Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Whole Human Beings

"...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.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fear and Trembling Under the Stars

"It was in the early morning, Abraham arose and had his donkeys saddled. He departed from his tent, and Isaac with him; but Sarah looked out of the window after them until they were out of sight." (Søren Kierkegaard)

Kierkegaard begins his famous meditation on faith, Fear and Trembling, with four versions of the story of Abraham and Isaac. In rough outline, the basic events in all four versions are the same. Isaac gets up early and saddles the donkeys; he and Isaac walk three days to the mountain; he binds Isaac and makes a fire; he releases him and they walk home. But Kierkegaard uses the four stories to consider different possibilities. In particular, he imagines the different ways that Isaac might have interpreted his father's strange behavior and the different consequences this might have had for Isaac's own faith.

I want to do the same thing with the story of how Michelle Thaller met and married Andrew Booth. What follows are imagined variations on her story. You can read the original in her 2002 piece for the Christian Science Monitor. I hope she doesn't mind me using her story in this way, nor that I reuse her language in my pastiche. In the language of copyright lawyers, I'm confident it is fair use. But let me unambiguously assert Thaller's moral rights to her own story. My variations are entirely my own responsibility. I have not consulted her about this post. [Note: the first version is essentially a summary of Thaller's story and is the true story. It's also the one that uses most of her language. But I intentionally use her imagery and phrases throughout this experiment.]

In any case, it is interesting to read Thaller's account in the light of our current obsession with sexual harassment. I don't believe that the same story would be published in today's climate. If it did, I don't think the ideologues of the CSWA would approve of it. Back in 2002 it was just a heartwarming story about love "under the stars"; but that story, I fear, simply can't be told within the current narrative. Indeed, I tremble. We all should.


I.

It was early in the morning. After an exhausting 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Michelle stepped off the plane and looked around for Andrew, a professor that a colleague at her department had arranged to meet her at the airport. She had never met him before. When she saw him, however, she was immediately intrigued. He was uncharacteristically snappily dressed for an astronomer. Wearing a teal-colored silk shirt with a brocade waistcoat, he evoked her old crush on Tom Baker as the Doctor. She noticed his smile and his warm brown eyes. Despite being exhausted and jet-lagged, by lunchtime she was trying to work phrases into the conversation like "... and your wife? ... your girlfriend?" "Oh, you're not seeing anyone right now? How interesting."

She was there for a few days. In between all-nighters at the observatory, they managed to cram in their first date: dinner and the Barber of Seville at the Sydney Opera House. They talked almost until dawn, and a few hours later they were standing back in the Sydney airport, saying a rather nervous goodbye. Andrew tried to kiss her, but missed and hit her nose. She reciprocated and hit the mark. Somewhere over the Pacific, she looked down at the sun-speckled waves and thought, "I love you, Andrew." Andrew immediately wrote to her colleague back home, demanding they send that grad student back to Australia as soon as possible. Four years later, they were married.


II.

It was early in the morning. At the request of colleague in America, Andrew had reluctantly agreed to play host to graduate student and was waiting for her at the airport. As she came through customs, obviously exhausted after the long flight, he was immediately taken with her beauty. The world stopped. He gave her his best smile and picked up her bags. Over lunch, he was encouraged by her not-too-subtle interest in whether he was married or otherwise involved. Fortunately, he could honestly say he was not. But, given how he already felt, would he have lied if he had been? He did not know.

As planned, she stayed in his guest room and spent the nights at the observatory watching the stars. He made sure to be there too, and when the opportunity presented itself he invited her to see the Barber of Seville at the Sydney Opera House. On her last night, they talked almost until dawn and then he took her to the Sydney airport. They were both nervous and Andrew bungled their first kiss, managing only a peck on the nose. Fortunately, her follow-up was more accurate.

Returning to his office, now certain he was in love, Andrew immediately wrote to his colleague at her university, arranging for some way to bring her back as soon as they could. A long-distance romance ensued. They exhanged intimate emails and made sure to meet up at conferences whenever possible. She came to visit him and he came to visit her.

