March 5, 2016

"Since I started writing about women and science, my female colleagues have been moved to share their stories with me..."

"... my inbox is an inadvertent clearinghouse for unsolicited love notes," writes geobiology prof A. Hope Jahren in the NYT.
Sexual harassment in science generally starts like this: A woman (she is a student, a technician, a professor) gets an email and notices that the subject line is a bit off: “I need to tell you,” or “my feelings.” The opening lines refer to the altered physical and mental state of the author: “It’s late and I can’t sleep” is a favorite, though “Maybe it’s the three glasses of cognac” is popular as well.
That's strangely miswritten. It's not possible to believe that the exact phrase “Maybe it’s the three glasses of cognac” appears and reappears with frequency. I'm going to assume what's meant is that the subject lines refer not specifically to 3 cognacs but generally to drinking. Let's continue:
The author goes on to tell her that she is special in some way, that his passion is an unfamiliar feeling that she has awakened in him, the important suggestion being that she has brought this upon herself. He will speak of her as an object with “shiny hair” or “sparkling eyes” — testing the waters before commenting upon the more private parts of her body. Surprisingly, he often acknowledges that he is doing something inappropriate. I’ve seen “Of course you know I could get fired for this” in the closing paragraph; the subject line of the email sent to my former student was “NSFW read at your own risk!”...

Perhaps she decides to ignore this first email... Once satisfied with her tendency toward secrecy, the sender then finds a way to get her alone: invites her to coffee, into his office, out for some ostensibly group event. At said meeting he will become tentatively physical, insisting that if people knew, they just wouldn’t understand. At this point, any objection on her part wouldn’t just be professionally dangerous, it would seem heartless....
Oh, I don't know. Why isn't it also "heartless" to deprive this man of the basic information that he is not experiencing a successful response to his attempt to go on a date?
Then there are conferences, field trips, cocktail hours and retreats, whispering co-workers, rolling eyes and sadly shaking heads. On and on it goes, and slowly she realizes that he’s not going to stop because he doesn’t have to....
Why is this smart woman so absurdly slow?

If you read on, you'll see that this shockingly uncommunicative woman finally deals with her problem by leaving the field of science.


YoungHegelian said...

No, no, sweetheart, don't go leaving science behind!

There's a place for you, & all women scientists who feel unloved or unwanted by their fellows. The glaciers are there to welcome you**!

** I only wish this was parody.

gspencer said...

"and leaves the field of science"

Here's the answer to that claim, "Cut the s__t! Enough with all the narratives!"

rhhardin said...

Geobiologists like flowers.

rhhardin said...

There's always the women's workplace issues committee when the isolation of male science needs to be escaped.

Laslo Spatula said...

"Why is this smart woman so absurdly slow?"

Because she is in the Sciences. Social skills have been sacrificed for greater knowledge.

This explains the men, too: they are ignored by women, then -- Wow! -- there is one right in front of them that likes the things he does!

How can this not be Destined?

How can I always be with her?

How can I keep her from escaping?

No, really: I have her in the basement. How can I keep her from escaping?

It was an accident, I swear!

Where do I bury her?

The Women in the Sciences that DO have Social Skills don't actually do science: they are usually Project Managers. Strong Excel skills.

I am Laslo.

traditionalguy said...

He needs to try breathing hot co2 in her ear. That causes a warming atmosphere and rising sea of love levels. If that doesn't always work, try a hope for promotion and a nice car and beach condo. That will work.

Terry said...

It is difficult to believe that the essay was written by a scientist. There is little effort to find the truth. Instead she repeats feminist cliches:

Plenty of explanations have been offered as to why women leave science, but the reason doesn’t appear to be performance. The University of Washington found no difference in G.P.A. between the women who remained and those who transferred out of its STEM programs from 1991 to 1996. Within the same study, women reported both isolation and intimidation as barriers blocking their scholarly path; and while 23 percent of freshmen reported not having experienced these barriers, only 3 percent of seniors did.

