was a safe space, and the incident didn’t really prey on my psyche.

Case #1 falls into that nebulous gray area; it happened while socializing outside of the office. I doubt the HR department of that company would have been able to do anything even if I’d reported it. It was really just your standard creeper scenario, apart from the work connection and the close proximity of our work spaces. Had I been a little older, not so wet behind the ears — heck, had his office just been on another floor so I could easily avoid him — I could have shrugged it off more easily. Instead, I quit my job, even though I had been aiming for a career in publishing. And as it turned out, the man was a sexual harasser with a particular fetish for talking dirty to women he worked with; his behavior toward me was insignificant on its own, but was part of a broader pattern.

I don’t share this because I’m psychologically scarred. The incidents were mild and happened so long ago, I wouldn’t even have thought about them had last week’s drama not jogged my memory. Things turned out pretty okay for me. I did end up in publishing, eventually — I just took a more circuitous route and ended up on the authorial end of the spectrum. But that doesn’t excuse the behavior of those men.

Every woman of my acquaintance has multiple stories like this — yes, even in the world of science writing. Over time, you develop a thick skin and learn to take these things in stride. You shrug wearily and figure this is just how things are, comparing harassment war stories with your female colleagues over drinks, ridiculing the pathetic creatures because what can you do except laugh about it ruefully? We watch each other’s backs and run interference when necessary. We’re taught to stay silent, and we don’t fancy the inevitable attacks on our credibility and character that ensue when we violate this unspoken social compact. Just ask Monica, Hannah, and Kathleen Raven, all of whom offered very credible accounts, confirmed by the man in question, and were still sharply criticized for daring to speak up. (“Why didn’t they do X? Why did they do Y? He never harassed me, so clearly those women are lying.”) We get tired of arguing and trying to convince the nitpicking skeptics that yes, what happened to us really did constitute harassment and no, we didn’t “misunderstand” — and we certainly didn’t “ask for it.” So we rarely name names publicly, on the record (but we know who you are!), and we rarely stop to question whether it has to be this way.

But this system we’ve developed also supports the perpetrators and impedes change, as Alice Bell pointed out:

We should be able to give a lecture without a colleague eyeing-up our legs. We should be able to bend down and tie our bloody shoelace on campus without someone making a comment about our bum. The gateways to particular people, jobs, ideas and spaces should not be guarded by questions of whether or not we are willing to entertain the idea of screwing someone in a position of power. We should be able to talk about stuff like this and call it out without being made to feel like some sort of sour killjoy.

This problem is much bigger than Bora Zivkovic, extending far beyond the science blogosphere. It’s everywhere. His voluntary resignation was the right the thing to do: he gets points for (finally) copping to his guilt and sparing the community he helped build further heartbreak and strife – shades of the idealism and generosity that made the “Blogfather” so beloved. But I admit, it kind of chafes that, off the top of my head, I can think of a handful of prominent men in the science-related sphere alone who have behaved just as inappropriately, if not more so, toward women and have paid zero consequences – because the protective herd instinct kicks in, or because they are better liars, or because the women they target just can’t bring themselves to risk naming them publicly.

There has been much denouncing this past week of “trial by Twitter,” and while it’s better to wait to get one’s facts straight before expressing outrage en masse (or defending the indefensible), the reason women resort to public “naming and shaming” in the first place is because the situation has become intolerable and this is the only way they feel they can be heard. Perhaps it would help if there were more than two possible outcomes: remaining silent, or the “nuclear option,” which the science blogging community experienced last week.  Kelly Hills weighed in with a couple of thoughtful posts offering a possible way forward, but reiterated that “power and authority must be removed when a harasser is identified.” And the Guardian offered four useful tips to “avoid becoming a leading sex pest.”

It’s a start. Can we have accountability without all this fallout? Can we call someone out for inappropriate behavior and still leave space for redemption and reform? I would like to think so, if only to make it easier for women to speak out. How many women have remained silent, guilt-tripped into doing so by people reminding them to think of the man’s family and his future? “You don’t want to ruin his career over something like this, do you?” we are told. And when you put it that way, no – we don’t. But it’s interesting that nobody asks what this might do to our careers.

It’s time to stop asking women to pick up the tab for some men’s bad behavior. It really doesn’t have to be this way.

(P.S. I promise to get back to science now.)

(P.P.S. I was tempted to turn off comments on this post, but opted to instead moderate carefully. The first comment, which I hesitated to approve, is inflammatory — and kinda Spammy, since the same comment has been left on other people’s post on this issue — but can nonetheless be useful for fostering discussion. See my own comments at #8 and #9. There is still much hurt and anger swirling about, and I ask people commenting to please respond to the substance, not the tone. Don’t make shut down comments!)

Jennifer Ouellette About the Author: Jennifer Ouellette is a science writer who loves to indulge her inner geek by finding quirky connections between physics, popular culture, and the world at large. Follow on Twitter @JenLucPiquant.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Rights & Permissions

Comments 42 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. Sharky 11:26 pm 10/22/2013

    I am a science “insider,” and a woman to boot. I am an active participant in women in science type groups and often see this sort of overblown hand-wringing about the perils of being a female scientist. Any and all hardships of making a career in science (and it IS hard) are viewed through the lens of gender, and massive amounts of thoughtful deconstruction expended on analyzing and fixing the perceived gender bias. Not to be glib, but similar single-mindedness in the pursuit of their research questions would go a long way to vaporizing the perceived barriers. Tellingly, many senior/successful female scientists are wary of participating in these groups–too busy working, and quite possibly not wanting to get sucked in to the hand-wringing circle. (Of course, they are viewed as unsupportive traitors to their gender.) Jennifer’s described responses to the situations she encountered seems effective, measured, and adult. The response of Scientific American and the science blogosphere as a whole to the accusations against Bora have consistently been shrill, disproportionate, and conducive to the misguided idea that female scientists are precious innocents who must rely on institutional knights in shining armor, rather than managing their own lives like adults.

