Ask Dr. Isis – The Danger of Women in Groups

I received this email before I left for Experimental Biology. Throughout the meeting I felt guilty for not answering it right away, but now I am glad that I waited. Some experiences at the meeting have offered me a perspective that I am not sure I had before I left…
One of you lovely little darlings writes

O Great Dr. Isis,

I am fashion-impaired and unfortunately have no fashion offerings for you. The majority of my income goes to pay off the fashion police so that they turn a blind eye to my crimes against fashion. But your great wisdom in dealing with cockdoucheweaselmonkeys is inspiring, and I beseech you to grant a tiny sliver of your wisdom to an undeserving mortal such as myself!

Far too often, when I am conversing in a professional setting with one or more other women, a d00d approaches us and interrupts our conversation to express his discomfort with the existence of women having a conversation. There are different ways in which different d00dz say it, e.g., “What are you ladies plotting?” “Is this the local NOW meeting?” “Seeing you three scheming together makes me nervous!”, but it is all variations on the same theme.

Every time this happens, I nearly lose my junk. The last time it happened, I talked to the d00d’s supervisor (who is also a woman), who put the fear of God into him. But far too often this comes from someone who is not at the career level where I can just talk to their supervisor — a lot of times this is a man who is a collaborator, a senior scientist, or even a manager (although luckily not my manager — mine is made of elemental awesome).
So, my question, O Great One, is what to do? I want to go all Hulk and SMASH! but I know that would not be the best idea. Is there a witty rejoinder I could use next time (because yes, there will be a next time, probably within the next month)?

Thanks for your awesomeness and for serving as an inspiration to all us mortals!
[Name redacted a la Isis]

This darling left her blog name in her signature, but I err on the side of caution. If she would like to take credit for this question, I would invite her to do so in the comments section. But now, on to my answer…

I find these kinds of situations both hilarious and disheartening. I’ll never forget a conversation I had after being here at MRU for about 5 months. I had just turned in my first protocol to this university’s animal use and care committee (IACUC). Not long after my submission, I ran into Dr. Triple Threat in our university’s fitness center. He was leaving as I was arriving. After we exchanged greetings he said something along the lines of, “Oh, I just ran into the chair of the IACUC in the shower. We were talking about you and he said how impressed he was with your protocol.” I replied to him, in blatant Isis-style honesty, “You two were showering and talking about me?”

Shower at MRU.jpg
Figure 1: An artist’s rendition of the showers at MRU.

Since, I occasionally tease Dr. Triple Threat about his “in the shower meetings,” but the fact remains that the barriers for communication are different for us. In my field, many of the male scientists are friends. They hike, rock climb or play golf together. They drink scotch together, and they pee at the urinal and shower together after they exercise in the fitness center. And, although I have frequently yearned to be able to pee standing up, I hadn’t considered myself to be missing much by being excluded from the shower conversations. I can assure you that there have been few men in science that I have wanted to see with a loofah.

Video 1: Perhaps their loofahs are peach.

However, I suspect that the reason that I am less bothered is because I have never had access to those conversations.   On the other hand, it must be strange to be a dude who has spent his entire career with little to no barrier to inclusion and suddenly find himself thinking that he has been excluded from a discussion where important scientific scheming might be happening.

plotting women.jpg

Figure 2: What happens when science women congregate.

I’m not saying it’s right.  I’m just saying that it is an interesting sociological exercise to imagine the situation.

So, how do you deal with it?  Lately, I have taken to reaffirming their paranoia.  If someone says, “It makes me nervous when a group of women get together.”  I say, “It should.”  If someone says, “Is this a NOW meeting?”  I just say, “Yes.”  I find it well worth the hilarity of watching the frank affirmation stop them in their tracks.  If someone asks, “What are you ladies plotting?”, you can answer “World domination.”  What you can’t do, unfortunately, when you are not in a position of power, is to completely lose your junk all over the place.  The obnoxious dude you knee in the balls today is the guy who sits on your study section tomorrow.  So, you’ve got to be more stealth in how you affect positive change.

