Beki Grinter

What Happens when you admit to Sexual Harassment in a Post: Another Blog Learning moment

In academia, computer science, research on May 24, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I’ve written about some of the things I’ve learnt from both having a blog and watching other people’s blogs.

In the last month I’ve learnt something new.

Last month I blogged about the untimely death of a scholar, it was an expression of what she’d meant to me. First and foremost there was and remains her scholarship.

But she was also a reason (she and the others I spoke to… thank you all) I stayed in graduate school and in the research community after I’d experienced sexual harassment. She gave me great counsel, it helped at a time when my faith in Computer Science was less than zero.

At the time of writing the post, what was foremost in my mind was how grateful I was for having had the opportunities I had to interact with and learn from her. All of them. Prior to putting that on my blog, I’m not sure how many people even knew about the incident. Some colleagues at Irvine. I don’t think I talked about it much (I’m a fairly open person) but I’m not sure who knew.

That’s changed.

I think the revealation would have attracted some attention had it been in a post on its own, but of course it was embedded in a post about a person about whom many many people cared. So a week later my blog has had more traffic than its ever had before. Most of the traffic is coming from google search terms, people looking for information about her passing.

And so now nearly 1000 people know that I was sexually harassed in graduate school. And I am not precisely sure what to make of that.

I’ve had a number of interactions based on this admissions. I thank you all for your support. A number of people have thanked me for speaking up on the topic. So, since I’ve started.

It happened once again, at a conference workshop. I got felt up (to be blunt). I took my pen and rammed it into the offending hand. I think I brought tears to his eyes but he moved seats very quickly and kept a safe distance from me for the remainder of the session. BTW: I am not sure I recommend this particular solution, it was just the first thing that leapt into my head (and I should also say that my conselor in no way inspired this particular response, she just inspired me not to quit the business the first time it happened). And, since I’m sharing, it really messes up the pen, so I’d recommend a pen you’re willing to throw away afterwards.

Nothing physical has happened since then. The only thing that happened afterwards was that I went through a phase where I started to get the distinct impression that my relationship choices (although distilled to my assumed sex life) was of more interest to gossips than those of my male peers. Now perhaps that’s really true, but I don’t think so. I felt then that this was an attempt to enforce double standards through whispers. I was just trying to form a relationship, following what I assumed were well-accepted standards of behavior for a woman living in the United States — something about having equality in the process… but that’s hardly news, only I was told that my behavior somehow was… I remember trying to channel the pithy observation that it’s better to be the subject of any rumours than to be ignored, but somehow that didn’t really satisfy me.

It’s been a very long time since anything has happened that’s made me feel vaguely uncomfortable. I’ve aged, both physically and academically. I have some standing within my research community. I think it’s the classic bullying tactic, you don’t go after those you can’t control or silence. But, I fear that it still happens, which infuriates me. I worry that seniority can sometimes make me think that things have changed. I can hope, but I try to remind myself that hope is not always the same as reality. And I hope that by admitting my own experiences that it in some way helps. If nothing else, I think it’s important for senior people (myself included) to be reminded of and vigilant to what is some of the worst behaviour a research community can engage in.


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