    I know Bora quite well, and have interacted with him over 10+ years. He is indeed a bit socially awkward and not the best at reading cues–he is the sort that stands chatting for 15 minutes as you try to move on to the next person, is over-enthusiastic in his gestures, and laughs at the wrong moments sometimes. He is also extremely smart, a great synthesizer of ideas, and one of my favorite people to talk science with. He has always been all these things. In the realm of online science journalism, he seemed to have found the perfect way to use his undoubted skills, and he did so in a way that helped other people far more than it helped him. It’s only recently that he’s even had a salary for his blog-related stuff, and the spin from his accusers that his massive powerfulness was sooo scary that they dare not speak up is an utter joke.

    The entire debacle is sickening and makes me want to write nasty things about these harridans, and certainly I will do them professional harm should their “pitches” ever cross my desk. I think the one-sided release of personal emails by Kathleen Raven is criminal. Does no one else wonder very strongly what was in her half of the correspondence? The simple unfairness of filtering a long-running email exchange to fit the story you’re telling is shocking. The saddest thing to me is that by all accounts (from Bora, Raven, and their colleagues) Raven was one of Bora’s close friends up until the big reveal.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Amy Charles 12:17 am 10/23/2013

    You can get back to science and talk about this stuff, too. It’s not either/or, though I sense considerable pressure, particularly from men in the community, to shut up about it already. And it’s true, you can’t have Awful Sickish Violation News 24/7. You have to ignore it sometimes. So maybe the people who want it to go away are beginning to get a taste of what this is like for…um…every woman I know. All the time, for decades.

    I don’t think this can or should be top of the news forever, but I think it does need to remain chronic news, with discussion that doesn’t devolve into pettifogging distracting-from-the-problem “is this the line? is this? See, you don’t even know, therefore it’s not a valid problem”. I think a permanent way of discussing this is important to have, and that it should not turn into a committee, because we know how these things go: you get a status-of-women committee or what have you, men flee, it’s staffed by women, and the whole thing’s marginalized.

    I think instead that what’s happening now is actually the way to do it, and in keeping with the whole tenor of the community. Conversation, without bylaws, with a presumption of being taken seriously, and with the usual megaphones that reach large swaths of the community if not all.

    It’s occurred to me, over the last week or so, that the women involved are all well-educated, all articulate, all sophisticated about issues surrounding sexual harassment, and all, one way or another, compelled to write. We are after all writers, it’s what we do. It also occurs to me that despite obvious reasons for shrinking from the whole affair, a great many people were instantly supportive, and the atmosphere has allowed many women to paint this picture of continuous harassment, in ways that are — I hope — impossible to ignore. I think in a lot of respects this is an important model, and it’s based on presumed equality and access to the universal microphones and audiences. How we got here, of course, is a large part of the problem. But this seems to me to have been a pretty good test, and I think it underscores the importance of women’s maintaining this kind of status and access.

    I’m less worried than I was at first about how things will go. The people are still the same people, and if there is no impresario, no center, then — what. Some fracturing, some re-cohering, some fracturing again, sometimes in more interesting ways than others. But it’s the same people. For nearly a decade now I’ve had science writers and scientist-writers at the heart of my online existence, which has merged with my RL existence, because these are some of the smartest, most thoughtful, most interesting, and friendliest people I’ve met. I don’t see that this has changed.

    Professionalism does change things, because it creates prizes, medals and ribbons, pissing contests, and it’s made defensive by and is suspicious of those who arrive looking seedy and unlettered, however talented. I think that self-importance and clubbishness are probably a greater threats to the status of women in science writing than anything else is, and that this is the main thing Bora managed to protect against, even while teaching in an MA program and overseeing a vast expansion of professional science writing and even the nonsense about being the Blogfather. At bottom, though, I’m not worried about the capacity of sciwriters/scientist-writers to break away from hubs and take the party somewhere else, or to find groups of friends and join up. There’s some protection, too, in the fact that so many very capable sciwriters make their livings elsewhere — are scientists or sci-administrators or editors or have some other salaried gig, and are relatively free to do as they please in their writing and writing communities.

    I am concerned about the harassment conversation, because I still hear too much silence that sounds to me like “this is not my problem, and I’m sorry about this one instance that happened to that poor victim of a girl, how ghastly, but I want to move on now and not think about this awful thing that’s hard in every respect to think about, I’m here to write about science.” Which is interesting on its own to watch, and enlightening; I admit I’ve been reminded this week of the elucidation of mechanisms deep in an active site. I am, I think, happy to keep probing. With breaks sometimes. It could be that’s not smart, I don’t know. I suspect it depends very much on how it’s done.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Amy Charles 12:20 am 10/23/2013

    ” I sense considerable pressure, particularly from men in the community, to shut up about it already.”

    Sorry, that was ill-considered. From some. Not generally.

    Link to this
  4. 4. moximer 1:10 am 10/23/2013

    At my first ever stint at a magazine, when I was fresh out of college, one of the junior editors, two years older than me, was having an affair with the editor in chief. In the three months I was there, she was promoted six times, to second in command, over a number of women who had been working there for decades.