If I had answered this email a week ago and it included that comment about affecting positive change, I would have ended it with a gigantic, cynical, “fuck you, science.”  But, today I am more of an optimist.  You see, I travel to a couple of scientific meetings a year and it seems like, for the last couple of years, I have been touched, or groped, or hit on at every meeting.  Experimental Biology was no different, except that this time it came with an added twist.  After the offending groping had occurred, I saw Dr. Triple Threat.  I tried to coax him to leave with me so that I could get away from the situation and he, unaware of what had happened, gave me a little gentle teasing about walking to our next venue in heels.  I reacted poorly.  Dr. Triple Threat and I have developed a comfortable relationship.  Our families spend time together, we’ve done some wacky experiments together, and any other day this level of teasing would have been part of our usual banter.  But, that day it was just too much and I said something along the lines of “Then just leave me alone and don’t touch me”, as I actively swatted his hand away.  I have no doubt that I had that little “I am about to cry” quiver in my voice.

I just felt so raw and humiliated over the previous interaction that his teasing was enough to obliterate the defense I had built up.  This left me feeling even more vulnerable and hopeless.  We parted ways and he texted me with an “I’m sorry,” but it took me a day to rebuild my confidence enough to talk to him.  When we met a day later, I shared with him what had happened moments before I had lost my cool and he seemed really, truly, genuinely surprised.  Then he said something to me that meant everything in the world.  He said, “I’m sorry that I didn’t realize you needed me.  You normally appear so confident that I forget that sometimes you need my support. I promise to pay more attention to how you are treated.”

What’s the point of telling you all of this?  Science can be a hostile place toward women, but there are some allies out there and I think that finding and influencing these allies is going to get us farther than lashing out at every sackwart we meet.   A week or two ago, I was more cynical about the ability to do this.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ll still continue to call out asshats on my blog, but I am learning that the most important thing I can do is to surround myself with people who are supportive of me and my career. 

So, enjoy surrounding yourself with female colleagues and mentors, and male colleagues who are supportive of your place in science.  Rely on these people to be your sounding board and defensive shield.  Leave the folks who harass you to their own devices.  Then, when you do take over the world, they’ll have confirmation of exactly what you were up to.

58 responses to “Ask Dr. Isis – The Danger of Women in Groups

  1. This response = Yes. Thank you for that. Also, I wish for all humankind to have a Dr. Triple Threat in their lives.

  2. Physician…Scientist…Masked Loofah Avenger?

  3. Why do some men of science insist on acting like today’s conferences are the “conventions” of decades gone by? – way, way by. I was at EB in Anaheim and watched a male mentor I have long admired and looked up to grab a female grad student’s ass. I didn’t know what to do. That’s not a circumstance for a witty retort, but I was at a loss as to what my appropriate reaction should have been. What was even more disturbing was the reaction of his newest female mentee. She faulted the grad student for misinterpreting. Hard to misinterpret someone grabbing your ass!

  4. DrugMonkey

    Good advice for all of us, Isis.
    Everyone can use more insulation against the asshats…

  5. theshortearedowl

    Thank you so much for this post.
    I just had one tiny point.

    So, enjoy surrounding yourself with female colleagues and mentors, and male colleagues who are supportive of your place in science.

    I think the comma in this sentence is in error. It should include both female and male colleagues under the qualifier “who are supportive of your place in science.” Both women and men are responsible for maintaining the status quo; only women and men working together can bring about meaningful change; and ultimately both women and men stand to gain.

  6. Funky Fresh

    How many comments does it take for mansplaining to being? 5. Exactly 5.

  7. Co-workers who see you as a person and not as a girl with cooties, especially when you’re hanging out in the company of other females? Rare and to be treasured. Kudos to Dr. Triple Threat and keep on with the good fight.
    I have to admit that, more than once, I have told some nervous male colleagues that, yes indeed, this is the women’s caucus of the department and we’re in charge now. Just the thought of women in academia working together was, for some, apparently quite terrifying!

  8. I just started reading a book called “Seducing the Boys Club” about how to infiltrate patriarchal workplaces and manipulate your way to the top. It made me think of you

  9. Slightly off-topic:

    they pee at the urinal and shower together

    Why must men pee in the shower at all, let alone in groups? WHY?
    On-topic: An excellent post. Thank you for giving voice to your experience.

  10. OMG, you have told them of our plans for world domination!
    Next thing you know they will be hanging out in the spas where we raise funds and buy weapons while they think we get massages and pedicures.
    At least you didn’t tell them what really happens when we all go to the bathroom together.