Self-reported information about 'feelings' is now science? Is this woman 'scientist' a biologist or something?
Maybe the reason there are fewer female scientists than male scientists is because men are better at science than women are?
You never read an NYT article about how we need to address the lack of female diesel mechanics.

tds said...

Hypothesis: men are way better than women in managing harem of romantic interests

Laslo Spatula said...

Science Women usually make the best Coffee. Seriously.

Over their years they have beavered out the ideal weights and measures to ensure the optimal cup of coffee.

Then they get all bitchy when you ask them to make you a cup.

Yes: I did say "beavered".

I am Laslo.

Michael K said...

Fantasy life.

JAORE said...

Don't you just hate it when a guy won't take "....." for an answer?

jr565 said...

Who would believe you were a beauty indeed
When the days get shorter and the nights get long
Lie awake when the rain comes
Nobody will know, when you're old
When you're old, nobody will know
That you was a beauty, a sweet sweet beauty
A sweet sweet beauty, but stone stone cold
You're so cold, you're so cold, cold, cold
You're so cold, you're so cold

chillblaine said...

Why is this smart woman so absurdly slow?

Woman needs to be flattered.

jr565 said...

She has female privilege. She doesn't have to ask men out to get dates. Men generally do. If she did,she'd know that when men do it its a hit or miss type proposition. And a numbers game.
It would certainly be harrassment if he didnt take no for an answer and actually harrased her. But is expressing mild interest over getting to know someone over an email suddenly harrassment in and of itself?
If he's genuinely stalking her, then OF COURSE its harrassment. But tell the guy, sorry, I have a boyfriend. And see if he leaves you alone.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Many women, in this prude and lazy country, put their sense of sexual "self-worth" into the identities of those who admire them. Instead of dismissing, politely appreciating, dissuading or participating in a man's interest in them, they obsess over who he is and what that means or should mean to them. They refuse to have any sexual or romantic agency, and assume that any guy should just clairvoyantly know (and appreciate!) if he's "beneath" her exalted consideration or not. Beforehand. They find it traumatic to be liked by "the wrong" guy. He committed the grievous sin of admitting to an attraction that he was too ghastly to understand could in no way ever merit its consideration, let alone its reciprocation.

This is a very stupid country. It can't even get the most basic of interactions right, at least as long as "equality" is any consideration.

Sebastian said...

"Why is this smart woman so absurdly slow?" No. She quickly figured out how to milk this for maximum advantage. Let's see: she's a victim, worthy of sympathy, superior to crude men, feminist heroine, and now has the perfect excuse for leaving evil science.

MadisonMan said...

Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

If women don't want these kinds of emails, they should forward them to the entire departmental listserv.

That will quickly end many many things.

Bob said...

Good grief, if that doesn't sound exactly like a female romance-novel version of Penthouse Forum! "I never believed those letters you published about female students and their professors until it happened to me! I always considered myself unattractive, and my professor (with three degrees from Harvard!) unapproachable, until the department Christmas party and he had his third glass of cognac...."

loudogblog said...

jr565, that's a great point. Nothing cools my jets faster than when someone actually says "I'm seeing someone" or "I'm not interested." Some people have trouble picking up on the subtler signals (and I'll admit that I'm in that category) and it's not fair to accuse them of harassment if you haven't told them directly what the situation is if the subtle signals fail to achieve the desired result.

dbp said...

A lot of male scientists are fairly beta and cannot bring themselves to forthrightly ask a woman out. So they make a vague hint of interest and are likely to interpret anything other than a definite "no" into a kind of tentative "yes".

I would think this would be obvious to all women and especially to women scientists, but I guess not.

My advice: Men, ask women out in a direct way, be a good sport if she says no and treat her fairly afterwards. Women, if you say no, do so nicely--there is no reason to humiliate a guy who puts himself out there.

Ann Althouse said...