    The story is more complicated than you might think. The editor in chief was tall, handsome, and charismatic. Several of the interns in my class had crushes on him. His paramour, the junior editor, was a beauty herself, but she was also cutthroat, nakedly ambitious, and more or less universally reviled – and this was before the affair or the promotions. (My dislike for her stemmed from her nasty habit of making up quotes that she then demanded I “fact check”). The word around the office was that she was calling the shots; that perhaps she was even blackmailing him.

    For every woman who cringes at the advances of an older, more established man, there are those who seek after them, either because they find the power imbalance attractive, or because they see it as a stepping stone to becoming powerful themselves. Perhaps that editor in your story had met a few too many of those types, before he came round to you. Perhaps he spied ambition, and mistook it for something he could work to your “mutual” advantage.

    Harassment is complicated, because life is complicated.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Shecky R 6:47 am 10/23/2013

    WOW! perhaps the best piece I’ve seen (of so much good discussion) on this horrible affair. One simple line still jumps out at me as so vital:
    “This problem is much bigger than Bora Zivkovic, extending far beyond the science blogosphere. It’s everywhere.”
    Anton, Karyn, and yes, BORA, have built something absolutely INCREDIBLE with ScienceOnline (and Bora has done the same with the SciAm bloggers’ group, as well)… it will be ashamed if these brainchilds are hurt or tarnished long-term by a problem that is ubiquitous to all of society.
    It started long before Bora and will continue, in some quarters somewhere, long after him; but perhaps great good will emerge if, within the science community, the issue now simmers front-and-center in many minds for some time to come.

    Link to this
  6. 6. lbarbato 9:19 am 10/23/2013

    Link to this
  7. 7. Jennifer Ouellette 10:34 am 10/23/2013

    RE: #3:
    “For every woman who cringes at the advances of an older, more established man, there are those who seek after them, either because they find the power imbalance attractive, or because they see it as a stepping stone to becoming powerful themselves. Perhaps that editor in your story had met a few too many of those types, before he came round to you. Perhaps he spied ambition, and mistook it for something he could work to your “mutual” advantage.”

    Yes, harassment is complicated and life is complicated. And I don’t doubt your experience with a female editor who slept her way into authority. Why do you doubt my experience? I deliberately gave no details in my case studies that would enable anyone to ID either the men or the companies involved (like anyone cares after 20+ years). I can’t even tell which case you’re referring to you, but neither man was an editor. And the second company was not a publisher. Just for starters. There is no way you have nearly enough factual evidence to doubt my judgment call on what was “really” happening in those cases. You are projecting your own experience instead. Even if that were the case, it is NO EXCUSE. Period. If we want things to change — I have nieces who are now entering adulthood, and I want things to be different for them, and their daughters — we have to stop rationalizing these behaviors.

    I will add that I deliberately focused on women being harassed by men, but certainly the roles can be and sometimes are reversed. The goal should be that any policies we decide upon to change the situation will benefit anyone who has been sexually harassed.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Jennifer Ouellette 11:25 am 10/23/2013

    #1: I hesitated to approve your comment because it’s really not conducive to the kind of thoughtful discussion I prefer to take place in my bloggy space. I would ask others commenting not to react to the over-the-top defensive tone and instead focus on the broader issues and questions, because as I said in my post, this is bigger than Bora, and we don’t need to rehash the same heated arguments from last week. I’ll be moderating this comment thread heavily. If you want to fight, go to my Google+ page, which I usually don’t moderate.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Jennifer Ouellette 11:30 am 10/23/2013

    Here, I’ll start: one of the most difficult things about having someone we know and like being named as a harasser is that it doesn’t fit our pre-existing “schema” of that person. Our experiences of him (or her) bear no resemblance to the accounts of their behavior with others. EG, if you have known someone for 10 years and watched them rise from impoverished obscurity to a position of considerable power — much deserved success — it can be difficult to see them as others see them, others who don’t have the benefit of your prior knowledge. That does not make their perceptions wrong, particularly when there is confirmation by the named harasser. When that happens, it behooves us to grapple with our own cognitive dissonance and incorporate the new information into our schema for that person.

    That is your Psychology 101 insight for the day. :)

    Link to this
  10. 10. Glendon Mellow 11:41 am 10/23/2013

    Thanks for your clear writing Jennifer. I still don’t know what else to say, but reading other people’s thoughts is helping.

    Link to this
  11. 11. Manes 12:11 pm 10/23/2013

    Jennifer, this is an outstanding piece about a truly significant and heartbreaking issue. My daughter is 14 and I have a 16 year old son, and I hope they can reject the pressures around them that can easily lead them to stereotyping, to objectifying, and to conforming. I hope they can be strong in the face of adversity, and do no harm to others in the pursuit of whatever it is that excites them. I see the harm of sexist stereotyping all the time in the smart young women I teach every day. So, thank you for this post.

    That being said, the psychologist in me finds it necessary to point out that your use of cognitive dissonance is, well, kind of incomplete. Social psychologists’ conceptions of cognitive dissonance have been around and very well developed since the late 1950s, and to psychologists dissonant cognitions don’t sit well with us. Not at all. Which is why attitude change is a necessary correlate of dissonant cognitions. To psychologists there is a drive to reduce these dissonant cognitions and this is done not by force of will but instead by fundamentally implicit processes, those that are unconscious in nature – in contrast to the way you talk about it at the outset of the piece but also and especially in comment #9.