  11. theshortearedowl

    @ Funky Fresh
    Why would you assume I’m a man? Both women and men can be supportive; both can be detrimental to your career. Finding good mentors and colleagues is essential. Dr Isis said that men (Dr Triple Threat) could be supportive. I didn’t mean to say anything controversial; but you can’t assume women will be supportive just because they’re women.

  12. I LOVE FIGURE 2 ABOVE. Isis, where DID you find it? It is just amazing. (SOME PEOPLE probably think it is true).
    WHOOPS – maybe it is true, I just missed the meeting.

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I have yet to have the pleasure of attending any scientific meetings not intended for undergrads, so I really didn’t realize the sort of stuff that went on. Even in settings where one might expect to see men flirting and hitting on women (i.e., clubs), I couldn’t imagine myself or any of my friends being so bold as to start touching or groping women with whom they didn’t have a significant prior relationship. (And, as for myself, even then I’m not a big fan of PDA.) It’s just so inappropriate in those situations – and they certainly aren’t professional in nature.
    With the exception of a basic bio class, all of my science courses have had a majority of women. I couldn’t imagine looking at zebrafish embryos next to one and cracking some comment. It wouldn’t make sense (and I imagine my (male) professor wouldn’t allow it).
    As Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “Because it is there”.

  14. @ Funky Fresh
    Why would you assume I’m a man? Both women and men can be supportive; both can be detrimental to your career. Finding good mentors and colleagues is essential. Dr Isis said that men (Dr Triple Threat) could be supportive. I didn’t mean to say anything controversial; but you can’t assume women will be supportive just because they’re women.

    You didn’t say anything controversial. Some people just love to hate.
    As far as the original post goes, from my perspective I don’t like being excluded from conversations and I don’t like seeing other people excluded from conversations. The rest of this dynamic, both sides, seems like a bizarre waste of time and energy.

  15. They said that for a work of fiction to be feminist, it has to include at least two women who talk to each other about something other than men. World domination is as good a topic as any.

  16. The Gregarious Misanthrope

    Dr. Isis,
    We need to gin up a douchnozzle detector for you like the thing they had in Aliens. Maybe it could contain a taser, too. I just really can’t understand that mentality. Sorry you had to deal with yet another asshat.
    Dr. Free-ride,
    I’m pretty sure men in a shared shower area are not also peeing in the shower. That sounds like the premise of some freaky porn. Also, there’s a pretty well understood code of conduct at urinals dealing with spacing, conversations, etc. For instance, never comment on another dude’s watch while standing at the urinals.
    I’m guessing the guys the letter-writer is having issues with also have a whole bunch of really bad pick-up lines at their command.

  17. I’ve only been to 3 conferences so far, and one of them was the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, so it hardly counts as a representative conference for this sort of boob- and ass-grabbing behavior.
    But what does one DO when one’s ass is grabbed by a potential colleague? My instinct in such situations is to defend myself. When people touch me without my consent, I push them away. Literally. Sometimes very forcefully. Which can serve to demonstrate to the person doing the grabbing that it is Not Okay and will not get them anywhere and that their actions are putting them in danger of my fists.
    Ordinarily I would say the ideal situation is to draw attention to yourself while he is in the act so that others will see this high-falutin’ guy grabbing your butt, thus 1) making you look like a BAMF (possibly attracting praise) 2) making him look like a doofus (social consequences for social wrongs) 3) alerting potential allies to the problem.
    But how does one DO that? And do those benefits outweigh the potential costs of people siding with him?

  18. Asphericity

    Your story brought a tear to my eye. Hooray for allies!

  19. Hey, theshortearedowl, my Mum used to have a saying when I got too focused on the wrong thing: “Ace, you’re focusing on the little details and missing the message.”
    theshortearedowl, I don’t think it matter where the comma is, and pointing out comparatively-irrelevant errors and effectively ignoring the ‘big picture’ of the message can cause offense to people who think, ‘hey, they totally skipped all this important stuff to bring up a punctuation matter, so that important stuff doesn’t matter to them.’
    Not to mention, if Isis wants to imply stuff with subtle wording of her sentence, she’s entitled to! It’s her sentence!

  20. Isis, i’m sorry you went through that at a ‘professional’ conference.
    I am glad, though, that Dr Triple Threat responded that way. It’s nice to see, among so many stories of people not responding in ways that are, you know, helpful.

