For those of you watching the blogosphere, some shit has gone down. There’s a lot of discussion surrounding Bora and whether it’s appropriate to name him in public. I have clearly fallen on one side of the line. You might ask “why…”
Because I can empathize with the woman who wrote the post initially accusing Bora of inappropriateness. I wrote the following back in 2010 about an interaction that I had at a scientific meeting. In public. It really, really changed me. I became much more guarded about my interactions at this meeting. There were phrases that I used in my blog that I stopped using because I wondered whether I was giving the impression that I should be treated differently than I wanted to be. It changed how I interacted with the people I love. It really, really changed me. And not for the better…
You don’t come back from it when you go into a situtation with an expectation that you’re going to have an professional interaction and discover that the other person is only interested in discussing one thing.
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.