    In fact, the implicit nature of attitude change in the face of dissonant cognitions is part of the problem we see when we observe a hardening of attitudes against calling out these behaviors for what they are.

    Hoping not to have derailed here.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Jennifer Ouellette 12:31 pm 10/23/2013

    Not derailing at all, very relevant. I did say mine was a “Psych 101″ take and hence likely incomplete. :) Lord protect us from armchair psychologists like me. I would personally appreciate your insights into what CAN be done to combat this problem.

    Link to this
  13. 13. M Tucker 12:55 pm 10/23/2013

    Unwelcomed sex talk. Touching and kissing people who are not intimates. Uninvited touching (like Bush’s massage of Chancellor Merkel). Showing up at someone’s hotel room after being told it would not be convenient. All are examples of overt unwelcomed and inappropriate behavior. However looking is not (unless you have strategically moved to look underneath someone’s clothing). If men and women are attacked for looking at someone in public then the line becomes ill-defined. I’m sorry if you do not like your legs looked at but you really can’t criticize the person looking. You cannot expect a person to keep his or her eyes on the ground. How are we to acknowledge a person in public? Should we smile and say “hi” or keep mum and our eyes to the ground?

    I feel bad for women who are irritated or offended by a man or women looking at their body but you really cannot expect that to stop. Women do it to men. Men do it to other men. Women do it to other women. You cannot end up with a significant other without looking. I suppose I should at this point mention that I do not know how blind people negotiate social situations but I think we might make allowances for the lack of that critical sense.

    If being offended by looking is on the list with “someone making a comment about our bum” it will make this whole necessary conversation problematic. And yes, men and women seek after power and professional advancement by overtly using sex. There is a reason sex is everywhere. There is a reason it is common to see scantily clad men and women in commercials. There is a reason nearly every work of fiction, sitcom, drama, involves sex. It will be impossible to remove sex from social interactions but it is possible to remove the unwelcomed, uninvited, overt (not merely eye contact with specific body parts) inappropriate behavior from professional interactions.

    Link to this
  14. 14. AudraTallis 1:35 pm 10/23/2013

    Inevitably, someone will whine about how this is somehow going to destroy all romance and equal the end of the human race.

    All we are asking for is that adults behave like adults in a work situation. That’s all.

    And, its a pretty simple thing to accomplish. If you’re a straight man feeling the need to say or do something idiotically inappropriate ask yourself if you would do or say it to another man in this setting. If not, grow up and don’t do it.

    Link to this
  15. 15. AudraTallis 1:37 pm 10/23/2013

    M Tucker – it’s dishonest to suggest that anyone is saying “no lookie” The example of bending over and tying a shoe lace was explicitly about someone COMMENTING ON HER ASS when she does so. No one gives a crap about looking. There’s no reason to follow up that look with an entirely gross comment to a total stranger.

    Link to this
  16. 16. Jennifer Ouellette 1:39 pm 10/23/2013

    And yet another person Completely. Misses. The. Point.

    Link to this
  17. 17. M Tucker 2:13 pm 10/23/2013

    “No one gives a crap about looking.”

    Well Alice Bell does.
    Notice the previous sentence Audra:
    “We should be able to give a lecture without a colleague eyeing-up our legs.”

    I’m assuming it was a male colleague but it could have been a female.

    I’m glad we are on the same page Audra. I don’t give a crap about looking and I’m glad you don’t either.

    Link to this
  18. 18. curiouswavefunction 2:27 pm 10/23/2013

    Thank you very much for your articulate and thoughtful post Jennifer; it narrates yet another depressing set of stories heard in a week that was chock full of depressing stories, and I can only say that I deeply sympathize with your experiences (I also now have a better understanding of the phrase “death by a thousand cuts”). I realize that the part of my post which you mention did not come across the way I wanted it to, and for this I apologize. There is no doubt that both “covert” and “overt” harassment are traumatic to the victim, and you are absolutely right that one leads on a slippery slope to the other because it is tolerated or dismissed away. I was merely asking if both experiences, as traumatic as they are, merit the same degree of punishment. I now realize that I failed to clearly express this sentiment and thank you for pointing it out.

    Link to this
  19. 19. ShamanSciences 2:48 pm 10/23/2013

    I can offer an example of how looking is inappropriate in a professional setting. While an undergraduate, I attended a small conference with my lab, and after the keynote dinner and talk there was the usual relaxed networking and mingling time. I was standing with one of the lab’s graduate students (male) while he was asking one of the guest speakers questions regarding the speaker’s presentation and research. All of the answers to the grad student’s questions were directed at my chest. After this event I received a great deal of teasing because what had happened was so obvious.

    If you are looking at a professional’s/colleague’s/student’s face or eyes during conversation, that is a sign you are aware of them as a person. If you are focusing on body parts below the neck, you are only seeing that person as an assemblage of parts, and cannot be in a position to offer them respect.

    Link to this
  20. 20. EMoon 3:30 pm 10/23/2013

    Alice Bell, not M. Tucker, is on the right track about “looking.” Looking is not neutral. Humans use culturally established interpretations of gaze as a form of communication (and so do many other animals, minus the culture part.) Neurotypical humans learn as infants and young children to detect precisely the target of gaze, match gaze with another, and receive from their culture the meaning of gaze target, length of gaze, and facial expression matched with gaze. Humans worldwide interpret different gaze targets and length of gaze as having intentional meanings, and react accordingly.