  21. Maybe groups of women are discussing Isis’ latest HOT shoe of the week!
    Or, at least, maybe that is what they could claim to be doing.
    (Isn’t that what would be EXPECTED?)

  22. Kudos to Dr. Triple Threat! And awesome for you to have such a great friend and ally in your department. :)

  23. theshortearedowl

    @ Ace
    Was not about the punctuation… oh never mind. Shouldn’t comment after bedtime.
    Loved this post, Dr Isis, just to return focus. I am just starting my science career, and I am now considering my action plan if any groping occurs. I’m seriously leaning towards grabbing their wrist in my vice-like grasp and smiling like Hit Girl.
    But my fantasy scenario would include grabbing the perp around the waist, and then acting shocked and saying “Oh, I’m sorry, it’s ok for you to do this to me, but not the other way around? It must be one of these American cultural things I haven’t understood yet. Tee hee, silly me.”

  24. Oh how I understand your plight. Conferences are not a fun place for a young woman to go without a great support network of allies. For some reason, when you take the Old Boys Club out of the university/institute, they devolve even more into that frat boy mentality. And amazingly, even the truly decent men often completely miss what is happening to their female colleagues. Conferences mean alcohol and old friends getting together and reminiscing about when they were young and just starting out – and somehow that makes them feel much better about groping/hitting on their younger, female, colleagues. I’m sorry that it happens in your field too, although I’m not surprised – human nature is human nature, after all.

  25. Well said! :)

  26. Christophe Thill

    Never assume that someone will immediately get your unspoken message… and don’t get angry against them when they don’t. Not everybody is a great reader of nonverbal cues. I know I’m among those who aren’t.

  27. All American Asshat

    And don’t act like a douche on the internet. Not everybody is a great reader of nonverbal cues.

  28. I. P. Inashowr

    “On the other hand, it must be strange to be a dude who has spent his entire career with little to no barrier to inclusion and suddenly find himself thinking that he has been excluded from a discussion where important scientific scheming might be happening.”
    I am anatomically qualified to shower with the dominating males at the gym, however I’ve spent enough time as a peon among big shots to know that I have been excluded from important scientific scheming nearly every day of my career. “Strange” is not exactly how it makes me feel.

  29. As someone who ended her first major conference sobbing in the toilet because the keynote speaker who had seemed so interested in her work had turned out to actually be interested in her for other reasons, thank you so much for posting this.

  30. I’m not even attractive and I’ve been sexually harassed at the last two conferences I attended. What is it about conferences that makes some men act like it’s a singles retreat instead of a professional conference? Is it staying in a hotel away from their spouses? The beer at the poster sessions? What is it?

  31. That grabass shit doesn’t go down at mymeetings.

  32. I’m being completely serious when I say I’m outraged and appalled. I recommend a slap to the face, swift knee to the groin, or a “what the (expletive) was that?” I think the slap is honestly the best way to go.
    It’s not acceptable for this kind of sexual harassment to be going on–in public, no less!

  33. I cried, I cried some more, and I thanked Dr. Isis for her post. My apologies that I am only wearing Born sandals today and do not have a better shoe offering.

  34. D. C. Sessions

    ScienceThe world can be a hostile place toward women, but there are some allies out there and I think that finding and influencing these allies is going to get us farther than lashing out at every sackwart we meet.

    Minor editorial adjustments aside, I propose that the (enemies/allies) ratio is a useful metric. Assuming that you can only make one change at a time, your biggest payoff is going to be on the smaller number.
    So — are there more enemies to subtract from or more allies to be added to?

  35. D. C. Sessions

    But what does one DO when one’s ass is grabbed by a potential colleague?

    $HERSELF’s solution was to loudly exclaim that something was grabbing her butt, take an aikido hold on said hand, and hold it up while asking the crowd if anyone recognized it so it could be returned to its owner.
    YMMV — but she likes to tell the story so I guess it must not have been a total failure.

