Just How Bad Is It?

It is easy to think that science is uniquely bad amongst the academic disciplines in the problems that some women may face. In the past few weeks I have visited various Universities to discuss some of the relevant issues and give their management a nudge about what needs to be done regarding Athena Swan submissions. During one of these, to the University of Sheffield, I was delighted to meet Jenny Saul, whose research includes the study of stereotype threat and unconscious bias, issues that undoubtedly feed into the problems that many women in STEM may face. But Jenny is a Philosopher (indeed she is Head of the Sheffield Philosophy Department) and she has drawn my attention to the difficulties in her own subject, which is also male-dominated at senior levels (although not amongst undergraduates). It seems that this is another discipline in which there are endemic issues making things difficult for women, with some close parallels to the sciences but also other significant differences.

Since that first meeting a few weeks back, I have followed up with Jenny to learn more about the experiences for women in philosophy and how they compare with women in STEM. I will also be exploring any particular issues affecting Cambridge female philosophers with the local Women in Philosophy Group since, as Gender Equality Champion in Cambridge, my brief extends far beyond science: I need to appreciate what the stumbling blocks are in the Humanities disciplines just as much as in my own. (It is worth pointing out that my university is split into six Schools, four of which relate to the STEM disciplines including medicine, plus the Schools of Arts and Humanities and of Humanities and Social Sciences.)

Before I get into what seems to be the same and what different for Philosophy, let me start with a stark question. One of the first things Jenny asked me completely stopped me in my tracks.

‘Is sexual harassment rife within the sciences? It is in Philosophy.’

My immediate answer was: no, it isn’t widespread. My more considered answer is: perhaps I don’t know. Is it? If you are a young female researcher, are there senior researchers and faculty who prey on you in lecture theatres, laboratories or at conferences? Just how bad is it? I have asked other women in the intervening weeks and they have also said no it isn’t bad. But then they’ve gone on to qualify their responses with some anecdote which would seem to say the opposite.

That qualification I suppose ties in with my own experiences. On this blog I have previously posted stories about situations in the not too distant past which have made me very uncomfortable (e.g. here  and here, although in both cases they should probably be called ‘mere’ sexism rather than sexual harassment). I have tended to shrug these off as unpleasant but not really representing a fundamental problem in my discipline. But maybe I am being naïve, because I am to a large extent protected by my age and standing. Nevertheless, I do not hear more than the occasional horror story, and those usually occurring at conferences rather than in day to day workplace experience. Alcohol excuses nothing, but I am sure reduces barriers so that offensive behaviour is more common at the end of a heavy day of conference talks rather than when just going about one’s daily business in the lab or office.

So, my blunt question is – how bad is sexual harassment (as opposed to sexism of which there is plenty) in the sciences? I’d be interested to receive comments so that we can build up a snapshot of how people perceive things, in case I am just missing the hell that some people are being put through. I am particularly interested in the UK experience, since that is where I am based and where the schemes I am familiar with  – Athena Swan and the IOP’s Project Juno – offer scope to improve the climate at least at work (though conferences may be another story). For Women in Philosophy there is a website where individuals can post their stories anonymously – it makes for grim reading. For anyone who doesn’t want to add a comment on my blog because of concern around confidentiality issues, please feel free to email me (amd3@cam.ac.uk) your experiences so that I can add them as comments to this post without disclosing names or institutions.  If harassment is still rampant, it should be possible to discuss it collectively. Zero tolerance should be the policy everywhere, but it is hard for individuals on their own to achieve or enforce for all the obvious reasons. However harassment will thrive on secrecy and fear.

So that’s the heavy, depressing part out of the way! Moving on to consider the similarities and differences between the sciences and Philosophy, there is a useful status report prepared jointly by the British Philosophical Association and the Society of Women in Philosophy UK last year. It highlights the fact that, unlike in STEM where the problems for women have been discussed and explored for a number of years and initiatives such as Athena Swan and the IOP’s Project Juno developed to try to improve the culture, nothing similar exists so far in Philosophy. Indeed, the problem does not seem to have received much attention at all. As with Chemistry, the undergraduate population is fairly evenly balanced between the sexes; numbers fall off rapidly thereafter, with only 19% of professors being women (not much above the value in Biology, although this starts from an undergraduate base consisting of more women than men).

