Sexual harrassment

clh at clh at
Tue Oct 27 10:43:01 EST 1992

In article <1ci36eINNrno at>, ah690549 at 
(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?). 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). 

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. 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 just 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.

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
EGI, Dept of Zoology
South Parks Road		formerly: chris at	
Oxford OX1 3PS			Still reading UseNet 
ENGLAND				for the signatures.

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