  36. I would just like to point out that (at least in the worlds I have inhabited) as a general rule, it is really fucking obnoxious to talk to others when peeing in the urinal – or sitting on the can for that matter. The only possible exception being if you have noted too late you are in a stall lacking toilet paper.
    Communal showers are a little different, but I honestly can’t see discussing business in the shower – at least I can’t really see myself doing that. But then I am rather a freak, so it could well be very common.
    And the only time I get nervous about groups of women, is if they are friends of my mother.
    I have also come to the point in my life where I am rather intolerant of men folk who feel they have a right to grope women. For a variety of reasons, it makes me very, very cranky. It has occurred to me that rather than smacking an offender upside the head, which may have rather negative effects on career and possibly not being in jail, there are other solutions.
    It would be interesting to see how guys who feel so very free with their hands would feel about being groped by another guy. When called on it, one could just explain that after seeing him touch so and so, you just assumed he must be ok with that sort of thing. Then ask inoccently; “What’s wrong? This doesn’t make you uncomfortable? Does it?”

  37. Speaking of guys and urinals, I have to relate an amusing anecdote here about one of my fellowship faculty. Back in the old days of real slides, he had just previewed his for ASN and was returning to his office when he decided to make a “facility inspection.” He found himself at the urinal beside his boss with no place to set the slides down, but he figured he could do the job single-handed.
    He was wrong.
    He did provide proof that urokinase is bad for kodachrome. Unfortunately, he was leaving for ASN the next morning and had no time to reprint his blue diazo slides (this was many, many years ago).
    Moral: do not overestimate your ability to multitask in the bathroom, guys.

  38. This is a cute blog ya got here, toots! Do those stacked histograms go all the way to the top? Hehehe, I bet they do! Now be a good broad and go get me a cup of coffee! :::derogatory smack on the ass:::
    (I KEED! I KEED!)
    Seriously, I have a couple theories on this. Keep in mind I am not a sociologist or psychologist, but I am a guy. These are not meant as justifications, simply wacky theories of explanation.
    1. This is likely a broad generalization (no pun intended,) that paints in cartoonishly stereotypical stokes, but there is something to the idea that males in scientific fields have less refined social skills than their counterparts in less academic fields. (Nerdy guys don’t ever learn how to deal with girls, so their obnoxious and overtly sexual behavior is sheer ignorance. BTW, even I’m not so sure *I* buy that, but it’s a theory.)
    2. Guys (in general) are more likely act like sex deprived idiots in any out-of-the-lab/office setting. This goes for all fields, not just the scienc-ey ones. Once out of a standard work environment, some men (for whatever reason,) think every off-site gathering, no matter how puerile/sterile the subject matter of the conference or the plainness of the meeting location, is an excuse to act like drunken Shiners in Vegas. Again, it is a caricature, but I think there is a nugget of truth to the statement.
    Not sure how useful any of that was, but it was what came to mind.

  39. Funky Fresh

    You ‘splain! You ‘splain!

  40. I am the grad student barbara referenced in comment #3. I am a confident, poised woman, but I reacted to that recent fondling/lewd comment pretty passively. I once chased down and attacked someone who had mugged me in South Africa to get my camera back. Because then it was instantaneously obvious that my attacker was wrong (and I wasn’t feeling physically threatened). Also, in that case I was the one in a position of major privilege over him.
    If I’m with a group of female peers, I’m usually not the one most likely to be harassed, and I don’t know why, maybe because I’m quite tall. (I’ve generally considered myself a target only of fairly desperate men, who I imagine hitting on just about anyone!) I haven’t been overtly harassed in quite some time. I used to get harassed fairly regularly when I was in my teens/20’s, but now if I’m in a group setting I’m either with my husband/kids, or people know my husband (we work fairly close), so I think that’s what’s shielded me for a while. I am new to my field, and was feeling weird at the conference anyway, and then I was utterly shocked by the professor incident. It was:
    1) from a senior researcher I (and my mentors) admired and respected
    2) but had just met me that day
    3) because he was kindly interested in my poster
    4) and is my parents’ age
    5) is WAY shorter than me
    6) in front of both of our colleagues
    7) and he knew I was married
    8) and I couldn’t understand why *I* was his preferred victim (still can’t)
    I wouldn’t have been shocked to have been harrassed by someone more like a peer at this conference and probably would have had a much different response; a response more like the one I fantasize having given to the offender (physical/verbal lashing).
    Because of the reasons on my above list, I doubted that it had actually happened, and probably would have convinced myself it was all my misinterpretation had there not been some appalled witnesses. Then I had fleeting feelings of guilt and shame for not showing my anger and disgust to the offender immediately. Isis and her commenters covered this issue thoroughly in her recent posts about the vendor touching her hair, so maybe those would be helpful reads for people who are prescribing specific actions for women to perform at the time of harassment. It was largely from reading those posts that I was able to reign in my tendency to bring it all back to feeling shitty about myself and blaming myself for doing something wrong by either “inviting” the harassment, or not responding to it in the right way.
    His position of privilege colored everything about the incident. I immediately sought reassurance that there was nothing that I did to invite his nasty behavior and had to fight against feeling guilty for responding so passively. I still haven’t decided what to do about it, probably because nothing I do will likely make any difference. That I even doubt(ed) myself so much is indicative of something wrong with the way things are in science, etc.
    I agree that one of the most helpful things is support from those surrounding – that makes an enormous difference.