One factor that seems to be significantly different in Philosophy is the heavy dominance of male authors on typical reading lists and whose work is being cited. Or rather, that in itself isn’t different, but it matters in a much more deep-rooted way because these texts are analysed to a degree that would be unusual for a scientist reading a research paper or standard text. In general it isn’t the language or the manner of expressing an opinion that matters to an aspiring scientist, it is only the facts and the equations. So as scientists we are probably less likely to be influenced by or sensitive to the gender of the writer. A second factor is that philosophers – apparently – use styles of argument and language that are stereotypically male. To quote the MIT philosopher Sally Haslanger (and this is a quote I’ve lifted from a very informative and illuminating article  by Jenny Saul on her website)

As feminist philosophers have been arguing for decades, the familiar dichotomies with which Anglophone philosophy defines itself map neatly onto gender dichotomies – rational/emotional, objective/subjective, mind/body; ideals of philosophy – penetrating, seminal and rigorous; and what we do – attack, target and demolish an opponent, all of which frame philosophy as masculine and in opposition to the feminine.

I don’t personally think the language and process of science operates within such a linguistic and gendered framework. Although I have seen ardent feminists object to the language of physics, because concepts such as force are ‘clearly male’, for me this seems an artificial objection. A force is a force. But, I can see how a philosopher being told their argument is emotional or subjective might feel they were being devalued at a personal level, and it could be sufficiently off-putting to contribute to their desire to quit the subject. Thus it would appear that the very structure of philosophical thought and argument as currently practiced constantly reinforces potential gender differences and so contributes to stereotype threat. The report on Women in Philosophy I mentioned earlier suggests that this is both unnecessary and could be overcome, offering some practical suggestions to facilitate a culture shift.

I wish the philosophers all the best in their attempts to level the playing field. If, as is currently being considered and piloted, Athena Swan extends its remit to subjects other than STEM, then maybe philosophy will be a discipline that can particularly benefit.

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16 Responses to Just How Bad Is It?

  1. Hmmm. There’s rather a lot of work in hist/phil/anth sci that does demonstrate that science works with incredibly heavily gendered languages and symbols.
    The obvious example is Martin on reproductive science which is quite specific about the gendering of language in biology.

  2. J. W. Ford says:

    Very informative article – thank you!

    I’m not sure I entirely agree with Jenny Saul’s statment that, ‘and what we do – attack, target and demolish an opponent, all of which frame philosophy as masculine and in opposition to the feminine.’ Reason being, all academic papers, presentations etc. are all dependent on “attacking” a certain standpoint, by doing this we “target” problems, flaws etc. and then we “demolish” that standpoint or the opposing argument. Seems to me to be a more violent way of describing the proccess in a basic essay-plan.

  3. Pat says:


    The oft-cited example of the sperm and the egg is a very poor case of gendered language influencing scientific work. Paul Gross, the biologist who (over 40 years ago) first described the central role of the egg’s histone mRNA in controlling development, points out that the egg’s active role in fertilization has been known and acknowledged since the early 19th century. In his book with Norman Leavitt he devotes like half a chapter to the myth that developmental biologists been substantially mislead on fertilization by gendered metaphors.

    If there are examples of sexist thought pervading molecular biology, it’s my understanding that the role of the egg is not one of them. Strikingly, it’s the only example that ever comes up.

    • Pat says:

      Sorry, I typoed your name.

    • Vanessa says:

      We may be detouring a bit from Athene’s point, but in that spirit…
      Pointing out the existence of alternative views doesn’t necessarily disprove a bias in mainstream thought. Martin’s work holds for a great number of textbooks, and absolutely for popular writing, and although some people may have disagreed with, or simply ignored, the ‘romance’ narrative, it certainly persisted in scientific descriptions well into the 1990s – it is what I was taught as a biology undergraduate, and from what I could see teaching biology undergraduates (even molecular biology undergraduates!) it continued well into the 21st C. It may be that in some areas her claim that this ‘slowed’ discovery is overstated, but it doesn’t undermine the fact that the language existed.

      Martin’s is one of the best known articles, all over reading lists, which probably explains why it comes up more than others. it’s also relatively rare in that it’s able to claim a distinctive effect of the language – in fact, that argument is not necessary for the point the unnamed philosopher is making above, which is simply that by having gendered language the discipline is made more challenging for women, i.e. even if the science remains ‘unaffected’, the scientists are not.