He was worried when she stopped answering his mails. One day, she announced the she was getting married to a young man in the English department. Once again, the world stopped. He begged her to reconsider, but she did not respond. At the next AAS conference, he left her several messages at her hotel. She did not answer. He attended her session and she avoided his eyes, slipping out of the room in a crowd before he could talk to her. At a reception he finally cornered her. She spoke to him sternly, telling him he had to understand it was over. If he did not leave her alone she would file a formal complaint. "Yes," she admited, "it was once love." But now it was bordering on harassment. "Good bye, Andrew."


III.

It was early in the morning. After an exhausting 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Michelle stepped off the plane and looked around for Andrew. She had never met him before, but when she saw him the world stopped. He was snappily dressed in a teal-colored silk shirt and a brocade waistcoat. His brown eyes shone through a warm smile that used his whole face to express itself. Over lunch she asked him, perhaps a bit too inquisitively about whether he was married or seeing someone. She tried to conceal her joy when he said he was not.

She was there for a few days, staying in his guestroom as had been arranged. She spent her nights at the observatory, of course, and so did he. One night, he suggested they go to dinner and the opera. She was thrilled to accept. On their last night together, they talked almost until dawn and, a few hours later, back in the Sydney airport, he leaned in to kiss her goodbye. He missed and ended up hitting her nose, but she immediately corrected the error and kissed him on the mouth. As she looked down at the sun-speckled waves of the Pacific she knew she was in love.

Back in California, however, she was distraught when her colleague asked her whether she had met Andrew's lovely wife. She confronted him about it a few months later at a conference. He was embarrassed and mumbled something about a misunderstanding. He pretended he had not tried to kiss her and had hoped that her kiss was just "an American thing"—just a bit of fun. Now his faced changed and he addressed her seriously. He suggested that she not speak to anyone about this, and that she consider how a scandal might affect her career. Four years later, she left astronomy for a job in industry.


IV.

It was early in the morning. Andrew was waiting outside customs at the Sydney airport. He hated this sort of obligation but, as usual, he had buckled and promised a colleague that he would play host to a graduate student from America. He had even agreed to let her stay in his guest room. Now, as she came through customs, he noticed something odd about the way she stopped and looked at him. He felt strangely cast in the role of the Doctor meeting his new Companion.

Ever British, however, he gave her his best smile and picked up her bags. Over lunch, he was a bit concerned by her interest in his love life. He answered, honestly, that he was not seeing anyone—he was all work, really—and again registered her reaction with some concern. Was something happening between them? If so, what was he supposed to do?

Since she was staying in his home and using his telescope at the observatory they necessarily spent a lot of time together during her stay. One night, she hinted strongly, he thought, that she would like to see the Barber of Seville at the Sydney Opera House. He had a connection that could get them some tickets that evening but they would have to go straight from the observatory, getting some dinner on the way. It was a lovely evening. Perhaps a bit too lovely, he vaguely thought. But he put it out of his mind.

On her last night, she kept him up all night talking. He was too polite to send her off to bed; she was so young and enthusiastic. It was not unpleasant company. After breakfast, he drove her to the airport. As they parted, she seemed nervous and Andrew thought perhaps a hug was in order. She moved her head in the wrong direction and her nose touched his lips. She looked a bit confused, but smiled coyly and kissed him on the lips. Then she said a hurried goodbye and was gone. Was that the sound of the Tardis wheezing behind him?

Back in the office he wrote a carefully worded email, praising Michelle's scientific abilities and saying she'd be welcome back anytime. Rereading this email a year later as part of the sexual harassment complaint she had filed against him, he realized he had not been careful enough. Indeed, the whole thing had been wrong from the beginning he could now see. He should have been better at establishing a boundary. Apparently, she thought that he had been coming on to her the whole time. She had only been "playing along", trying to "survive".

As he wrote his letter of resignation, he tried to remember Auden's quip about the Americans and the British being two people divided by a common language. He looked up. They're not actually shooting stars, the first astronomy lesson he could remember had taught him; they are falling rocks. They are burning up.


* * *

These are strange times. After reading Thaller's story and my imaginary variations, consider Kevin Marvel's unambiguous statement to the astronomy community:

[D]o not treat any AAS meeting or other event as a venue for finding a romantic partner. Yes, there are people at our events, and yes, people do make romantic connections, and yes, there may even be opportunities to make such connections at our events, but please, everyone, just shelve these inclinations for our conferences. Too much damage is being done. Just one negative interaction in the poster hall, at a session, in the bar during the meeting, or at a restaurant or offsite event may be all it takes to dissuade a bright young scientist from participating in our field. This is unacceptable, and it needs to stop.