  41. I don’t think this happens in my field. I’d notice, because there are so few women that if we find each other at the conference and go for lunch, no one needs to push any tables together to make space for the group. The last conference I went to, it was just me. The time before, I think there were 4 of us? Feminist lip service + tiny number of women = potential for major political fallout for the groper because everyone would be rushing to save face. I know for a fact that when I was an undergrad a prof in my field systematically went through and tried to pick up all of my friends who weren’t in our department (and from his rep, loads of other female undergrads) and carefully avoided me, so there’s certainly consciousness in my field of keeping it away from professional life. My guess is that you need a critical mass of women in the field in the first place before people could grope without notice being taken. If you had, say, 10 or 20 women at a conference, they’d stand out less and people would be able to get away with more, but there’d still be few enough of them that they’d feel disempowered enough not to respond. The only time I’ve ever been groped in a professional setting it was an adjacent field with a substantially less unequal gender ratio.

  42. Comment on main post: Although I totally agree with Isis on the weirdness and total unfairness of men bonding at work (in the bathrooms, on the golf course, etc.), there can, on the rare occasion, be an upside to being female. Story: one of my colleagues used to work in Industry in a section that was all male except for herself (of course) and the admins. At lunch time, the men would all go off together to eat, whatever, while she sat with the admins. Although she felt excluded by her peers, she came to see lunches with the admins as an opportunity to hear company gossip from them, often things that were meant to be kept confidential. It gave her a political edge. But, that still didn’t make the overall crappy work environment much better.
    Regarding being groped, harassed, etc.: although I’d never have the guts to do it, myself, I’ve often wondered what would happen if we grabbed the offending males’ asses right back? Maybe fondled their breasts and commented on their possible bra sizes just for good measure, too? Though, some of the men I know would probably take it as a come-on. : (

  43. I’d have suggested running our fingers through the offenders’ hair, too, but a lot of men don’t have much hair to work with.

  44. D. C. Sessions

    I couldn’t understand why *I* was his preferred victim (still can’t)

    There are two ways to read that:
    1) I can’t imagine a predator singling me out, and
    2) A guy has to be desperate to settle for me.
    The first makes a bunch of assumptions about predation strategies. That’s a subject in its own right and IMHO it’s foolish for anyone not well-versed in the field to assume that they have a clue. There are a lot of predators out there and I don’t see anyone being immune [1].
    The second is just makes me sad.
    [1] Including /me in my more rational moments, although I grew up with zero for threat perception.

  45. I can relate to icee’s feelings of shock when a senior professor harassed her. I’ll never forget having a very senior professor sidle up to me, pull me into his side, and slowly stroke up the side of my boob- all the while talking about my best friend’s chances of receiving tenure (he was on my friend’s tenure committee). I worked in labs in the past as the only female and always dealt with harassment in a brutally sarcastic fashion- but with the senior professor- I completely froze. All I could think about was how stressed my friend was concerning his tenure review.

  46. I get the freezing thing. The time I got really groped I just froze. Someone (still don’t know who) came up behind me, pressed their body against me, reached around and grabbed both breasts, and was gone by the time I unfroze. It was years ago and every time I remember the incident, my only thought is, “what the fuck was that about?” I still don’t get it… I think I need to know what’s going on to be my usual sarcastic self.

  47. D. C. Sessions

    I get the freezing thing. The time I got really groped I just froze.

    Did you train for that sort of scenario? Practice responses? Anything remotely like preparing yourself?
    Get serious — almost nobody does. It’s not just groping and related situations either. If you’re walking down the street and someone grabs your bag and runs it’ll take you (or me, or damn near anyone) a while to filter through the “this is a new situation; this is the kind of situation; these are possible responses; this one might be a good choice” process.
    Same goes for opening your door and stepping into your home to find that the place has been broken into, or opening a hotel room and finding it occupied, or …
    It’s not you. You just found yourself in the twilight zone.