      A lot of the examples may well be things that are almost invisible until they’re pointed out, because they’re so widely accepted and unquestioned: take gynaecology vs. andrology. One is a much older term than the other (and the latter is still not a specialism in the uk!); the usual humanities explanation for that is that men were assumed to be ‘normal’ or the ‘default’ and therefore it was only women’s peculiarities which needed a particular specialism. Rationally, assuming pregnancy and birth is being dealt with by the midwife or obstetrician, there’s no reason why women’s genito-urinary functions should require a dedicated specialism, while men just go to the ‘normal’ urologist, the ‘normal’ VD specialist, etc. And yet that’s how it still happens.

      • Pat says:

        I hope you don’t think I’m picking nits, but I think there’s a substantive point lost in referring to views contrary to those which Martin cites as “alternatives”: they are indeed the mainstream. Since the late 19th century it was widely known that the egg was much more than a ‘passive vessel’: Just noted that the egg plays an active role in incorporating sperm, and soon after Loeb demonstrated chemical induction of parthenogenesis in sea urchins. Martin’s claim that the scientific understanding of fertilization has been hampered in any significant sense by sexist ideology seems woefully innocent of the actual science: her history of thought omits Just and Loeb but manages to find space for Woody Allen movies?

        I’m not disputing that there exists a certain popular cultural trope according to which the process of fertilization is, at the very least, presented from the default “point of view” of the sperm. That’s quite a separate question, though, from Martin’s much stronger claim that sexist metaphors have substantially “[impaired] our ability to understand and investigate nature”, a claim would be difficult for one to support when one is apparently unacquainted with the relevant understanding and investigations. Martin’s assertion that the active role of the egg is a recent theoretical development is not an “overstatement”– it is a flatly false claim that undermines her entire thesis.

        Many of the examples of purple prose Martin cites are not even inaccurate; her criticism of many of the excerpts seems to rely primarily on innuendo. Sperm do deliver genetic material to the egg, they do require fuel and move with a whiplash-like motion. Troublingly, Martin appears in many instances to reason backwards from the moral necessity of egalitarian roles for the gametes to biological reality. Consider:

        “Although this description gives the egg an active role, that role is drawn in stereotypically feminine terms. The egg selects an appropriate mate, prepares him for fusion, and then protects the resulting offspring from harm.

        I am as wary of anthropomorphizing cells as the next scientist, but all of those claims are true! Or at least as true as a proposition like “E. coli prefers glucose to lactose”. Martin offers no further criticism of that excerpt, implying that it must be false merely because it could be construed as affirming a stereotype.

        Elsewhere Martin suggests that the absence of scientific descriptions of the ovum’s motile capacities (contra sperm) are due to chauvinism, rather than the fact that the ovum has no mechanism of motility. Ovum transport is accomplished a variety of mechanisms including cilial beating, muscular contraction and fluid flow (see Vann and Blake 1982) but none of them are due to the ovum itself. This fact would seem to bear on the question of why scientists do not mention the ovum’s propulsive talents.

        Most troublingly, Martin at one point seems to miss the entire conceptual point of sexual reproduction. “The real mystery”, she writes, “is why the male’s vast production of sperm is not seen as wasteful [in comparison to ovulation and the attendent uterine thickening]”. Well, precisely because biological sexes differ in their initial parental investment: sperm really is cheaper than eggs + a uterus, and this difference is a difference in the world rather than merely in our ways of speaking about it. It is a difference so large that it can be read off of dietary requirements.

        In sum, while I wouldn’t deny the existence of a cultural trope that sometimes creeped into instances of scientific prose, Martin is just factually wrong on many basic points (most egregiously in the history of developmental biology, but also in basic cell bio) that are necessary for her case. I would be very wary of presenting this article as exemplary of feminist writing on science. In fact, I would be worried about what it means that it has become so widely cited.

        The pervasiveness of this trope (i.e. actual incorrect science) in actual scientific writing is an effect I’ve had trouble reproducing. I honestly went to my copy of The Molecular Biology of the Gene (5th ed.) and looked up every reference to sperm, eggs, ovulation, fertilization, &c., and didn’t find any colorful language, let alone sexist language. Perhaps it’s been corrected since?

        I don’t have any medical training to speak of, and am also less willing to defend medicine since, as a noisier, less exact and more emotionally invested science it’s far more susceptible to precisely the sorts of social biases we’re talking about; I would not be surprised to learn that the history of gynecology is not a pretty one. But it is also the case that having a more complex reproductive system means that there is more to go wrong, which is reflected in the difference between the number of female and male human beings who seek routine treatment for their reproductive systems, no?

