I had no intention whatsoever to write about the recent drama in the science writing world re: accusations of sexual harassment. I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers here, just state how the chatter affected me. I felt like I was reading a bad romance novel. I experienced very similar reactions and thoughts like Christie Wilcox, who was also unrattled and numbed by the news. But not because I had heard rumors- I had NOT- but because I was stunned how it all went so public and so personal. It spurred the question: what would I have done if I was in the victim’s shoes?
I first thought: wow, people’s careers and marriages are on the line. Is all this laundry hanging necessary- the emails, the public shaming? If it weren’t for our connectedness to the internet and distance to people, would this have been handled differently?
But I wasn’t the one feeling harassed, so I can’t really write from that perspective. I can only predict from my (ergonomic) armchair. Who’s to say what sort of second guessing about my career the harassment would have dug up; I do enough of it in relationships. I still support the women involved, but I think I probably would not have put myself out there if it was me. However, I have had a very different career upbringing.
Most of my 20 years out in the adult world has seen me working in fields dominated by men- in remote areas like Africa, on an all mens soccer team, in survival situations for television, diving, and floating on ships and fishing vessels in the Bering Sea. Flirting, lewd comments, dirty jokes- it’s all just part of being around tough, women-starved, sea-hardened men. The banter is usually mutual, and often times like a secret language of the mission. Sometimes you get more cooperation if you can hold your own, you get more honesty, more light into the world you are working in. You became one of the guys, which, as a tomboy, felt more comfortable than working around women that could be catty. It helped to have tough skin, not bat your eyes or act like a sheltered female. Which didn’t always work in other situations, because discovering someone unfriended me on Facebook would bum me out. If anyone ever touched me, though, you damn well bet I would come out swinging (as seen by my performance here). If anything really offended me or crossed a line, I would speak up. However, I have a higher tolerance than most. So I wonder–should I?
I think it’s up to women and men to educate themselves where the lines are, and feel strong and responsible enough to know when to speak up if feeling sexually harassed, so it doesn’t eat us up later, snowball, then turn into the scandal that’s befallen Scientific American (though some of these issues were voiced many moons ago). I believe we really should check in with ourselves- we are our best gauge- and ask, “is this conversation appropriate for me?” The issue I thought was highlighted this past week seemed to be, should we feel we represent all women in general, and speak out against all levels of harassment? I think that is a hard call- and one I can’t make.
We all have different tolerances to interactions from the opposite sex, so setting any legal guidelines about sexual harassment such as the NASW might want to do won’t necessarily apply across the board. It’s a moving boundary. And trying to do so could make things really uncomfortable at these conferences where meeting people, swapping stories, and breaking the ice is part of the mission. If anything it could lead to a very constrained atmosphere and put the kabash on drinking with colleagues (god forbid)! It seems smart to check in with others, have a safety line if needing to complain, and just be vigilant of what could be misconstrued as inappropriate. Be transparent with your intentions. Overall, I agree with many colleagues: Laura Helmuth of Slate nailed it with, “Don’t be a creep”
I guess what I discovered from this introspection is that I wouldn’t be the first to hang myself out there if I suspected more was at stake than just my personal feelings. I don’t think I would have felt justifiably wronged to expose sexual harassment– because I don’t know at what point standing up to it trumps what else is at stake (e.g. careers). However, I feel more confident I would likely follow the lead of those that did step up. And that is a very important lesson for me to know, and perhaps one that I should change.
Therefore, I decided to put my opinion out there (for all those to bash or take out of context). I suppose that is a start to speaking up.