Friday, October 18, 2013

Women Of Science Explain How Stuff Is

In the wake of a series of unfortunate events that have rocked and shocked the small, chummy world of science writing this week, there are currently a lot of really smart women on Twitter talking about sexual harassment in science, academia and journalism.* If you are in need of a primer on the sort of guff one tends to get when one is a lady person doing sciencey things, have a glance at the hashtag #ripplesofdoubt, started by scientist Karen James to collect stories of harassment. It's quite instructive.

My wife here has just been reading over the many tales of lady-woe in the hashtag, and alternately nodding in sisterly agreement and rolling her eyes. "Bluh," she says. "It's kind of Take Back The Night-ey."

Bear in mind, this is a woman who once, as an exceedingly broke and exceedingly hungry freelance travel writer alone on assignment in the rural South, very nearly escaped having to have sex with a strange guy in a motel parking lot in Louisiana because she ate some of the barbecue he was cooking out of the back of his truck.** She is not easily impressed. Nor is she a big fan of Take Back The Night.

I am not a big fan of Take Back The Night, either, despite having spilled my guts at several of them in college. That was back before I realized, right in the middle of a doleful weepy monologue about My Very Sad Story, that spilling your guts at Take Back The Night does not actually get anybody to stop raping people, because rapists don't go to Take Back The Night.*** 

Here's where she's wrong, though. The great thing about this hashtag, which is indeed full of Very Sad Stories and not a small amount of weepage, is that it's happening among a group of professionals who already know each other, not primarily through gender politics, but through their shared work and culture. Every tenth tweet or so is from some guy whose mind has just been blown by the revelation that women all throughout his professional network are getting systematically hazed just for showing up, and institutions are looking the other way.

I am all for the creation of women-only safe space, even if that New Agey phrase makes me crabby. (What doesn't, really?) But I am so very glad this particular conversation is happening in mixed company. It's delivering a swift and brutally effective 101 course in the ugly daily realities of ladyhood to a lot of smart dudes that, for all their precociousness, have probably never had the occasion to really see this stuff before. And they ought to, really, if the goal is to get things to, y'know, change.

Keep it coming, Science Women.

*Pro tip: There's a bunch of it. Here is an absolutely withering example of the sort of thing that goes on, well, everywhere. And here is another. And another.

**Pro tip: Don't eat the barbecue.

***Not science. I could be wrong.

Update: You've really got to read this one. Kathleen Raven brings the wreckage.


  1. Regarding your triple-asterisked footnote (rapists don't go to Take Back the Night) and just in case we needed any more reason to throw up, my daughter let me know that a Take Back the Night at Barnard recently had to be interrupted in order to eject a guy who was there, *masturbating.*

    Also, all these linked posts: holy crap.

    1. I stand corrected-ish.

      Sheez. Some people.