        • It’s not nit-picking, but I still disagree! I don’t read Martin the way you do, as a subjective hunter for mis-quotes and decontextualised words – but that’s personal and subjective and there’s no reason why we should agree. We are still left with the pervasiveness of what you consider the ‘wrong’ reading in the public and popular sphere, even if we completely dismiss Martin’s claim that these tropes affected specialist research itself.

          The last paragraph is unfortunate, I think. Firstly, no, I don’t agree that women’s reproductive systems are inherently more complicated than men’s and therefore need specialist treatment (You might as well say that as men’s are disproportionately held outside the body they are far more vulnerable to damage and trauma and QED need specialist treatment and better medical consideration!).

          Secondly, dismissing medicine and affiliated biological sciences (e.g. in this case reproductive science, endocrinology, etc) as ‘less exact and more emotionally invested’ than other sciences is rather an uncomfortable move, given the topic of this post, and the fact that because of deeply disproportionate gender balances, it is precisely these sciences which are home to the most women scientists.

  4. kt says:

    I have to disagree with J.W. Ford’s remark. In mathematics, at least, we are not interested in “demolishing” or “attacking” peoples arguments (in general!). Mathematicians seem to assume that previous peer-reviewed and published work is true, and we build on it, we subsume it, we extend it, we generalize it. There’s no sense in attacking or demolishing unless something’s wrong, no? And we try to publish only provably correct things!

    In philosophy and other humanities there’s much more effort put into showing your opponents are wrong (and possibly stupid). Since we all identify with our work, whether in philosophy or math, this would seem to me to cause psychological ramifications; I will leave off the gendered musings for the moment.

  5. Anon says:

    Is sexual harassment rife within the sciences?

    Not at my school. There was a rumour I heard last week that a female undergrad student was being looked after in the lab by a postdoc who groped her. I think discipline has been swift. There are certain male members of staff that flirt with the women in the department but not in a harassing way. We’re proud of our reputation of being a good environment to work in.

  6. C says:

    Interesting post, Athene. I’m almost reluctant to comment but I will as I doubt I can be identified… Have I experienced sexual harassment? Actually, yes, I think so. Did I do anything about it? No. Maybe I should have done but once I was aware of it, I avoided putting myself in situations where I would be left alone with the individual in question. It was a strange thing that kind of crept up without me realising what was going on. It may sound naive but I genuinely thought that the colleague in question was being friendly because I was new to the department and in fact the city. Besides, he was probably 20 years older than me so I didn’t perceive him as a ‘threat’ at all – a case of me being ‘ageist’ probably. We used to go for the odd drink after work and because I didn’t know many people at this point, it was a welcome distraction. He was very knowledgeable and entertaining and a useful person who knew who to get things done at work. However, I soon started to feel slightly uneasy about these trips as the topics of conversation became more personal, and I stopped going and we didn’t actually go for a drink for a long time after that. Nothing had happened but that sense of unease told me that I should stay away. So I did, and everything seemed normal at work so I came to think that he must have gotten over whatever it was. And it was probably some 2 years later, when we were having a drink somewhere, totally out of the blue came the ‘pass.’ I was so taken aback I think I just stood there open-mouthed. And of course thoughts start whizzing through your head and you wonder if it is your own fault. Did I do something flirtatious? Had I been giving off unconscious ‘come and get me’ signals? Well, no. None of that actually. It was such a strange rush of emotions – anger and humiliation at the same time. I was incensed and also embarrassed that this had happened to me. I probably didn’t deal with it terribly well – I certainly didn’t tell anyone, and I never confronted him about it afterwards. Still haven’t to be honest. We both know what happened, and I think we both know it will never happen again. We work together still and I have developed a steely stare that can drop someone in their tracks. He knows better than to make me use it.

    Anyway, that’s my story. I have never told it to anyone and I don’t think about it. I’m not aware of stories form other places although I have heard lots of rumours over the years. I suspect much of it is not visible because people like me choose not to mention it. And we probably should.

  7. Paul says:

    A difficult challenge is to clearly define what is sexual harrassment and what is part of normal, acceptable human interaction in a mixed gender environment (which may include forming intimate relationships).

    Many academics are married to or otherwise in relationships with other academics (myself included). Passes have obviously been made at some point (and been welcomed)! It’s not always possible to know if an advance will be welcomed or not and so all unwanted passes shouldn’t be considered harrassment or even derogatory to or trivialising the recipient! We shouldn’t turn into robots where human emotions aren’t allowed in the workplace. Academics work long hours too, which is possibly one contributing factor to the number of relationships between academics.

