Today we celebrate women in science and technology by remembering Ada Lovelace. We also take note of how tech companies still fail to meet gender equality standards (so they better hire my daughter when she graduates), and the miserable failure of academia to end sexual harassment. So it’s kind of a mixed celebration.
Do read that last link, if nothing else.
Last week I watched a documentary by Louie Theroux, about Jimmy Savile and the child rape scandal. In it, Theroux said something that struck me; “monsters don’t get close to children, nice men do”. I think the same can be said of these sexual harassment and abuse stories that we hear of so often now in STEM disciplines. The perpetrators of harassment and abuse are not monsters, they are often highly respected and inspiring figures at first. They can be our friends, colleagues, and mentors. That’s what makes it so hard if we find out that this trusted friend, colleague, or mentor has been abusing and hurting other people. The resulting cognitive dissonance keeps us from accepting that it is even possible that our trusted friend, colleague, or mentor is capable of these behaviours and therefore, we automatically ignore what we hear from survivors. We believe the excuses and explanations that the perpetrator comes up with. And I have come to realise that this is just one of the many ways that our society allows sexual harassment to go on as long as it does, and why survivors are so scared to come forward. Even when they do, we expect these survivors to shoulder the emotional labour of reaching out to other victims, talking to the media, and reliving the harassment, all while trying to hold the perpetrator accountable for what they did. And if that wasn’t enough, survivors also have to deal with those within the community who question the veracity of their experiences.
On a cheerier note, at least now you can buy badass women of science t-shirts.