    For instance, in the two main cultures where I grew up, children were taught opposite meanings for looking directly at an adult’s face. In one culture, A, only rude children, children showing contempt and not respect, looked directly into an adult’s face, especially meeting the adult’s gaze at them. In the other, B, polite respectful children always looked directly at an adult. In elementary school, all teachers were of B culture. They regarded children of A as sly, sneaky, sullen, and often dishonest, because “He/she won’t look me in the eyes. They won’t show their face. They must have something to hide.” In A homes, a B child would be talked about afterward–”so rude, so disrespectful, staring you in the face like that. Probably trying to hide something.” The consequences for A and B children in the other’s cultural space were confusing (for the children) and generally harmful. Many of us learned to mimic (humans are good at that) the behavior desired in each situation, but first we had to be told how bad we were–and have the interpretation explained.

    I have since been in other cultures, where the standards vary. For instance, there are subcultures in the US in which men are not supposed to look at women not in their culture (and don’t. At least not where I’ve been.) When you’re used to constant male sexually-based gaze (breasts, buttocks, legs, if you have good ones) the absence is instantly noticed. I’ve been in crowds with some of these, and I exist as a barely-visible object to be avoided without touching. There’s no glance at my face, no glance at my breasts, etc. If, in a lurch of the subway or a disturbance on the sidewalk, our glances cross, the man instantly averts his.

    Subway etiquette in NYC is opposed to “looking at” people in general. I live where where failing to look at someone on the street long enough to know they’re a stranger or recognize and greet them is rude. So my first minute on the subway, every visit, I break subway etiquette and have to remind myself to not make eye contact and avoid looking at any person (even vaguely) too long. And at home, I must remember to look others in the face–only the face–and either speak to them or smile with a little nod before walking by.

    Since neuro-typical humans have the ability to detect gaze targets precisely, and cultural standards for which gaze combinations are legitimate in that culture and what they mean, and humans do learn to moderate gaze according to cultural standards, it simply is not true that “looking at” is a neutral activity that means nothing and cannot be interpreted and critiqued. When a man stares at a woman’s breasts or legs, instead of (for instance) her face, her explanatory gestures, the chalkboard/whiteboard/other visual exhibit she’s talking about, he is signaling (in my culture and in many others) an interest in her as a sexual object, not as the speaker, the professor, the expert. In fact, he is at least in part refusing to engage her in her then-primary role–he is denying her the professional identity, and insisting on his private sexual one. If I should stare at a male lecturer’s crotch, it would be the same thing–and just as rude.

    Complex cultures require complex and flexible behavior–what in verbal communication is called “register”–to assist in easing the interactions between individuals who enact multiple cultural roles. “Sexual partner” is only one of many such roles an individual may have, and the assumption that use of “sexual partner” register (to expand the term to all communication behaviors including gaze) is appropriate with everyone all the time is…culturally unsound. Competent communicators have the ability to know and use the most effective register across a range of them. That includes controlling their own gaze and keeping it within appropriate limits for that cultural situation. Non-neuro-typical humans need extra training in using gaze, gesture and verbal language within cultural parameters…and they can learn to do so. If a girl-struck autistic boy can be taught not to stare at girls long enough to make them uncomfortable…so can neuro-typical men. (But the lightbulb must want to change. Many do.)

    Link to this
  21. 21. Nicolakimjones 3:41 pm 10/23/2013

    Part of the problem is the politeness with which many people react in these situations. It is extremely common to respond, when shocked and embarrassed by extremely poor behaviour, by blushing, moving away, or even apologizing. Jennifer: I wonder if you wish you had done more, in retrospect, than walking away or hiding in the bar for an evening?

    I only came to recognize the severity of this habit in myself on my first trip to India as a naïve 18-year-old. When someone grabbed my boob in public I think I actually said “sorry” for having walked too close to them, like a good Canadian girl. When, in a jewellery store, someone pressed up behind me to attach the clasp of a necklace, I blushed and left the store. I quickly asked myself why these incidents were making me feel bad about myself, and why I wasn’t standing up for what was right… many people told me that the locals had an impression, from Hollywood etc, that ‘American’ girls were easy and liked this sort of thing. We had to change that. By the end of my 3-month trip, I had trained myself to look people in the eye and say politely but firmly: “That behaviour is completely inappropriate. You should stop.” Or, in extreme cases, wave a shoe at the offender – a local sign of extreme disrespect. In many cases the offender, unused to being confronted, would be the one to blush. I hope it changed their future behaviour.

    Yes, confronting people is scary and can in some instances even be dangerous. I’m not advocating that women (or men) do things that make them afraid or seriously uncomfortable. There should be safe ways for the victimized to report inappropriate behaviour. But I am saying we would benefit, as a society, if we taught people not to be embarrassed themselves when others behave badly – I’m not entirely sure where this reaction comes from in the first place, but I think it should be stamped out.

    Link to this
  22. 22. M Tucker 4:41 pm 10/23/2013

    Shaman, I would say your experience is different than what Alice Bell described. Maybe there is more to that one line story she did not include.

    “All of the answers to the grad student’s questions were directed at my chest.”

    Yes, definitely creepy. Responding not to the student who asked the question but responding to your chest marks that guest speaker (male I assume) as behaving completely inappropriately. How might you have responded? I have heard it said by females for years now, “my eyes are up here.” Perhaps simply an upward pointing index finger in his line of sight might have worked. These folks need to be called out not only to shame them but to reinforce correct behavior for others in attendance. It is behavior modification on a grand scheme.

