Women in…

When you hear those two words, prepare to cringe. We’ve got Women in Secularism going on today, and while I’ve missed this one, I am embarrassed every time I see one of those asshole men intruding on the conference #hashtag with snide remarks. And now, on the Women In Astronomy site, I’m embarrassed by my manly colleagues in astronomy. Caitlin Casey had to work with this kind of idiocy.

Another male colleague felt comfortable enough to joke about how sexy I was in front of dozens of colleagues at departmental social events.  His overt stares at my breasts (and at ALL women’s bodies in the department) combined with lewd comments were a common topic of coffee break chatter for years. “Oh, he’s always been that way,” folks would tell me, “so-and-so lodged a complaint about him with HR ten years ago and nothing was ever done.”  So I accepted it, until he ratcheted it up a notch to unwelcome hugs and cat calling in the hallway.  He’s the reason I stopped wearing dresses and heals to work, because the experience of wearing them transformed my 10am workplace into a dark, threatening alley I knew better than to walk down.

That was just one guy. There was another professor who pressured her into going on a date with him…it did not go well.

How’d I get myself in this bind? Suffice to say, I was afraid of telling him to back-off since, even though I didn’t work with him or for him, he had direct power over the success of my research program at the time through his administrative role.  Direct. Power.  He ended up testing the waters one last time, asking me on a real date after cornering me during a department social function, and I finally worked up the guts to get the message across: NO.

Then came the avalanche of hate.  His opinion of me took a 180, he started bad-mouthing me and questioning my competence and ability around the department, and before long I began to feel real impact on my research program.  Things were going downhill fast, all the while I had to keep playing a game of ‘Whac-a-Mole’ with the other creeps.  My workplace became a toxic cesspool, but in a way that was invisible to most.

The site has featured a full week of harassment stories: there’s the harasser’s playbook, recommended procedures to handle harassment, legal rights & obligations, and a challenge to those with power to change their behavior. Read them all.


  1. D Carter says

    Why would this embarrass you? Anger maybe, but no embarrassed. The guy is just a jerk, doesn’t agree with you, has nothing to do with you.

    Anyone who pretends that this jerk reflects on you merely because he’s a man and you’re a man–that person is sexist, and you should tell him/her so in front of everyone.

  2. mikeyb says

    Jeez. Science is enough of a challenge in and of itself, without having the added stress of sexist assholes undermining your career by refusing to go out with a total creep.

  3. Becca Stareyes says

    Emotions aren’t always logical. Given I can get secondhand embarrassment from sitcoms because I know that Hapless Character is going to walk into a mess and s/he doesn’t, even if Hapless Character isn’t even real, I can imagine PZ feeling a bit awkward for happening to share a sex and profession with these individuals.

    There’s also the wonder if some of this garbage goes on under the noses of allies, who miss it because they aren’t targeted.

  4. ernezabet says

    I worked in an all male environment, and it was a nightmare that I learned to survive in. You have to figure out all the tricks and who to completely avoid. I was down to baggy jean, big tee shirts and no makeup. Small places were danger zones as fondling was very common. Out of sheer frustration over blatant sexual comments I would ask “Would you like someone to talk to your daughter or wife like that?”. Surprise, and they would completely ignore it. I wouldn’t call them colleagues as that’s too nice of a word. I had a few wonderful, kind gentlemen that I stayed as close to as I could. Upper management was oblivious and refused to even acknowledge the problem. HR was worthless and there gaol was to cover the company’s ass. The results was “I” was the problem. So I learned to keep my mouth shut.
    There is no lesson here. It just is.

  5. brett says


    Surprise, and they would completely ignore it. I wouldn’t call them colleagues as that’s too nice of a word.

    I think these guys tend to make a mental distinction between “their women” (as in their daughters/wives/sisters/mothers), and “strange women” whom they feel free to harass because they don’t “belong” to some other man. It’s like that case with the Judge a while back who related dual accounts of how he threw a shitfit over his daughter wearing a too-skimpy dress to an event, while in the same blogpost talking unashamedly about how he oogled pretty female attorneys who wore shirts that revealed any form of cleavage.

    @Becca Stareyes

    There’s also the wonder if some of this garbage goes on under the noses of allies, who miss it because they aren’t targeted.

    It’s hard to say. I think in one of the other Women in Astronomy posts, it points out that harassers are often known for a while in the community before anything happens because nobody says anything about it*, with the few fortunate new undergraduates getting warned about them by more experienced people.

    * Which I can understand, if they’ve only heard the stories and haven’t had it happen to themselves. Look what happened when PZ reported potential sexual assault allegations relating to a well-known skeptic – the guy turned around and threatened litigation if it wasn’t removed.

  6. playonwords says

    @ D Carter #1 Substitute a synonym for embarrassed – shamed. PZ probably feels shamed by colleagues who act as harassers.

  7. Pen says

    There’s got to be a way to make human resources departments understand that a man who can’t behave professionally, shouldn’t be in a job. I mean, look at it from any angle you like, he’s a time waster. From the point of view of strict economics and productivity, he might as well be sitting in a chair downloading porn on the internet in between arguing for his pay rises. Except that since other staff are involved, he’s actively disruptive of the work at hand and destructive of resources as well.

    I don’t know why the staunchest MRA wouldn’t expect to get fired for a) spending work time on non work-related activities, b) actively interfering with and vandalizing the work efforts of other employees.

  8. microraptor says

    Because with MRAs, it’s all about them. I’ve noticed that MRAs frequently tend to not have much consideration for anything beyond their own gratification.

  9. specduckular says

    Join a fuckin’ union!

    What’s wrong with you people?

    If you’re under duress, see your union rep.

    HR will give a fuck when there’s a picket line outside the front gate.

  10. David Marjanović says

    Anyone who pretends that this jerk reflects on you merely because he’s a man and you’re a man–

    The jerk isn’t just a man, he’s a fellow scientist. Judging from the use of “department”, he’s probably also a university professor.

    There’s also the wonder if some of this garbage goes on under the noses of allies, who miss it because they aren’t targeted.

    That, too. Without Pharyngula, I still would have no fucking idea how common rape is.

    If you’re under duress, see your union rep.

    What if the union rep is just another sexist?

  11. Crimson Clupeidae says

    @1: It’s part of the psychosis (and it’s not all bad, IMO) of society. It’s bad everywhere, but I can really only speak to it in the US.

    The same thing happens in other communities as well. Any association is used to group shame. This is both a powerful tool for correcting bad behaviors (or can be), but it’s also a bad excuse for treating others badly.

    I see it in the cycling (both pedal and motor) communities, both in the internal shaming of bad behavior reflecting poorly on all [insert community/stereotype here] and in painting of said community with a broad brush by outsiders.

    I’m not sure whether the potential, and occasional, good outweighs the bad, but that’s probably a discussion for another thread.