Hope Jahren explains that Science Has a Sexual Assault Problem — fieldwork exposes women to terrible risks.
I was careful to do everything right. I started out modestly and cautiously, in the summer of 1996, with simple reconnaissance. I booked a spot within a chaperoned group tour and stayed in prearranged hotel rooms and ate bland meals with the 10 or so elderly Australian tourists who were my travel companions. We rode in an air-conditioned bus for days while I stared out the window and scribbled notes about the roads and cataloged photos of the landscape. I covered my head with a scarf and averted my eyes toward the sidewalk.
And then, one day in the Mediterranean resort town of Antalya, instead of going to the marketplace with the group, I sat in a cafe to study some maps. It was broad daylight when I began walking back to the hotel, and a stranger pulled me into a stairwell — and then did some other things. Perhaps an hour later I staggered out with his blood under my fingernails. I cannot describe what happened in a way you will understand, because I still do not understand it myself. I have been trying to understand it for almost 20 years.
My story is not unique. In July, Kathryn B. H. Clancy and her co-authors Robin G. Nelson, Julienne N. Rutherford and Katie Hinde published a survey of 666 field-based scientists in the journal PLoS One and reported that 26 percent of the female scientists surveyed had been sexually assaulted during fieldwork. Most of these women encountered this abuse very early in their careers, as trainees. The travel inherent to scientific fieldwork increases vulnerability as one struggles to work within unfamiliar and unpredictable conditions, but male respondents reported significantly less assault (6 percent).
That’s a horrifying frequency — and it’s not just because they’re traveling in strange foreign uncivilized lands, because the greatest risk is coming from their colleagues in the field. I hope no one is going to use this statistic to argue that women shouldn’t be scientists, or shouldn’t do field work, because I don’t think I’m capable of yelling “FUCK YOU” loud enough to approximate my opinion of that sentiment.
It’s not just women scientists, either, or a peculiarity of science fieldwork. Read Christine Tesoro’s A Personal History of Misogyny — this seems to be the loud background noise of every woman’s life.
What can we do? Here’s a summary of the conclusion of the Clancy paper that tells us what to do: the problem is on our shoulders, not that of the victims, and cultural and institutional change is what is required.
Radical feminism, in other words.