"...every girl child is conceived as a whole woman but from the time of her birth to her death she is progressively disabled. A woman's first duty to herself is to survive this process, then to recognize it, then to take measures to defend herself against it." (Germain Greer, The Whole Woman)
"Scientists are human," Kate Clancy* reminds us around the 24-minute mark in yesterday's interview with Niala Boodhoo of Illinois Public Media. She goes on to say that harassment is "somewhat common" in science. Interestingly, she "wouldn't say that [it is] more common in science than in other places," thus recognizing that professions can be compared, and that non-zero rates of harassment in a given field are as normal as non-zero rates homicide in a given city. Human beings are neither all good nor all bad, so once you get a number of them working together on anything you're going to see some amount of questionable behavior. It's good to see that Clancy recognizes this obvious point.
It's unfortunate, however, that she compares science so vaguely to all "other places". Surely, we would expect some places to be much worse than science on this score. A reader of this blog recently suggested I read about how things are done in the jewelry business, for example. Indeed, once we begin to imagine the "other places", a long list of professions (waiting tables, stripping, acting, banking, legal work, policing, flight attending) seem intuitively to be much, much likelier contexts for sexual harassment. It slowly dawns on us that "not more common in science that in other places" is a rather serious understatement. Off the top of our heads, we're hard-pressed to think of a place where it might be less common!
Nonetheless, she draws what I think is a reasonable conclusion. Sexual harassment is not a problem that is particular to science, nor does sexual harassment take a unique form in the sciences. Rather, the problem is a general, societal one: "We don't recognize women as whole human beings." But here I don't think she is being general enough in her anthropology.
Indeed, I wish feminists would recognize that this is actually not just a feminist, or even an "intersectional" issue. We don't recognize anyone as a whole human being. To riff on Greer's eloquence in my epigraph, let's say that each of us is conceived as a whole human being but from our births to our deaths we are progressively disabled. Our first duty to ourselves is to survive this process, then to recognize it, then to take measures to defend ourselves against it. What is this process called? Corporatization. Professionalism!
I'm being a bit hyperbolic, perhaps. But readers of this blog know that I'm very concerned about the pale cast of "corporate culture" that increasingly sicklies over the spirit of inquiry at universities. Not more so, as Clancy might say, than "in other places", like legislatures and office buildings, but perhaps nowhere more antithetically to the traditional mission of the site in question. What is more "wholly human" than the satisfaction our curiosity in the free exploration of and experimentation with the natural world? What is more opposed to this than the staid language of interdepartmental committees and institutional review boards. Scientists are conceived, we might say, as whole human beings but end up "show[ing] up for work [in] a mission t-shirt or a suit and tie", lest they be shamed for their sense of style.
To be sure, a certain amount of "professionalism" is required in the orderly pursuit of knowledge. Indeed, I rage for order frequently—order both in our writing and our lectures. Let there be a little decorum, I say. Let us compose ourselves in prose. But the irony of Clancy's invocation of "whole human beings" is glaring. She and her fellow feminists insist that the sexual being of women, at the very least, should be ignored in the workplace.
Gone are the days when Erica Jong chastized men for their intolerance of the needs of women—"red needs that telephone from foreign countries ... red as gaping wounds." The feminist argument for "professional" conduct in laboratories, observatories, seminar rooms, and conference rooms—even at after-hours parties—is the opposite of a celebration of the "whole human being", with its mess of emotions and desires—its "romantic inclinations", as the professional moralists** of the American Astronomical Society put it. Carl Sagan once wrote of "the romance of science". Today, it is run in the manner of a corporation, governed by entities like the Division for Planetary Sciences and their Subcommittee on Professional Climate and Culture.
*Kate Clancy is an anthropologist at the University of Illinois. She collaborated with Christina Richey on the CSWA workplace climate survey, which is where my interest in her views stems from.
**I had originally just written "moralists". I added the word "profssional" because of the play on words. The moralists in question are, in a certain sense, doing it for a living, but they are also moralists of professionalism. The pun was particularly apt here because of the explicit way Kevin Marvel (whose piece the phrase is taken from) is running interference for the "volunteers" on the CSWA.