He restated this more recently to me by email:

The AAS believes it is inappropriate for a professional science conference to be considered a dating or pickup zone. We believe that a professional scientific conference should be just that, a scientific conference. Our actions in establishing and advertising our anti-harassment policy and processing the few claims we have received fully and confidentially are steps to establish an open culture focused on science. We believe we are succeeding and we will continue to take steps to ensure that culture is maintained.

Under this rule, would the romance of Michelle and Andrew have been possible? I really don't think so. Then again, perhaps romance has always been against the rules. Perhaps we love, when we do, in spite of everything. Perhaps it will always take the faith of Abraham to take the leap, to form a personal relationship in a corporate culture. Good luck, astronomers!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Professional Society

"You know if someone likes your face you'd be a fool to stay
strictly amateur." (Joe Jackson)

I made an interesting discovery this week. Christina Richey has resigned as chair of the American Astronomy Society's Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA). She has been replaced with Patricia Knezek. Curiously, however, Richey's resignation has come without any ceremony whatsoever. I discovered it by chance when I happened to look at the list of committee members. As I write this, the page was last updated on February 12, 2017. Richey's Wikipedia article was modified by an anonymous user (the IP address traces to Washington, DC) on February 11. So I'm assuming that's roughly the date of the resignation. No announcement was made on the Women in Astronomy blog, nor on the AAS's website.

As regular readers of this blog know, my attempts to engage in a dialogue with Dr. Richey about the status of women in astronomy have completely failed. She has not answered a single one of my mails (nor my most recent open letter). And it was only when I contacted the president of the AAS that my inquires began getting some response, first from an AAS press officer, and currently from Kevin Marvel, the executive officer of the Society. On February 6, he asked me not to contact AAS "volunteers" like Richey (and now Knezek), presumably because answering critical questions is not part of what they signed up for. So I wrote to him about the change of chair.

"Dr. Richey resigned," he responded, "to dedicate more time to her regular employment." (Richey is a program officer at NASA. Specifically, she is the Deputy Program Scientist for the OSIRIS-REx mission and the Deputy Science Advisor for Research and Analysis for the Science Mission Directorate.) Now, given the fanfare with which she stepped into the position in 2015, one would have expected a glowing post thanking her for her service and introducing her replacement. But it was apparently very important to remove her from the position before such an announcement could be made, including, like I say, updating her Wikipedia page.

Having served on volunteer boards and committees myself, both in my private and my professional life, I fully appreciate Marvel's efforts to protect the AAS's volunteers from criticism and nuisance. (I'm willing to grant that my interest in this committee constitutes a bit of a disruption. I will insist, however, that all my communications with the AAS/CSWA have been courteous and accurate and that I have, of necessity, been very patient with the Society's unwillingness or inability to answer my questions.) But as I have explained to him, I think the image of CSWA members as amateurs who are giving their time freely is a bit naive, and perhaps, as I will try to suggest here, even disingenuous. The CSWA is a powerful committee that has been driving cultural change in the astronomy community, especially during Richey's tenure. Like all power, we do well to keep an eye on how it is being wielded.

Two famous slogans come to mind. "With power comes responsibility." "Power corrupts." The latter is especially true if the constituency does not insist on the former. That is, when someone takes on the role of chair of a committee, they are not just volunteering their time to work on behalf of the members of the relevant organization. They are stepping into a position of power. (It is interesting that feminists, who are so obsessed with "power" in the hands of men, are so often blind to their own power, even when it when comes with a formal title.) The power of the CSWA has been very conspicuous over the past year and half, and Dr. Richey has real responsibility for what the committee has accomplished. Note, that this is true whether you approve or disapprove of the committee's work. Whether you want to thank her or blame her, Dr. Richey is the proper subject of that judgment.