"Sunshine is the best disinfectant. If women don't want these kinds of emails, they should forward them to the entire departmental listserv. That will quickly end many many things."

That shouldn't be the first response, if the first email received is just some socially awkward guy attempting to ask for a date. He doesn't have to be humiliated. Start with something that just expresses your lack of interest, like "Thanks, but I can't." He might stop at that point. Why does everyone have to be so cruel? Some people actually want to be asked on dates. This columnist seems to be saying there should be a flat rule against ever asking anyone out. Is that the rule that is wanted? Consider it, then make it and publicize it, then the failure to follow the rule is wrong, because it's been deemed wrong. Or make some other rule. But seriously, why can't those who receive invitations just refuse them in a clear enough way that the guy knows he's got no chance. That should end it. If it doesn't, then the guy is a problem.

Rhythm and Balls said...

In contrast to Professor Althouse's very well-reasoned response, MadisonMan just seems to hate being a man and thinks being demeaned as such is an important part of gender relations.

I would never think of humiliating a woman who simply showed an unreciprocated interest in me. I don't care how unattractive she is. It's a nice thing for people to like you. If you don't like them in that way, find a way to be nice about explaining what the unbridgeable difference is, and polite in showing them the encouragement to move on. It's really not all that complicated folks; it's just not anti-social. People don't become stalkers just by liking you. And if they do, there are effective ways of dealing with that.

There is no reason to be "offended" by how unattractive your admirer is to you. To even think that way shows a nasty arrogance that I cannot begin to even comprehend.

This country does not know how to deal with the most basic of emotions.

LYNNDH said...

Ah, this only happens in the Sciences? This woman is in for a rude awaking when it happens in her new chosen field,unless of course she becomes a Nun. It may be that male scientists are more inept than in other work places because they have poor social skills, as poor as the women scientists.

MadisonMan said...

Never put in an email something you don't want to see on the front page of the local newspaper.

That's especially true of initial awkward romantic advances.

I would not counsel my daughter to rat out a guy after the first email -- as Althouse says, just a No would suffice. But after two or three for a guy (*or girl*) who doesn't take the hint? Why not? It would be pretty effective.

n.n said...

Boy-girl relationships 101. People who opt for the lib sex course are missing a lot. A lot.

Bill Peschel said...

Coincidentally, I heard an hour ago an example of how a woman can abandon the sciences.

My wife ran into a friend at the grocery store. He told her about his daughter, who in high school was getting great grades in math and the sciences and was interested in pursuing engineering.

She asked her guidance counselor, who suggested that she follow her bliss instead.

She agreed and went to college to be a graphic artist, raking up $30K in student debt that will probably take her a decade to pay off.

buwaya puti said...

Just like the cliche'ed doctor who marries his nurse, I am an engineer who married his technical writer. Under modern circumstances people generally find their mates at work.
If this becomes impossibly difficult through changes in fashions and mores there will be much less mating.

Sal said...

This country does not know how to deal with the most basic of emotions.""

Canadians never have these types of problems.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Never put in an email something you don't want to see on the front page of the local newspaper.

Your regular communications must be with people a lot more boring than mine are.

Who lives like this? Seriously.

No written communications in which any sense of respect for the other person prevails over an unattainably perfect propriety?

Is it any wonder that effective communication is a lost cause in this country? We're not even allowed to attempt to express ourselves without fear of ridicule over-riding the effort. Which of course only exacerbates the problem described.

What a wonderful comments section we can have here - as long as it's confined to pseudonyms.

Ann Althouse said...

"I would not counsel my daughter to rat out a guy after the first email -- as Althouse says, just a No would suffice. But after two or three for a guy (*or girl*) who doesn't take the hint? Why not? It would be pretty effective."

How about: Please, I don't want email like this. I'm serious.

Then: Come on, you're embarrassing yourself. What if I were to put this on the email list? Just kidding, but it's an option that has crossed my mind. In short, you need to stop.

Unknown said...