    There are obvious cases of harassment, e.g. when an individual is obviously senior to or has influence or power over the other in the workplace, or if the pass is made when the person is in a vulnerable position, etc. However, many cases are less black and white. While I was working in the US, the institution I was at had formal, compulsory sexual harassment training for all staff (an online tutorial) then made it clear what was acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. If it is felt that this might be an issue in the UK, then a similar short educational training scheme could be developed (by Athena Swan?) for use in institutions here.

    I would imagine propositioning happens in all lines of work. Low proportions of women in some areas of academia may be part of the reason that these women feel harrassed as the small amount of propositioning that may happen naturally is concentrated into attention on a specific few.

  8. Michelle says:

    Dear Athene

    I suspect that women do receive quite a bit of unwanted attention, but simply ignore it and carry on regardless. The most prevalent type of behaviour I’ve observed in my many years of research is the ‘older male’ researcher and the ‘young female’ postdoc or student. I’ve seen this happen to a few of my colleagues and have two examples here that I can share.
    First, as a young postdoc one summer, I helped out at a conference that I was also attending, wearing a smart black dress for an evening concert as I was an usher. To my surprise, in September, I received a very early Christmas card from one of the older male attendees, complimenting me on my attire (and a few other things). Needless to say, I avoided situations where I might meet that particular person, for some time afterwards.
    Second, again as a young postdoc, I gave a seminar at a prestigious London Institution, and was chatting to my host and others afterwards in the pub (as one does). Shortly after returning back to my own institution I received both letters and phone calls inviting me back, inviting me to dinner etc etc. from an older male colleague. These were completely unsolicited and unwanted. Again, I had to be very careful to avoid that particular individual for some time afterwards.
    I have other examples.
    These are of course fairly mild (and similar to circumstances described by yourself), but still it is rather disconcerting to be the centre of attraction at conferences and so on, because of the way one looks and one’s gender, and not because of one’s science. And, if I hadn’t been able to deal with these unwanted attentions, it could have had an adverse effect on my career in science. Often, as a young postdoc, my impression quite often was that my science was overlooked because I was a ‘girl’. Older men seemed much more interested in sitting next to me at dinner and telling me all about how great they were, than actually asking me what I did, or what I thought about my area of science. I was always most popular at conference dinners. This was a recurring theme throughout my early career.
    On the plus side, I think things may be gradually changing. Certainly my younger male colleagues do not seem to show this type of behaviour, and the number of older male colleagues that did is gradually declining.
    But, I still think there is a lot of hidden gender bias. Concerning to me, for example, is the Wellcome Trust senior researcher scheme, where about 40-50 fellowships have now been awarded, and only a very few have been given to women (and in most cases to women in partnership with a man). This may partly be reluctance on the part of women to put their head up above the parapet and apply, but I suspect there is more to it than that. Food for thought, for another blog?

  9. On training:

    The Equality Challenge Unit, which both hosts and is a major funder of the Athena SWAN Charter, has a best practice guide for dealing with bullying and harassment in higher education (http://www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/dignity-at-work-guide-for-he). Among its recommendations are:

    31. Training in dealing with bullying and harassment is essential
    for all staff. Prevention is always better than cure, so having a
    comprehensive training programme may prevent issues from
    developing and will save the time and stress involved in dealing with
    bullying and harassment complaints.

    32. Although some institutions are now focusing very strongly on the use
    of on-line and other electronic forms of training, it is advisable to have
    a comprehensive training and education plan that utilises a variety of
    methods. Training that fails to take account of the needs and learning
    styles of the target audience as well as the cost and ease of delivery
    for the institution, is unlikely to be effective.

  10. I feel uncomfortable with the phrase ‘zero tolerance’ in this context.

    Firstly, for me, it carries an implication that it is possible to define precisely what is appropriate and what is not. Harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual”. While there are actions that are clearly unacceptable, there is considerable scope for interpretation. For example, is it acceptable to use the figure illustrating the concept of effective mass from the Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics: Basic Semiconductor Physics in a talk?

    Secondly, the phrase comes from policing. It is defined as ‘the policy of applying laws or penalties to even minor infringements of a code in order to reinforce its overall importance’. (Dictionary Reference) There are a number of problems with this in the context of harassment in universities. What credible penalties are available? How do you identify offenders? One of the known problems with zero tolerance policies is a reluctance to report infringements (Coming Forward (pdf), p12). In fact the thrust of modern Dignity at Work policies is to find ways of resolving situations. If more people were aware of the range of options available they might be more inclined to seek to resolve a situation before it reaches the point where formal complaint procedures are the only alternative. How do you take into account the general messiness of relations between people? Specific situations do not necessarily fit neatly into the ‘evil perpetrator/ innocent victim’ narrative.

