Not again

Oh good god. Another one.

Read this, from last year: This happened, by Monica Byrne.

When you do the first thing you’ll see is the update today, naming the guy in question.

UPDATE, 10/14/13: The man is Bora Zivkovic, Blogs Editor for Scientific American. There’s no reason for me anymore not to name him publicly, which I’d long wanted to do anyway. Reading about this incident is what reminded me (independent of whether or not he had anything to do with that post’s original deletion, which I don’t know).

So you know what’s coming.

A month ago I met with a prominent science editor and blogger. He’d friended me on Facebook, and given his high profile, I was delighted, thinking he was interested in my writing.

But guess what, it turned out he was interested in getting in her pants. Silly women, always thinking people are interested in their writing.

He began describing his own experience of going to a strip club. Then he described himself as “a very sexual person.” Then he told me about his wife’s sexual and mental health history. Then he began telling me about his dissatisfaction with his current sex life with his wife. Then he reminded me that he was “a very sexual person.” Then he told me, in an awful lot of detail, about how he almost had an affair with a younger woman he’d been seeing at conferences—how they’d met, how it escalated, how “close they’d come.”

Fabulous! She’s there to talk about writing and science and blogs, and he’s there to talk about what a sexual person he is.

Afterwards, on reflection, she wrote to him.

Since meeting, I’ve felt a lot of reluctance about pitching to you, and I wanted to let you know why. I felt very uncomfortable during our meeting last week. The talk veered towards sex because you led it there—first describing yourself as a “very sexual person,” and then going on to describe your wife’s sexual history (which I can’t imagine she’d want me to know), the state of your present sex life, and the near-affair you had with a younger woman. I thought all of these topics were incredibly inappropriate to discuss with someone you’d just met, especially one who was interested in working together in a professional capacity and had initiated the meeting as such. Why didn’t I say anything in the moment? Because I wanted to write for [redacted], and you held power insofar as whether or not that would happen (and still do). I was particularly upset that, despite other indications that you’re aware of the difficulties women face in terms of harassment, that you didn’t seem to be aware that your behavior towards me was part of that same problem. So I’m letting you know. 

That’s the part that makes me furious – she wanted to write for SciAm blogs and he held the power and he used it to get what he wanted regardless of how painful that would be for her. “Oh, write for the blog? Hahahaha no, honey, I just want to fuck you.”

Guys, don’t do that.

Don’t do that.

He apologized, sort of.

I did appreciate the note, to some degree. Especially the clear admission that he did something wrong.

But, surprise, this is far from the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of sexual harassment from an older man in a position of power, and in my experience, offenders are often serial offenders. Apparently abject apologies, and claims that “you’re the only one,” “these are special circumstances” or “this is the only time this has happened,” have often proven hollow after further investigation. Recently there’ve been blowups in the spec lit community, the atheist community, and now the theatre community over behavior like this. In many cases, it seems clear that the harasser in question is a known serial harasser, long tolerated by his community because of his status or reputation.

Yeah. Can we stop doing that soon?


H/t Kausik.


  1. screechymonkey says

    What exactly is supposed to be conveyed by the information that “I’m a very sexual person”?

    Is it “I really like sex — unlike most people, who totally hate it”?
    Or “I’m really good at sex — and if I say it, it must be true”?
    Or “I am so focused on sex that I refuse to acknowledge boundaries and behave appropriately, because SEX!”?

    Ok, maybe the better question is, why does anyone think this is a productive thing to say?

  2. Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

    “I’m a very sexual person” almost invariably translates to “I needed an excuse for violating people’s boundaries”, so whenever they’re caught in a compromising situation they can just say “Well, I told them I was a very sexual person!”.
    It’s pre-emptive victim-blaming. 😐

  3. says

    I’ve always suspected that for men who tell women that, it’s something they’d like to hear a woman say, and they’re projecting this onto women. Similar to men who send women unsolicited penis pictures. I’d guess that it’s very rare that any woman wouldn’t be put off by the “sexual person” thing. It sounds kind of predatory, kind of insulting (“I’m generally interested in sex, and you happen to be here”), and kind of just silly.

