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sexual harrassment

Chris Hitchcock clh at VAX.OX.AC.UK
Wed Oct 28 11:58:21 EST 1992

In article <1ci36eINNrno at gazette.bcm.tmc.edu>, ah690549 at mbcr.bcm.tmc.edu
(Annette C. Hollmann) writes:
> I think that at the undergraduate and graduate levels, sexual harrassment
> is quite rare.
Her reasons are: that if a professor were known to be harasser, word
of mouth would keep women students out of his lab. Since there are few
female-free labs, there must be few harrassers.
Her second reason is that when a student is harrassed, students come
to see the professor in groups, the professor catches on, and wises
up. Unfortuntately, she continues, this reputation will stick with
him throughout his career. Also, this effect deters other would-be
Finally, she says, harassment by other students is usually juvenile,
and that which doesn't stop at age 14 isn't a problem.
There are no statistics here, no evidence for this, just her
impressions (rationalizations? I think we all create beliefs which 
protect us, and as fledgling scientists, women have lots of reasons to 
hope that harrassment doesn't exist). There are many kinds of harassment,
both of the "poisoning the environment" variety ("You girls probably
can't follow this proof" kind of attitudes) and of unwanted
touching, unwanted comments, and even to rape. I've certainly
encountered examples of the first kind. I've heard many examples of
the second type, mainly in the context of women berating themselves
for not knowing how to stop him from doing it. Only a week ago a woman
I was having dinner with offhandedly joked about her discomfort with
her supervisor leaning close to her, rubbing against her. And I know of one
example of the third case within biology which was addressed by the
American NSF (there were witnesses of the rape, and at least 8 victims
came forward in the final case. He has been denied federal funding for 
5 years, but is getting money from other sources to take more young 
women on field trips.).
I don't know the figures on sexual harassment, how frequent it is (or how
often it happens to men). I don't know how many women would tell you
if it had happened to them. However, I'm not convinced by Annette's
arguments. I'll just offer some anecdotal evidence for my scepticism 
and leave it at that.

At a recent conference the issue came up, and I was amazed
at how many women colleagues came out of the woodwork as having been
propositioned, touched, had vindictive actions taken against them when
they fought back and said no. As one woman said, she didn't think
there was any point in taking it any further, she just tried to get
on with her career. She tried to do something, but she was too junior
for her word to be worth anything in the politics of her department.
She ended up being branded as a troublemaker (and probably
worse). So much of academic decisions go on word of mouth
recommendations that the cost of protesting is very high. She does 
seem to be coping, and she's good at what she does so she should 
survive. Still, it takes a toll.
I think we as women do other women a disservice by explaining away
what may have happened without even listening. These women were people
I had met professionally before. They didn't wear signs on their heads
"I have been harassed". There is a shame still to being harassed, an
assumption of his innocence and her vindictiveness, which most women
are afraid of, I think. I don't think all female scientists experience
harassment, but neither do I agree with Annette that it is "quite
Chris Hitchcock                 clh at vax.ox.ac.uk
EGI, Dept of Zoology
South Parks Road                formerly: chris at psych.toronto.edu
Oxford OX1 3PS                  Still reading UseNet
ENGLAND                         for the signatures.

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