    The phrase also gives me the impression that the underlying assumption is that most people don’t want to work in workplaces in which people are treated with respect and courtesy and consequently have to be coerced into demonstrating respect for others.

    These are my reactions to the phrase ‘zero tolerance’. Others may interpret it quite differently.

  11. anonymous says:

    When this was first posted, I didn’t reply – for one, I’m from the USA and you were more interested in the UK, and I was also insanely busy and didn’t even know where to begin. But, does sexual harassment occur in the sciences? In my experience is it very common. Academia, at least in the USA, has a whole set of unwritten rules that continue to allow this to happen all the time, and in many places there is also a lack of written rules to protect women. And it isn’t the older men that one should be concerned about. All of my experiences were from young or mid-career men. In all cases, I think it has a lot to do with power and I think my talent sometimes made these men feel insecure and so they used sexual harassment as a means of control.

    As an undergraduate science major my professors told me in front of all other students in several classes (different professors, different classes, all of which I was usually the only woman or one of only a handful) that it was ok for me to get my BS degree but after that I needed to stay home and bake for the ‘real scientists’. They also told me that they wouldn’t give a girl an A (and didn’t, even though I had the highest grade in the class). They also wouldn’t call on me and would instead demand that one of my male classmates answer the questions asked in class. Instead my clothing and looks were often commented on in front of my male classmates. In addition, I won a very prestigious award at a national event for my undergraduate research, yet I was denied the research award from my own university in favor of a male classmate – and was told that I didn’t need the award as I was just going to get married eventually anyway. When I argued that I was also going to graduate school and deserved and needed this award for my career, my arguments were tossed aside.

    I then went to graduate school and was told by a member of my committee that I had to perform oral sex in order to pass my comprehensive exams. This was in a closed office with no one else present. I acted like he was joking and laughed it off and ran out. I told 2 other (male) professors (I had no female professors to talk to), one of which was my major advisor. He didn’t believe me and told me to my face that I was lying. I think the main reason he did this was because he was untenured and the professor who did this was a full professor and if my advisor stood up for me his career would be threatened. The other professor that I told believed me but cautioned me that if I tried to report this that it would be my career that would be ruined. I work in a field science and no man would want to go in the field with me because I might cry rape. Also my school had no protection for students so there was nothing on the books to protect me if I reported it. I realized I had no protection whatsoever but I wasn’t about to let this horrible man ruin my career and I went into my exams very prepared and did well. I had to avoid several more advances from him including one where he threatened me that if I didn’t sleep with him he would make sure I never got an academic job. I had to hide from him the positions I was applying for.

    Later, on my first tenure-track job interview I was taken to one of the faculty’s houses for dinner where several faculty and wives were present. After the dinner another faculty and his wife drove me back to my hotel. On the drive they first went to their house where the wife was dropped off. The male professor then proceeded to take me to a restaurant because he wanted to interview me some more. We stayed there until nearly 1 am, and the questions mostly consisted of him asking me how badly I wanted this job and what I was willing to do to get it. Again I feigned ignorance of what he was really asking me and I answered that I was here interviewing, of course I was interested. He finally gave up and took me to my hotel, but a week later when I was back home I received a phone call from someone who said that ‘one of my friends paid for me to receive a phone sex call’. I declined, and with some searching I am convinced that it was this faculty who paid for that call. In the end I got the job and I was basically forced to take it. Tenure track jobs don’t come up often, and so early in one’s career.

    Suffice to say I later escaped that job for a better one, but the types of incidences I describe do happen, and continued throughout my career. I have found that as I rise in rank and power the things that occur are more subtle and perhaps more often fall under the definition of sexism instead of sexual harassment, but nonetheless are very hurtful. I regret that I was unable to report and stop either of the two worst perpetrators in my stories above. They were very smart in their actions and it was always he-said/ she-said, and the universities had no written rules that I could use. It was also quite obvious that the administrators (and the larger group of scientists in my field) would not support me, but instead that reporting these things would ruin my career. But I often think about women who came after me, what if they were not as strong as I was and not able to say no? If I had been able to do something then maybe this misery could end – at least that caused by these men.

    This career is all that I have ever wanted to do in my life and yes I have done it and I’m very successful. But now after suffering all of this, I really wonder – was it all worth it?

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