  4. says

    I was going to say his behavior here is socially inappropriate, but nothing particularly remarkable. It’s not like he tried to pressure her back to his room or joked about raping her. Then I realized that in itself is remarkable. I may have been desensitized for the scandals. We have to be careful to not let “better than D.J. Groethe” be our line of acceptable behavior.

  5. miraxpath says

    Just indicates how much of our culture is so saturated with harassing behaviour by men that even the nice guys are serial offenders.

  6. Andrew B. says

    “What exactly is supposed to be conveyed by the information that ‘I’m a very sexual person’?”

    Plausible deniability. If she were to respond favorably, he might escalate the sex talk. If she responded negatively, he could act confused and clarify that he was simply mentioning it, just because, you know, private details of one’s sex life is a normal thing to mention to a stranger and he CERTAINLY wasn’t trying to suggest something. Granted, that’s clumsy as fuck, but he doesn’t seem to be terribly suave anyway.

  7. Claire Ramsey says

    Something on these lines happened to me in my senior year of college in 1972. I thought “my professor thinks I’m smart.” And he thought “What’s in those pants?” I was crushed, confused, ashamed, and plunged into a state of absolutely no confidence. Embarrassed and mortified that I was so stupid and naive. And that goddamn state lasted fifteen fucking years. It is infuriating to see the exact same thing still going on. To hell with Bora Z. To hell with them all and their bullshit “I am a very sexual person.” Who the HELL DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?

  8. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    Oh, no, not Bora!

    It’s a feeler. I got them from my dental surgeon when he was dissatisfied with his wife. I avoided the conversation. They eventually divorced. Someone who’s looking for a new partner sometimes just lets it leak into all sorts of situations.

    I’ve seen people do it to others. They flirt. They don’t know how the conversation got so sexy so fast, it just happened. Maybe because they suggested a waffle costume for Halloween so they could lick off the syrup. Why, that random thought just came out of nowhere!

    That doesn’t make it OK but it sure is human nature. Evolutionary, even. “Nothing propinks like propinquity.”

  9. quixote says

    It’s not human nature. Woman are human and manage to keep their desires focused in unobjectionable ways. (And, no, that’s not because men are always ready. Just watch a guy’s reaction when an unexpected woman hits on him. He gets more than offended. He generally flips straight into patriarchy enforcement with threats.) If women can keep to themselves, men can too. The ones who don’t are entitled sexist jerks. The opposite of “very sexual.”

  10. says

    It’s wearing me out. Not revelations, those definitely should happen. The fact that person after person who has seemed like someone who gets it, turns out to be just another predator, with one of half a dozen variants on the same fucking script as every other time. :/

    Know what I’d like to see, sometime? A situation like this responded to by large groups of men, outraged and vocal, that another of their brothers has so badly let them down, and calling for an appropriate response. And a few will do so.

    But we know how it’ll go. It always goes the same. The whispers start, the people come together, find out that they’re whispering about the same person, and then the defenders arrive en masse, to excuse everything away and explain why it’s totally different this time and it was only that once, yer honour, I promise! and on and fucking on.

    So. Fucking. Wearying. Which I know is what they want. Sometimes the teaspoon gets heavy, is all.

  11. says

    Well I wanted to believe his apology and it was only one time, rather naive bit of wanting to think the best of people. But in the space of minutes there are 2-3 people on the original post saying Bora has done the same thing to them. Given the likelihood of these people being liars primed to destroy someone’s career is vanishingly small I think he should be sacked. Really even without the accounts destroying his “one time only” defence he should be sacked. One time is one time too many given the effect it has on those subject to it. Not at all convinced that will happen given their awful response to DNLee’s post.