  48. neurolover

    I always fight back. An elbow, push, shove. I’m small, shy, and mild-mannered, and now I understand why people have always been so surprised. I have a big thing about my personal space and guard it, too. This can cause shifts across rooms when people stand too close. I know, sometimes they can’t here but one can often tell otherwise.

  49. Trivial sidenote, @13:
    Actually, it wasn’t Hillary, it was Mallory. And the followup to that quote is even better, although unfortunately laden with an archaic gendered pronoun.

    The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is no use’. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.
    -George Leigh Mallory, 1922

  50. I am amazed to report that someone at DM’s blog actually thinks that grab-assery is “hitting on someone”. If this is true, if there are really men out there who think you start with a good bit of buttock-fondling and THEN you move to the kissing and talking, and if they’re reading: you may have met with success with this strategy, but it’s still a REALLY BAD IDEA. Honest. There are states where grabbing butt without consent is sexual assault. You will meet with a much better response if you wait until after you’re reasonably sure you’re going to score (maybe until after you’ve managed a reciprocated tongue kiss or two) before you start reaching for the butt.
    There. A teaching moment for all the d00ds who keep claiming that men in science are just THAT socially incompetent. Let’s see how it’s received, shall we?

  51. The Sweetest Post!

  52. El Picador Mas Verde

    Actually Dr. Free-Ride the current water saving recommendations call for peeing in the shower. Save a flush.

  53. I’m amazed this kind of behaviour goes on at these conferences.
    I’ve never felt inclined to touch another woman in the first place, but that’s just my social awkwardness, so I can’t imagine what brings some idiot to groping someone else.
    I will try to remember the groping of the offender option when I see this behaviour happening. I’m crazy enough to do that.
    Your posts are eyeopening as always.

  54. Christophe Thill

    AAH#27 : Your “And don’t act like a douche on the internet” is very good advice, and I suggest you consider applying it. The “not good reader” I was referring to in my comment was Dr Triple-Threat. But I see there are people who have problems with verbal understanding, too, so next time I’ll use subtitles.

  55. Love this post! Sorry to hear about what had happened at Experimental Biology, but I’m very encouraged by your optimism. May we all have at least one Dr. Triple-Threat in our lives to empower us when we need it.

  56. “He said, “I’m sorry that I didn’t realize you needed me. You normally appear so confident that I forget that sometimes you need my support. I promise to pay more attention to how you are treated.”
    This response is sorta kinda parta the problem, though, isn’t it? The knight-in-shining-armour caveat to the empowerment of women, in which the knight in this case is hampered by an inability to clearly see the dragon (or chooses not to notice it for the sake of avoiding the conflict which must ensue, and which does not directly benefit the knight; certainly the case in some circumstances I’m sure).
    Personally, I think there are enough women in science now (in addition to supporters of equality among their male colleagues) that a more aggressive reaction to this sort of thing (see Sonia’s comment #17) could actually be highly efficacious, with the detrimental impact on an individual’s career blunted by the threat of a further retaliatory response. So, he sits on your study section… then endeavour to have supporters sitting on his &c.
    Inre a sturdy kick in the testicles, I don’t think its necessary to even rule out a physical retaliation in response to what is, ultimately, an act of physical and emotional aggression. Besides, the adage “violence never solved anything” is usually the trite retort of a pampered elite seeking to maintain the status quo stacked in its favour, and is rather out of place in a country whose very existence refutes the legitimacy of that opinion.
    Perhaps all this sounds a little too militant, but when I read stuff like this, I wonder whether the strategy of t-shirts, talk circuits, books and other passive means of ultimately waiting it out, hoping that there will be some natural evolution away from these filthy primitive behaviours, is doomed to failure.

  57. @ Dr. Free-Ride – I think Dr. Isis meant “They pee at the urinal (together) and shower together,” not “they pee in both places together,” but that does bring up an excellent point and I love the room for ambiguity in that sentence.
    Three cheers for Dr. Triple-Threat; I

  58. Pingback: Why Be So Militant About a Woman’s Right to Name Her Accuser? |

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