Most notably, Geoff Marcy was forced into retirement on Dr. Richey's watch. A strong statement of support from the CSWA for Berkeley's investigation and disciplinary process, i.e., a statement acknowledging the original sanctions, would have a done a great deal to keep him working in the field, and to share responsibility for his behavior. After all, Marcy was once a member of the committee (1994-1997)! Instead, the CSWA, under Richey's leadership, very definitely threw Marcy under the bus. It must have been clear to everyone, both at Berkeley and in the astronomy community, which way the wind was blowing. To borrow from the language of sociology, the CSWA is a key "organized component" of a very effective political movement. Whatever one may think of it, one has to respect it.

With Richey's strangely unceremonious resignation, I wonder if the winds are changing. For the sake of astronomy, I of course hope so, and I will keep an eye on developments going forward to do my part in reminding power of its responsibility. If we do not hold the CSWA to account, it is simply too easy to imagine it being corrupted by opportunists who would use it to advance less "progressive" agendas—like their own careers or personal vendettas. Once a court of oyer et terminer has been established, it can be put to all kinds of ulterior uses.

I'm going to keep a watchful eye, like I say. Here's how an anonymous commenter on my recent bleg described the mood in the community.

... please don't stop writing! ... But ... it's absolutely radioactive to discuss [harassment] among a random group of astronomers --- you WILL be branded as a harasser yourself if you show any sympathy to those accused, never mind that the prevailing view infantalizes women, treating them as if they are incapable of taking care of themselves. But those of us who disagree are starting to find each other. We welcome and share your blog posts and hope for sanity to re-emerge from the wreckage. Thank you for providing a different perspective. I don't think anyone in astronomy could get away with it.

My independent research largely confirms that this is what is going on. Indeed, an "astronomy underground" appears to be forming.* This, of course, is not being covered by the science press. In fact, I haven't yet decided whether it would be most accurate to say that so-called "science writers" have been mainly co-opted by the "ally" movement or that they are simply wagging the dog. Since the scientists, science communicators, and science policy makers are increasingly part of the same "complex", with well-oiled revolving doors, it's probably a little bit of both.

Scientists, and academics more generally, have always had an ambivalent attitude about their "profession". Traditionally, being a professor is not quite the same thing as being a professional. But in an age of Big Science this is changing, and many who earned their doctoral degrees back in the 1980s are no doubt having a hard time adjusting to the new order. As I've said before, the problem here isn't actually "feminism", though it's certainly part of the problem. The problem is corporatism. Working in science is much more like working for a large multinational corporation with a "bottom line" to watch, and a "brand" to protect, than serving on the faculty of a university, pursuing free inquiry under the protections of tenure. The Bora Zivkovics, Tim Hunts, and Geoff Marcys of the world are perhaps a dying breed. Indeed, they are being intentionally hunted to extinction, as I think the leaders of the ally movement would agree.

Here it is worth noting something I think traditional scientists haven't properly appreciated about many of the "allies" who are leading the movement to "end sexual harassment" in science. I'll write a more detailed post about this soon, but it's important to keep in mind that Dr. Richey is not an "academic" in a traditional sense. When she was introduced as chair of the CSWA, she was "a Senior Scientist at Smart Data Solutions, LLC, working for the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters." Today, she is still working at NASA, but not as an employee of that agency. She is a contractor employed by the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

The corporate culture of astronomy can also be seen in a weird statement from Kevin Marvel about those slides I always complain about. When I tried to get him to confirm that the slides had been changed, he surprised me by simply abrogating responsibility for them. The slides are hosted on a "third party" server, he said. "It is not affiliated with the AAS. Christina is also not affiliated with [it]." (I am currently trying to contact the organization that hosts the file in order to clarify the situation, so I'll hold off on drawing it into the controversy by name at this point.) This is odd to me because I haven't really been in any doubt that it was Richey who provided the files that were uploaded. Nor has Ethan Siegel at Forbes, nor has the DPS.

Or consider someone like Jessica Kirkpatrick, who was a vocal witness** in the Geoff Marcy investigation. Somewhat baroquely, she has compared the astronomy community to the Catholic Church. Kirkpatrick earned her PhD from Berkeley in 2012, but never really pursued a career in astronomy. She is a data scientist at Hired, Inc. Nonetheless, she joined the CSWA in 2012 and was elected to the Council of the AAS last year. "My first goal for being on the council," she wrote in her candidate statement, "is to broaden the perspective of the AAS to include astronomers who are currently working in industry." Not surprisingly, her second goal is "to leverage [her] experience on the CSWA, the Women in Astronomy Blog, and the Equity & Inclusion in Physics and Astronomy Community to help the AAS better serve those who are currently underrepresented in astronomy and/or marginalized by society as a whole."

