Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Sexy Topic

Oh, hahahaha, I am so mean for picking this title, but I just have to share this since I want to get up and do a little dance for karmic victory.

I was contacted today by someone at my University's Office That Handles Sexual Harrassment.

Ooooooeeeeeeee. Somehow I think there is no possible way for this story to have a boring ending.

There could be an ironic twist of fate: I may find out that this has nothing to do with the ethically questionable behavior I actually witnessed, and might involve other people altogether. Well now that I think about it, maybe I know about other ethically questionable things that this Office would handle...

But I sure hope this is about the totally illegal, extremely uncool stuff I actually witnessed. It's about time somebody did something about it.

Why didn't I report it myself, you might ask?

Well here is a lesson for the younger folks out there:

what goes around (and by that I mean rumors), comes around.

Drop a hint here and there, and eventually the shit will work its way up to the fan. Especially if it's true and more than one person hints at it. And it's less likely that everyone will know you're the one who pointed the finger. Saves you from some of that 'blame-the-messenger' phenomenon we all love so much.

More to the point, reporting someone usually requires that the harrassment actually happened directly to you. While I witnessed some blatantly bad stuff, what I experienced myself was the sort of thing no one could corroborate. Plus it was borderline ignorable. In other words, no single event was that upsetting. But taken together, there was definitely an unprofessional pattern of behavior.

I try not to think about it that much. I've tried to play it very safe and avoid any situations or clothing that might escalate any borderline situations.

Okay, yeah, I felt harrassed. But does anybody really believe that verbal harrassment matters?

I felt like it was not my place to report the physical stuff I knew about mostly indirectly, since it was also borderline consensual, whatever that means. Hard to save people from themselves....

I guess I'm just hoping this person finally reported it herself. But maybe that means something truly horrible happened? It would be really sad if it took something really catastrophic to get her to stand up for herself. Unfortunately I seriously doubt the Office is allowed to tell me who reported it, and exactly what they reported.

Here's hoping we get to do an even better dance soon. You know, the one that goes: Fry, sucker, fry!!

I've been banking on the Karmic Payback Plan. Here's hoping it pays off. I'm probably a bad person for wanting to see this guy get what's coming to him, but it does give me a little bit of glee. Heh heh heh.


At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow.. sounds interesting. if this person really is bad, i hope he gets what he deserves.

can you describe in general terms what had been going on?

inappropriate touching.. sexual suggestions.. etc?

did this guy do it to all the women, just one woman?

does this guy have a reputation for it, or is this just a specific case? (doesn't make it any less wrong, just wondering whether there is a pattern, or if this is office flirting that went too far, which in some cases - either party could be guilty to some large or small extent!)

i didn't know scientists we up to things like that.. :(

At 7:47 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

On a point that I don't invest much in, why assume it was a guy?

But I like the "fry, sucker, fry." Reminds me of a similar situation I was once in, and the guy did get (some of) what he deserved.

At 5:58 AM, Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Prior to going to grad school, I was sexually harassed by my employer (a man), both verbally and physically. He had a clear pattern of harassment with other women and in fact, had a reputation for it. He was sleeping with his female grad student, who told me that she would not get her PhD unless she continued the relationship with him. I don't know what happened to her after I left.

I wanted to report my former employer but didn't, because he told me that he would write a terrible letter of recommendation for me when I applied to grad school. I seriously contemplated leaving science altogether but instead, I changed fields, applied to grad school, found an alternative person to write a recommendation, and was accepted by every graduate school I applied to, except one. By doing this, I effectively silenced my employer as he had done to me for so long.

Scientists are people like everyone else, and are as likely to misbehave, especially when you consider that science is still a male-dominated field.


At 6:38 AM, Anonymous BWJones said...

Here is the deal: People go too easy on these individuals who engage in sexual harassment, but I understand how difficult it can be. The other thing that this post is making apparent to me is how common this is.

In the past, I worked for an organization (as a lowly grad student) who was witnessing a dramatic case of sexual harassment perpetrated by the research director of the company. Nobody was doing anything about it, so I reported the person for sexual harassment and documented everything I witnessed. The case drew out for a while, many parties were brought in, inconvenienced and made part of the process (some willing, some unwilling). Eventually the director was dismissed, but things were never really right either. So, I left the company and entered academia more completely.

This sort of $#!t should never be tolerated from a personal perspective as well as a business perspective as it destroys morale and the structure of organizations and opens them up to litigation and unnecessary expenses and risk. From a personal perspective, it is obviously emotionally damaging.

What's the solution? I don't know. The process of accusing somebody is dangerous and should not be entered into lightly as it can destroy careers (on both sides). But organizations should have more oversight from the top and personal responsibility to reign in behaviour like this.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Dirk the Feeble said...

I don't think they "fry" you for sexual harassment, I'm pretty sure the electric chair is kept out of it.

At 6:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow -- I'm stunned that this sort of thing goes on. Perhaps I am naive (I am, I know), but I just don't expect that in this day and age, people would risk their careers over stupid behavior like this. If it happened, they asked for it.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger AJ Gentile said...

There's nothing wrong with wishing him ill. He's an evil-doer. A black hat.

Everyone loves to see the villain eat lead at the end.

Let us know how the showdown plays out.

At 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's another method--other than (a) putting up with sexist treatment and (b) making yourself a lonely target by reporting it. It used to be pretty standard practice in the 70's, when the women's movement hadn't been thrown into disarray by... but that's another rant. Anyway the third method is: organize. Talk to co-workers and others who you think may have been subjected to the same crap. There is nothing, and I mean that literally, nothing more exhilarating and, yes, liberating, than the realization that it's not your fault and you're not alone. Once you have this solid ground undder your feet, you can then--as a group--decide what to do: confront the wrongdoer (drives them totally nuts), address a joint message to the people in charge, whatever. But the key word is organize. Solidarity. It works--ask the Poles...

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Yes, of course organizing would work if anybody had

a) a spine
b) protection from backlash hostility.

I've had the same problem with postdocs. Someone came into my office today and asked AGAIN why we don't have a national ranking system for PI's, so postdocs can rate their PI and new postdocs can choose accordingly. I had to explain to her that most people are terrified to say what they really think, never realizing that what you end up with when you look the other way is.... well just look at Louisiana. It's horrifying, the stories about the stuff that happened after they declared martial law. Or look at airport security. Why do people put up with this stuff?? Because they're afraid if they say something, it will be worse for them personally. It never occurs to them it might be better for everybody.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger auto911 said...

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