Hey, gang, I’ve been offline for a while — it’s a week for getting caught up with my grading (I’m still behind. I’m always behind). So I’ve been letting the commenters do the talking for a few days, and there are some good words in the thread about Geoff Marcy.
I work in UC Berkeley’s astronomy department. On Friday, during my lab’s lunch, the professor I work for announced this to us. I was not at all surprised by Geoff being the one found guilty. What’s even worse is that the Title IX office concluded their investigation three months ago and just sat on it without telling anyone. I wasn’t aware of the full extent of Geoff’s behavior (I knew of women that were creeped out by him), and lots of people are furious about how both the university and the astronomy department handled this. The whole situation is just fucked, and it’s really shameful that no substantial punishment is being handed out for this.
“The punishment Geoff is receiving here in the court of hysterical public opinion is far out of proportion to what he did and has taken responsibility for in his apology,” Dr. Kegley wrote.
There’s been no regard for the victims from the department or the university. The way this has been handled is a total shitshow.
It’s just sinking in how odd and simultaneously common this behavior is. Think of the Tim Hunt story: for some reason, a lot of people decided that being called out on poor behavior was far, far worse than the behavior itself. Some people are regarded as above the rules, and so their transgressions demand excuses, while others — imagine being black and poor — are punished for transgressions they didn’t commit.
It’s as if the universe is only statistically just. Everything averages out to being fair, if you just ignore the individuals and pretend that being a well-educated white man doesn’t mean you get handed saving throws every time you screw up.
CripDyke (and also quite a few people besides) pointed out the other big problem in this story: it’s the administration that has exhibited the greatest bias.
However, I’m going to use that to say something a little different: I find Marcy’s not-pology painfully disappointing, but not nearly as abhorrent as the department head’s call for everyone to hold a Marcy-Love-In.
Because assuming (arguendo – let’s not be too quick to dismiss the power of priors in our analysis) that this period WAS actually difficult for Marcy, that’s a good thing. It **is** fucking difficult for someone to actually admit that they’ve hurt people, and it’s even more difficult to change a long-standing pattern of behavior.
That doesn’t require one selfishly redirect attention to themselves, but in this case part of the problem is that the behavior was highly selfish and attention-seeking in the first place (sexual attention is still attention, even if it does happen one-on-one and not in the same very public manner as internet attention).
Therefore, if someone actually has engaged in selfish behavior that hurt other people, what we should see as a first response is not a generous understanding of the harms one has caused and a cogent analysis of the full range of harmful behaviors and how they’re totes not okay and so going to stop now. That should make us suspicious not merely of selfish, callous, harassing behavior, but of thorough-going, premeditated evil. One doesn’t learn all that quickly, and if one has all that analysis at the ready when caught and called out, it means one very likely had that analysis at the ready **before** getting caught…and chose to ignore it.
No, this shows exactly the hallmarks of a selfish person moving marginally away from past hurtful behavior.
I am not in any way saying that one shouldn’t feel disappointed with the (not/a)pology, and I’m not saying that it’s really a much better apology that it actually is (it’s not). I’m just saying that humans being humans, the kind of jerks who engage in most of this behavior in the first place simply aren’t able to write an apology that centers victims and shows none of their past selfish tendencies.
I wonder if one of the reasons so many let this kind of behavior slide is that, deep down, we’re all selfish people, and we’re afraid we’ll slip up and get caught. Marcy is someone who, aside from the harassment hound-doggishness, is someone I could immediately identify with, so it’s easy for me to imagine being slammed publicly, feeling that squirmy discomfort, and leaping to his defense. It’s a tendency that has to be resisted. Except, of course, that we middle-class white people aren’t well-practiced in the art of accepting criticisms of our nature — we reserve that for other people.
There’s something else, too. We get trained from an early age to excuse bad behavior in boys. “Boys will be boys” is a terrible phrase — it says that awfulness is part of male nature, and that there’s no point in fighting our intrinsic selfishness, especially since if we do give in to it we’ll be exempted from punishment, because it’s not our fault that we are afflicted with a Y chromosome that makes us rude and violent and simultaneously awesome. Geoff Marcy was just being a typical boy, how dare we blame him for his behavior.
Then I read something else that chilled me, because I’d heard it myself as a child. A little boy punched a four year old girl in the face. While she was getting stitched up (that’s how hard he hit her), a hospital worker told her, “I bet he likes you.”
How often has that trope been invoked? We are taught early on that the attention of boys is a precious, wonderful thing, and even if it is expressed as violent abuse, it is a sign that they like you. After all, it would be so much worse if a boy ignored you, or left you alone. Look at the priceless gift Geoff Marcy was giving his women students! He was spending time with them, appreciating them, being nice to them. I bet he liked them all.
We should be generous in our understanding of Marcy, because he at least left no visible scars.
I heard “boys will be boys” and “I bet he likes you” all the time while growing up. It’s a standard TV trope, for one thing, and it’s been around for ages. The boy dipping the little girl’s pigtails in the ink well? It’s 19th century funny! The “girls always want the bad boy” story line? It’s pervasive in the 20th — it’s even part of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” canon, a story that is normally regarded as empowering for women, but for some reason she keeps falling for violent vampire bad boys.
I got a taste of it myself. Throughout grade school, there was a gay boy who teased and mocked me incessantly — lots of innuendo, leaning close and whispering in my ear, touching, etc. I was not bothered by the gayness, but by the regular taunting. I told myself that he must really like me, that I should be flattered by his attentions, but…you know, that stuff just isn’t right. If you like someone, shouldn’t you also respect them?
I suspect that a lot of men have been acculturated into not only thinking that respect is unnecessary, but that the “liking” part is also optional.