Like I say, I don't really believe that this is all about serving underrepresented populations. I believe it is about the corporatization of scientific inquiry. In his 1983 epilogue to his classic Concept of the Corporation (1946), Peter Drucker noted that his ideas were largely ignored by the company (GM) that it was about. Rather, its major impact was on the reorganization of the state institutions such as universities. In the same epilogue, he also speaks of the rise of a "society of organizations". This, too, is a subject that deserves a post of its own. My aim here is merely to note that there are enormous (and long standing) pressures on scientists to "professionalize". The American Astronomical Society is obviously subject to those pressures. I truly worry that, however well-intentioned some in the "ally movement" may be, they are leveraging forces that may ultimately break the spirit of inquiry. Amateur hour, sadly, is over.

But this story is not. Christina Richey remains co-Chair of the Division for Planetary Sciences' Subcommittee on Professional Climate and Culture.

___________
[Updated on Feb 23 at 21:30]
*As a couple of readers have pointed out, the Real Astronomy website isn't exactly active. It was last updated over a year ago, on January 19, 2016. To take it as evidence of a growing "underground" resistance is probably overstating things. It is my sense, however, that the commenter I cited is right to say that concerned astronomers are "finding each other".
**Technically, Kirkpatrick is a "complainant" (#4) in the Marcy case, as distinct from what the PRA documents refer to as "witnesses". But since Kirkpatrick's "complaint" was essentially that she was made uncomfortable witnessing Marcy's behavior, I did not want to give readers not familiar with the details the impression that Kirkpatrick claims to have been actually harassed by Marcy. Indeed, the woman whose alleged harassment she witnessed did not file complaint during the investigation.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Baselines and Basic Questions

"...some people will say, But he didn’t attack you. You weren’t raped, you weren’t assaulted, and this was not a professional setting. And you’re right; I was lucky that this man did not become aggressive in his pursuit, and other women in the field experience much worse." (Nicole Cabrera Salazar)

"For those in [astronomy] who have never experienced harassment: You are so lucky! Remember that you have that privilege, because many of us don't." (Christina Richey [video 406.1 at 04:16] Chair of the Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy of the American Astronomical Society.)

Is luck really the deciding factor? In a study that I've written about before, Marina Rosenthal, Alec Smidt and Jennifer Freyd found that the sexual harassment of graduate students is rather mild. The mean score for faculty harassment of female students was 1.44 on a scale of 0 to 72. To put that in perspective, consider that if everyone had said they sometimes experienced being “repeatedly told sexual stories or jokes that [they found] offensive”, and no other negative behaviors were experienced, then the corresponding mean score would have been 2.

The study also allows us to compare the experience of graduate students today to that of military personnel in the 1990s. Here, the comparable scores were 10.45 for women and 2.39 for men. It may not be a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, but at first pass it would seem that women in academia today are less harassed than men in the military in the 1990s.

This raises an interesting and important question. The mean harassment score for male graduate students was 0.59. This suggests that a policy goal for harassment in academia can't hope for a zero value. To see this, consider the study's results on perceived safety. Female graduate students have a significantly lower perception of their own safety than their male counterparts: 3.36 vs. 4.32 on a scale of 0 to 5. Since we can't expect an environment to offer 100% of the people a complete sense of safety, the 4.32 result for males may well be an "acceptable" level. We probably have to decide on an acceptable but non-zero value on the harassment measure as well.

Now, it would be surprising if male harassment and male perceived safety are only exactly (or just barely) acceptable. Men are generally (and in this case I think quite rightly) [seen as]* "privileged" with regard to how much sexual harassment they have to put up with. The mean score on perceived safety could fall a little from 4.32 and still be within acceptable limits; the mean harassment score could rise a little from .59 without causing alarm. The question is how much? That would give us a baseline against which to assess the 3.36 (for safety) and 1.44 (for harassment) results for women. It would also give us a policy objective.