    Link to this
  23. 23. ShamanSciences 5:25 pm 10/23/2013

    M Tucker wrote: “Perhaps simply an upward pointing index finger in his line of sight might have worked.”

    It’s quite easy to offer advice in the form of “would have, should have, could have,” but that misses the point that has been made many times in this line of discussion: that the people who have experienced these acts did not feel that at the time they could directly correct this unprofessional behavior because of the dynamics at the time. That is how I felt at the time it happened. This person was definitely my senior and an authority in their field. I was a newbie. I was too embarrassed that it had happened in the first place, too worried about “causing a fuss” or being criticized, and knew it would have been just brushed off with a “Toughen up/Boys will be boys/It was a compliment” attitude. So, given all those reasons above that at the time only manifest as an embarrassed, helpless, gross feeling, I kept quiet.

    It’s easy to say “Just call them out on their behavior,” but before recent events that was easier said than done, especially with previous stories of the negative reactions women have received by calling out their aggressors.

    Link to this
  24. 24. M Tucker 6:17 pm 10/23/2013

    Shaman, I do sympathize but to be fair I did say “perhaps” and “might.” I never said “would” or “should” or “could.”

    So, besides venting in these online and twitter posts how do you reach those who behave badly? How will anything change? Maybe, change is not what is intended? No, I do not accept that. I know women deserve better treatment and want better treatment. I know women ought to receive the same respect that men seem to enjoy. I know that guest speaker would not treat his own daughter (if he has one) that way. So, what is to be done besides relating these past transgressions?

    These are recent events for you but not recent events in history. I am old enough to have been a young stupid male during what is now called the second-wave feminist movement. I was appalled at the typical reaction my peers had. I could not accept their disregard for the obviously honest anger demonstrated by those women. I ignored there common reply to the concerns of those women, “they’re all lesbians” or “they hate men.”

    Now feminism has become a dirty word. Very few women will admit they are feminists. They say they just want the same respect and treatment men have. Well, you won’t get it if you are not willing to suffer a bit of embarrassment. You suffered embarrassment after the event from your own peers. It will come at you during the insufferable event or after. You will not be able to avoid it.

    I accept your criticism of my remarks. I know nothing of what a woman’s experience is like. But I do know this is nothing new.

    Link to this
  25. 25. Amy Charles 6:26 pm 10/23/2013

    I have been watching over the last week as commenter after commenter — mostly men, I must say — have said, “Well, if you/we did X, it wouldn’t happen, or at least it’d cut that guy off.”

    Apart from the fact that it’s not our job to go around policing gropy/rapey/harassy men: Perhaps it’s time to assemble a list of these mythical solutions to sexual harassment, and have a rather firm and citation-grounded discussion of why these lovely ideas are all unicorns.

    I’ve seen exactly four things work against sexual harassment:

    1. Leaving town (a temporary fix, the problem comes back in a new guy)
    2. Winning a gigantic and destructive-all-around and extremely expensive lawsuit.
    3. Having a woman HR manager who isn’t amused by this stuff at all and scares her own bosses.
    4. This.

    Oh, there’s a fifth, I forgot:

    5. Death. (My third-to-last harasser died. He figured the only reason I didn’t warm up to him was the cancer.)

    Before you suggest a solution, if you’re inclined to make suggestions of that sort, I’ve got one for you: Presuppose that the women involved are unusually bright, aggressive, articulate, well-educated, and bent on making nice lives for themselves, and _this shit still happens_. Why, oh why, do you figure that might be? Do you figure that maybe, just maybe, the “solutions” that come first to mind don’t actually work so well? And that there might be reasons for that?

    Link to this
  26. 26. Amy Charles 6:45 pm 10/23/2013

    About the business with “men will look, get over it” and “oh noes, women will clap us into jail if we lift our eyes from the sidewalk”:
    Baby, please. If you don’t know how to look at another person without leering, consider making your work full telecommute. My guess is, though, that you’re well aware of how to look at a woman non-wolfishly. I doubt that you go around leering at your mother, or your grandma’s friends, or your rabbi, or any other woman you figure you ought to treat respectfully.
    M Tucker, you’re out of your depth. Plenty of women are happy to call themselves feminists, which is why sites like Jezebel have such robust readerships. And the issue goes far beyond “embarrassment”. Really, that’s insulting. In my experience, men tend to be far more concerned with embarrassment than women do. Women worry about things like: Will I lose my job? Will I lose my career? Will I have to be dragged through a ruinously expensive and psychologically damaging lawsuit? Will the man attack me physically?

    Don’t insult women by suggesting that we don’t report or stop harassment because we’re afraid of blushing.

    Link to this
  27. 27. ShamanSciences 7:20 pm 10/23/2013

    M Tucker: “Well, you won’t get it if you are not willing to suffer a bit of embarrassment.”

    Missing. The. Point.

    There’s embarrassment, and then there’s fear of being labeled by your peers and superiors as a trouble-maker. There’s embarrassment, and then there’s blame when you are made to feel it was your fault. There’s embarrassment, and then there’s being made to feel that you had better get used to being leered at/groped/propositioned if you want to play with the boys.

    Amy makes a great point: how many times does an offender need to be metaphorically smacked on the nose with a newspaper (a.k.a. told to stop their inappropriate behavior) before the behavior changes? Does correcting the behavior remove the attitude that is behind the behavior? The statement of “this is old behavior” is a weak excuse, and when coupled with the statement of “You will not be able to avoid it,” smells of the same old pile of the “Get used to it” attitude.