Ann Althouse said...Why does everyone have to be so cruel? Some people actually want to be asked on dates.

Some might, but some will report the sender for sexual harassment on the first email. That action would be celebrated, not considered cruel. When these guy's emails (allegedly) say "I know I could lose my job for this" they're right.
Now, it's not great idea to hit on coworkers (or, of course subordinates). You can get away with that kind of thing if you're Bill Clinton or David Letterman, but if you're not and the person you hit on feels like ending your career, it's over.
Isn't using email as the first "romantic" contact itself a sign of social awkwardness?

Mildly Relevant SNL Short

Schorsch said...

There's a power mismatch. She doesn't reject him because she's afraid he'll retaliate. If she says nothing maybe he'll just drop it. In science, your advisor has an enormous influence on your success. A bad relationship can sink a career.

robother said...

Had we but world enough and time
This coyness, Lady were no crime....

ken in tx said...

I read somewhere, maybe here, that men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them. And they might if they laugh at the wrong time.

Schorsch said...

I'm a scientist (PhD'd, tenure-track). From my perspective this is the key phrase to understand why sexual politics in science are particularly fraught:

"From grad-school admission on up through tenure, every promotion can hinge on a recommendation letter’s one key passage of praise, offered — or withheld — by the most recent academic adviser."

Our fields are so narrow, if your advisor doesn't deliberately advocate for you, you're sunk. And sunk doesn't mean not advancing, it means out of science. For 90%+ of scientists, you either get tenure or you don't have a job.

That's why there _are_ rules prohibiting dating. There's just too much at stake for the subordinate.

Michael K said...

" his daughter, who in high school was getting great grades in math and the sciences and was interested in pursuing engineering."

My daughter was my last hope of getting a kid in medical school (out of five kids, two lawyers) and was good in math and science.

Nothing doing. She wouldn't even listen to me about Accounting. She majored in French because she loves France and is drifting along at 25. A few comments about going back for some accounting now.

rhhardin said...

Hold the presses! Via Tim Blair, feminist glaciology

Glaciers are key icons of climate change and global environmental change. However, the relationships among gender, science, and glaciers – particularly related to epistemological questions about the production of glaciological knowledge – remain understudied. This paper thus proposes a feminist glaciology framework with four key components: 1) knowledge producers; (2) gendered science and knowledge; (3) systems of scientific domination; and (4) alternative representations of glaciers. Merging feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology, the feminist glaciology framework generates robust analysis of gender, power, and epistemologies in dynamic social-ecological systems, thereby leading to more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions.

Zach said...

Is there any reason why science has to be part of this story?

Women in male dominated profession get asked out on dates. Some of the men are awkward about it. Film at 11.

I agree with Althouse. First you display basic interpersonal skills. If things are actually a problem, you take appropriate action. If you're not willing to clearly state that you're not interested, how is a third party supposed to be able to do that for you?

Zach said...

A basic rule of human interaction:

If you're not willing to say what you want, you can't complain when you don't get what you want.

Jeff said...

I don't think Ann's suggested first response "Thanks, but I can't" is direct enough. The fact that the initial approach is being made through email rather than in person is enough to tell you that this guy does not have the social skills to take a hint. You can be polite but still clear. Just tell him "You and I are not going to have any kind of romantic relationship."

And tell him that in person. Emails can become public, and none of this is anyone else's business.

Char Char Binks said...

Everybody knows male scientists are soulless automatons who should never engage in any kind of romantic or sexual behavior whatsoever. Unless they're rich, of course.

rcocean said...

"But is expressing mild interest over getting to know someone over an email suddenly harrassment in and of itself?"

Remember the whole Rebecca Watson brouhaha? Some guy asked her to come to his room for a cup of coffee and it was portrayed as Elevator rape.

As for the subject at hand. Its a lot kinder to tell the guy upfront that you aren't interested then to lead him on, get his hopes up, and then lower the boom. Most men past the age of 20 are used to being told "No thank you" when asking for a date.