With this in mind, I want throw out a series of questions that I don't think the sexual harassment alarmists give enough attention. They should have some answers to these questions. Their research should enable us to answer them.

How likely are female astronomers to experience harassment during their careers? [And how likely are male astronomers to experience it?]
At what stage of their careers are they most likely to experience it? (How likely at each stage?)
How serious is the harassment likely to be at each stage?
Do female astronomers experience more or less sexual harassment than female flight attendants and female bankers?
Do female scientists experience more or less sexual harassment than female politicians? (Related question: Do female lab assistants experience more or less sexual harassment than female interns in the political system?)
Do female scientists experience more or less sexual harassment than female science writers?
Do female science writers experience more or less sexual harassment than female political or financial journalists?
How much more or less?

In so far as we can measure these things, I suspect that female scientists live very sheltered lives. The reason they breathe a sigh of relief over not being raped after men hit on them at faculty parties is not that they are at a high risk of being raped. It's because they are conditioned by an ideology that tells them to consider themselves lucky and privileged. In a sense, they are. I just think they deserve to enjoy it more. And they deserve to enjoy the company of the men they work with much more than some of them appear to be able to because of the current obsession with harassment.

__________
*I had left these two words [out]** in the original version. That's a pretty big blunder! Fortunately, it only stood for about 30 minutes.
**Okay, this is ridiculous! In the above footnote, which was supposed to explain the addition of two words I had left out when I first published this post, I left out the word "out" in the phrase "left these two words out", so it now looked like I was saying that the "blunder" was to leave the bracketed words in, i.e., the opposite of what I was trying to say. To be clear: the original post could have been read as me saying that males are "rightly privileged", i.e., they deserve their privilege. I meant to say that they are "rightly seen as being privileged". That is, it's not wrong to think of men as having it easier than women in regard to sexual harassment. I don't think they should have it easier.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Story

Once you have heard Monica Byrne's story about Bora Zivkovic, Kathleen Raven tells us, you have essentially also heard her own story about him. Her story is actually a bit more complicated, but Raven also writes too ambiguously about the events for my tastes. Her emotion lacks an objective correlative, "a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of a particular emotion," as T. S. Eliot defined it. Or, to put in Hemingway's terms, we vaguely sense how we're supposed to feel upon hearing her story, but we can't quite discern "the actual things ... which produced the emotion that [she] experienced." "The real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion," does not quite come into view.

Here's my sense of what happened.

She had had a couple of glasses of wine on an empty stomach. In November of 2010, Raven was a graduate student attending a conference reception, "eager to get [her] name out to potential employers". Zivkovic had obvious potential in that regard and she "ended up in a cab with" him heading towards a restaurant for dinner with a group of people. Though slightly impaired by the wine, she was able to follow his story about coming to America, asking many questions. After dinner, Zivkovic paid for her part of the bill and what follows is best to get in her words:

I made my way to the hotel lobby, anxious to get away from Bora because I knew I was putting myself in a risky situation. But somehow we ended up standing together in front of the elevators. “Let’s go up to the bar at the top,” he suggested to me. I nodded. Once there, I ordered a plain Coke. He talked and talked. I don’t remember much. I do remember, as we later both stood waiting for the bell to signal my floor, that he leaned over and kissed me on top of my head. I mumbled a farewell as the doors opened and walked away.

The story picks up in May, 2012. Raven had won an internship in New York, which offered Zivkovic a chance to see her about once a month when he had business in the same building. They spoke with such familiarity on these visits that a coworker who overheard them thought they might be married. In July, he invited her to dinner and she accepted. She reminded him of the kiss he "stole" when they first met, apparently forgetting to censure him for it. When they stepped outside he told her, like he would tell Byrne a few months later, of his current marital difficulties. She now forced the issue, asking him whether he wanted to sleep with her. He appears to have indicated he would. She told him she was not interested. He apologized.

Although she says that his answer "confirmed [her] worst fears," for some reason, and one that is not specified, they continued to meet. He apparently continued to express a sexual interest in her. As she tells the story, he had not understood that she wanted to nothing to do with him personally. She also seems to have had some difficulty just telling him frankly that she was not interested in being his friend or unrequited love interest. As a result they appear to have had a very complicated relationship, much of which took the form of an email correspondence. He seems to have gotten the impression that clear boundaries had been drawn and that they were therefore able to speak freely. Aside from that kiss on the forehead and, no doubt, some hugging. The relationship never became physical. (Raven certainly does not tell us that it did.)