    Old dogs can be taught new tricks, but it takes two to teach. It is not solely the responsibility of the recipients of these acts.

    Link to this
  28. 28. M Tucker 7:41 pm 10/23/2013

    Amy, “eyeing” and “leering” are, to my mind, very different. But I don’t want to get into definitions. I know exactly what ogling is. And, if you are aware of the trends, you must admit that popular culture if now full of what I consider inappropriate behavior by both men and women. I have seen and heard women hedge when asked if they are feminist. These posts here are full of unreported events. My comments are specific to the posts I refer to and not general sweeping statements. I respect your criticism though I think it a little unfair.

    It seems to me that we STILL do not have enough women represented in the work force. As you said in (3) a strong woman who is not amused by this stuff can police these creeps. Strong men who will not tolerate this crap and are willing to call out even inappropriate ogling of women’s bodies, even to colleagues and respected guests, are also needed. Someone needs to do the policing and you can’t just expect men to do it either. In you points 1 – 3 and 5 you will still have “the problem comes back in a new guy” syndrome. In fact you can always expect another problem. Hasn’t that been the experience of many women?

    This shit will continue to happen. Yes, there are reasons. Do you suppose men will suddenly change on their own? What did Sandra Fluke do when Limbaugh made those reprehensible comments?

    I’m not saying all women can do what Sandra did but that is the kind of response that is necessary. I do think that you Amy are very capable of doing what Sandra did and I would expect you might have reacted differently than Shaman did in a similar situation. The strong angry reaction has to be repeated until all men hear it and all women who are inclined to ignore these men and suffer their advances hear it as well. Men have changed since 1850. They do not treat or talk about women in the same way. It takes time and effort but change can happen.

    Link to this
  29. 29. ShamanSciences 8:20 pm 10/23/2013

    M Tucker: “The strong angry reaction has to be repeated until all men hear it and all women who are inclined to ignore these men and suffer their advances hear it as well.”

    Still. Missing. The. Point.

    If only I had known that was an option! Oh wait, I did, and knew there would be negative consequences to said angry reaction from a new student towards an established superior. Hence the discomfort and unease: had I felt I could have defended myself properly and had been supported for doing so, this wouldn’t have been an issue. Were it to happen today, now that I know that career does not have to come at the cost of self-respect and self-defense, there would be no hesitation in my reaction.

    As there is no hesitation in this statement: M. Tucker, it is not for you to judge how I reacted that day. I will accept no condescending critique, subtle or otherwise, from someone who has already stated “I know nothing of what a woman’s experience is like.” That should be your take-home point: you do not know. You have no right to judge my reactions, or to even assume how one person would react compared to another. If you want to be part of the solution, don’t be a Monday morning quarterback.

    Link to this
  30. 30. Amy Charles 11:30 pm 10/23/2013

    What ShamanSciences said. There’s strength and then there’s stupidity. Few women are in a position to do what’s necessary against harassers; *that’s why it continues*. Why do you think those HR women are so rare? HR’s full of women, and I will leave you to guess how often women are counseled privately by HR staff to move out of the harasser’s reach, because taking the guy on is a fight they can’t win and the company doesn’t want to have. Meaning that it’ll be open season on that employee till she leaves.

    Link to this
  31. 31. Amy Charles 11:38 pm 10/23/2013

    Apart from which, M Tucker, where’s your responsibility in all this? You’re just going to stand by as an onlooker, tut-tutting women who’re being victimised? Oh congratulations, you were appalled by the 1970s accusations that feminists were lesbians (!) (Because, you know, it’s such an awful thing, to be a lesbian.) When have you called out male co-workers on harassment, or taken matters to HR when you’ve seen a man preying on a woman? Ever offered to testify in court or in front of an ombudsman? Offered to help fund the lawsuit of a woman who’s filed against her employer? Hired a woman who’s been blacklisted because she fought? Gone to conferences and been the killjoy who spoke out against the objectification of women there?

    Where’s your bona fides, man, before you start telling women what to do? Or was it all standing there in the 1970s refusing to believe things?

    Link to this
  32. 32. Jennifer Ouellette 11:42 pm 10/23/2013

    I’m gonna step in here and commend everyone for what has actually been a remarkably level-headed discussion. And now maybe it’s time take a deep breath and count to three before tackling things again in the AM? :)

    Seriously, I wish all my comment threads were like this. Thanks everyone.

    Link to this
  33. 33. jstahle 8:56 am 10/24/2013

    As a young man I learned what sexual harassment looks like. Middle aged women, sometimes, but not always entoxicated, grabbed different bodyparts, e.g. buttocks without blushing.

    The reaction when I protested were in line with “as a man you should be delighted/…”. Lots of men and women think a man should love to have sex with any woman.

    Link to this
  34. 34. Manes 9:58 am 10/24/2013

    Way, way back in the thread there was a discussion of cognitive dissonance, and how we can deal with cognitive biases which can lead us to where we are, to stereotypes, to confirmation bias, to a lack of acknowledgment of how our behavior affects others.

    This is a huge problem, and lies at the intersection of cognitive psychology, social psychology, and political theory. How should we treat others? What is a just regime? What is human nature and how does it inform, or even dictate, how we interact?

    And then just today, this discussion of Joshua Greene’s new book comes up. Learning about ourselves really can save the day. I don’t know about the experience of women, so I try hard not to think that it is my place to comment on the experience of women. I am not in the place of other marginalized groups, so I do likewise.