  12. Bjarte Foshaug says

    I was particularly upset that, despite other indications that you’re aware of the difficulties women face in terms of harassment, that you didn’t seem to be aware that your behavior towards me was part of that same problem. So I’m letting you know.

    That’s the part that makes me furious – she wanted to write for SciAm blogs and he held the power and he used it to get what he wanted regardless of how painful that would be for her.

    Exactly. Bottom line, the things people do when they think they can get away with it always reveal more about their character than the apologies they offer in retrospect. I will disagree with Byrne on one thing. I think Zivkovic was perfectly “aware” that his behavior towards her was part of the problem. As a “very sexual person” just didn’t care enough to let it get in the way of his desire to seek personal gratification on women’s expense. Asshole.

  13. Kilian Hekhuis says

    “What exactly is supposed to be conveyed by the information that “I’m a very sexual person”?” – “I have a great libido”?

  14. robscentury says

    @quixote #10.

    Women aren’t monolithic any more than any other group of human beings. I’ll grant that it’s rarer because of societal norms, but it does happen and I know first hand.

    When I was in college, I had a similar experience with a woman who was my de facto boss who had tricked me into what she apparently thought was a date. I was a paid Big Brother to her son who had some issues. She asked me to work late so we could take her son to the circus. When I got there, neither her son nor husband were to be found anywhere. The conversation over the course of the night was eerily similar to the above, but circus-themed.

    Thankfully due to my straight cis male privilege it became little more than a story I drag out occasionally and the only response I ever get is “Aww, man that is *SO COOL!* Did you do it?”

    It was NOT cool, and no I didn’t. It was weird and awkward and at the time I didn’t think anyone would believe me…because a) women “don’t do that” and b) she was a fairly attractive woman so I didn’t think anyone would believe me that the attention was unwanted. [Despite her being married and me being in a relationship.]

    I was never afraid of my job nor physical being. and I’ve only ever had to deal with that kind of situation a few times (all in a three year block from 17-20, other two were from men). I can only imagine what both having to deal with this kind of crap all the time and the added fear factor would add to this. It’s BS and people should stop it.

  15. says

    Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. That’s all I can think about this kind of thing anymore. Man, I want to be a science write, an author, an academic. I want to present at conferences. I want to communicate the cool things being done to the general public. What I don’t want is to be surrounded by a bunch of skeeves with no respect for people’s boundaries… or people in general (especially female people, apparently). But apparently they’re everywhere.

  16. carlie says

    I’m sorry for you bloggers who have to deal with it also – it’s got to be difficult to have someone you are friends with be someone you also have to write about.

  17. medivh says

    CatieCat: I’m only one man, and can’t yell very loudly as I don’t have an audience of my own… but I hope it helps your weariness to hear me say that I’m shocked and outraged at Bora’s behaviour, and that I’m outraged that it’s this bloody common among my gender.

    I’m pretty sick of hearing of men act like creeps and then get excused with the whole “boys will be boys” thing, too. Not only because that attitude assumes I’m woefully sociopathic because I’m one of these boys, but mostly because I hate how much pain is being caused in my name.

  18. johnthedrunkard says

    Perhaps the most squirm-enducing thought that comes to me:

    “an older man in a position of power”

    Isn’t this almost the universal template for romantic/sexual partnerships for young women? This is fundamentally wrong in a way that gets ignored unless some OTHER relationship, e.g. publisher-to-writer is subverted or prevented by the sick dynamic of sex corrupted by power.

  19. leftwingfox says

    Yeah, another guy feeling like shit here.

    Bora was one of my favourite science bloggers back in the day. His puzzle analogy for the scientific process is still one of my favourite posts.

    I lost track after a couple blog moves, but this is still a punch in the gut. Guys, don’t DO that! *sad angry muttering*

  20. ApostateltsopA says

    I don’t know Bora, but I am checking in as another guy sick of guys behaving this way. Sick of the whole “two heads” can’t control ourselves meme and the incumbent bs


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