There is an episode in which everyone behaves very strangely:

This past June [2013], at the 8th World Conference of Science Journalists meeting in Helsinki, I participated on a panel with my incredibly talented fellow science journalists. Bora recruited all of us and organized the panel. On the night before the meeting began, he arrived to the official conference hotel late at night. “Which room are you in?” Bora texted before or soon after he entered the hotel. I sent him the room number where my husband and I stayed. “Can I come by and see you now?” he texted. “No, I’m afraid we have to wait until tomorrow morning. My husband is already in bed, sorry,” I texted back. A few moments later, I heard a knock at our door. I opened it expecting to see housekeeping staff. Bora stood there. He said, “Hi!!” and walked past me into our room. My husband sat shocked in our hotel bed. Bora grabbed me in an embrace, picked me up, swirled me around, and kissed me on the cheek. After a few minutes of small talk, he left.

The date is important. According to the fragments of an email correspondence Raven published, this is almost a year after they appear to have established some ground rules for their relationship. As Zivkovic apparently understood it, "the ‘dangerous’ moments [had] passed, and [they had the] beginning of a wonderful friendship, having each other as confidants, enjoying each others company, enjoying intellectual discussions, sharing deepest secrets with complete trust, and yes, feeling safe to do flirty things with each other fully knowing it does not mean a breach of trust." Obviously, Zivkovic thought they were friends and that any problems in their relationship would be worked out between them in private. It's not hard to imagine that Raven (and her husband) thought Zivkovic was nuisance by the time he showed up in their hotel room. What is difficult to understand is how this felt like harassment.

Raven's story is somewhat disjointed, impressionistic. She gives us glimpses of encounters that do seem strange, but that also leave us wondering why she continues to cultivate the friendship. If she was ever his subordinate, she does not say so. (This is a very important piece of information in a sexual harassment story.) She has organized her presentation, not chronologically, but according to the kind of communication that passed between them. First the in-person encounters, then an exchange of emails. (I've tried to restore chronological the order a little here.) Throughout, the reader is looking for the source of the power he had over her. It seems to be mentioned only in passing at the very beginning: she was "eager to get [her] name out to potential employers". As with Byrne, he didn't seem to think of himself as an employer. He just liked her and he thought she liked him.

Throughout she seems to have been in complete control of the boundaries of the relationship. Finally, in August of 2013 she tells him bluntly to stop talking about his sex life to her, and by October she breaks off the relationship entirely. "We can no longer be friends," she wrote to him, arguably at the very moment when he needed friends to stand by him as the accusations of sexual harassment were surfacing. Indeed, from a narrative point of view, the remark is jarring. It reminds us of the earlier definition of the relationship, in which Zivkovic clearly stated that he considered her his friend, indeed, a very close friend. Apparently, she had encouraged him in this belief throughout the past year, and we (the readers) suddenly realize that this is the same period throughout which she felt he was harassing her.

I want to stress, as I did in my reading of Byrne's story, that I am not questioning the facts or even Raven's experiences. I am pointing out some weaknesses in her writing about them. I am suggesting that the emotion she says she felt (that of being harassed) remains "in excess of the facts" as presented. They do not provide it with an objective correlative. She says she "left [their] meetings feeling crushed, confused, cowardly." She says she felt "violated" by a kiss on the forehead that she "didn't ask for". But at no point does she seem to actually get hurt.

Ironically, Raven does provide a formula for another emotion: Zivkovic's despair. Recall that she not only turns her back on him in a time of need but, in that very moment, recasts (for the first time we know of) their year-long friendship as a prolonged campaign of harassment. That moment must have been as jarring for him as it is for the reader. "I am not a suicidal type," he writes to her after she reverses the poles, "but I see no reason to live any more." That's an emotion one can actually find a basis for in the narrative. I submit that it is a poor story that leaves us feeling only sympathy for the would-be villain and only confusion about how the soi-disant victim was harmed.