    I firmly believe in my own fallibility and to me that is the path of understanding others and of peace. I know that sounds like a load of malarkey, but it is how I feel. It won’t stop me from calling out racism or sexism, as I have and will.

    Anyway, here the nice read alluded to above, although it does overdichotomize the “emotional brain” and “rational brain” distinction, oversimplifying the science of how unified cognition arises from a balancing of more emotional (and bodily) sensations and from a calculation of utility (see Antonio Damasio’s work for more)…

    Link to this
  35. 35. Jennifer Ouellette 10:38 am 10/24/2013

    Thanks for the link!

    #33: Yes, I focused on women and sexual harassment but it’s quite true that men, too, experience it. It comes down to boundaries: how do we effectively set them, and the importance of respecting the boundaries of others. Because what’s okay for one person might make another uncomfortable, and vice versa. People start feeling harassed when their boundaries are repeatedly ignored. And sometimes the way we communicate our boundaries are indirect and nonverbal, which means they can be missed by those who might not be as skilled at reading social cues — or don’t want to see how their behavior is affecting others, as pointed out in #34.

    Link to this
  36. 36. rockjohny 2:34 pm 10/24/2013

    Perhaps one can apply the street-wisdom of how guys are taught to deal with bullies in school. Once you stand up to them, they usually back down. I popped a few in the nose and never had a problem again. I’m not suggesting hitting anyone but the point is to make the experience of picking on you painful so they will hesitate before doing it again whether that’s making their actions known in a really loud voice in front of their peers or reporting them to HR. It’s a scary thing to stand up for yourself, not knowing what the consequences will be but i always felt better for it and had another story to tell.

    Link to this
  37. 37. mairzy.doats 3:44 pm 10/24/2013

    I am currently 80 years of age. When I was a very young, very innocent and green, at one of my first jobs at Teletype Corp’s office, a man there took total DELIGHT in making me very embarrased. He knew my name was Marilynn, but insisted on calling me Gloria. He’d slide by me with a very leering look, swaying his crotch area as close as poossible, and say “Look Gloria – I’m wearing my BALLROOM pants!” He dragged out with much emphasis on the word Ballroom. He’d leave laughing at me.

    Say what you want, but this seriously embarrasses me whenever I think of it now, which I do when reminded of sexual harassment. He took such delight because he knew how embarrassed I was. Everyone else pretended not to notice. I had no help from anyone.

    Link to this
  38. 38. mairzy.doats 3:45 pm 10/24/2013

    Thank you for this article! I’m not the only one who feels the pain.

    Link to this
  39. 39. Jennifer Ouellette 5:56 pm 10/24/2013

    A few more depressing/upsetting stories. This woman actually handled the harassment pretty well, but took a big emotional toll to do so.

    Link to this
  40. 40. Amy Charles 12:41 am 10/27/2013

    It occurs to me — I think it’s going to be very difficult, even with crisp diction, to put across the idea that Taking A Stand is often a recipe for job loss and various other kinds of damage.

    I am betting that people who cling to the idea that if only women did this, there’d be no sexual harassment, have serious trouble accepting “victim” as a possible state, because it freaks them out deeply to think of themselves as victims. It’s just not an acceptable thought. Which means, through overidentification, that it’s not possible for people they like or view as allies to be helpless victims, either.

    I’ve had this conversation more than once with men, and it’s ended with me yelling and them shocked and embarrassed and admitting that they just didn’t want to think of me as [insert variety of helpless]. Partly because of their own squeamishness around the idea of helplessness, and partly because they enjoyed fetishizing me as an asskicking woman. And partly because it left them feeling helpless, a feeling they abhorred and wanted to get away from asap.

    When you look at it, the layers of messed-up ideas about women wrapped around the issue of harassment…it’s really kind of impressive. But it all adds up to one loud message: Do Not Make Us Deal With This.

    Which makes me suspect that these problems roll on primarily because of issues that men have with men, and are afraid of grappling with. And my guess is that’s the thing that prompted those pangs of “we should’ve done something” from some of the guys early on in all this — which sounded strange to me at the time.

    Link to this
  41. 41. KMersino 1:47 pm 11/4/2014

    I am currently an undergraduate at Miami University, and while my workplace isn’t necessarily in offices and cubicles, I view going to my classes and lectures similarly as going to any other daily job. I am there to work. I’ve recently been doing some research on sexual harassment/assault and have become more aware about the prevalence of this issue as a whole. But the one thing that Jennifer, your post has made me consider is that there are differences in the way in which sexual harassment is handled based on where it occurs. Whether it occurs on a college campus, workplace, or even just in general. I have noticed that more and more women who have been sexually harassed/assaulted on campuses across the nation are becoming more willing to speak out against their offenders. Perhaps this is because now we are getting clearer definitions of what constitutes sexual assault/harassment with each person who is considered a victim and there are numerous resources for women to reach out and tell someone what happened.

    I could envision this wave of women/men with a zero tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment/assault from these colleges entering the professional workplace and altering this mindset of, as Jennifer mentioned in her post, ruining a man’s career and family life by speaking out. Not that people are to become ruthless and go actively looking for signs of sexual harassment, but to not be afraid of keeping oneself feeling safe in their environment.

    Link to this
  42. 42. jtman9200 7:41 pm 11/21/2014

    What I was taught when I was in school about sexual harassment was this, “Sexual harassment is any uninvited physical or verbal advance on another person”. I’m not sure if that definition stands to this day but I have tried to make sure I live by it. Sometimes I think we have to see sexual harassment with our own eyes to see how big of issue it is.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article