Sexual Harassment in academic scientific context, why did it shock us?    What we learned over the last six months is that scientist male and female are still human.   Humans when placed in social context will behave like social and sexual animals that we all are.  Schools are not a safe space from this due to simple human nature.   That said, being the thinking animals that we are we need to know how to control and at least manage those impulses.  Now that the shock has worn off, the veil has come off, and we know scientist are just human.  Some common sense would’ve avoided all of this.   If you would want to beat someone up for doing it to your sister or mother then don’t do it to someone else’s sister or mother.

Being transgender in academic and scientific context I have had everything from a professor drooling over my enhanced chest to hearing my body discussed.  I have had everything from in lab flings and crushes to the awkwardness of those ending.  My trysts were mostly, admittedly only twice with tomboyish women.  I have been looked at as a sexual oddity and discriminated against.  I have been looked at as somehow above the strictures of gender.  I have had to explain to superiors that students can and will act out in class and complain about me in part because of who I am.  Transwomen are the acid test of acceptance and liberality and I can say first-hand the academe is no better than the Mosque or the Church for this.   The religious may be easier even, the truly spiritual know they are not perfect, a highly educated academic may not feel they have anything left to learn.

Then there are the places where I have relative peace where I am not open about who I am.  Whispers maybe but that is it.  In 2016 we are still in a world where a person needs to uphold a certain image of how gender is supposed to be to have an easy time of things. 


The oldest and most vital human nature.  When it comes to certain basic drives modern humans are no different than Australopiths.  Most relevantly, even at that early stage, at least some of them, found intelligence in a mate super attractive.  This sexual selection is a likely reason we are intelligent enough to even think up things like sexual harassment. (Miller. The Mating Mind. ISBN 0-8058-5749-4.)

  Academia reflects the society from which it is drawn. 

Academia can be the first point of change, a fountain of new ideas, but simply being educated is no inoculation against acting like a brutal Australopithecine when trying to mate with the smartest partner(s) available.

To eradicate this problem completely would require a reengineering of behaviors that reflect the deepest hardest wired human nature.  We seek mates who are on our level intellectually.  At least that is who we seek to procreate with.  We seek mates who are as desirable as possibly physically.  We are the product of millions of years of ape like Australopiths, then primitive Homo (habilis, erectus) having as much sex as possible with the smartest fittest mates possible.  Trying to alter that is like trying to alter the instinct to eat when food is presented that makes so many Americans overweight (my self-included for the time being) and obese. 

For this reason, it is absurd to demand that people not notice the anatomy that is on display.  That is like a reflex.  What can be controlled is what one does about that.

The only real solution, at the end of the day, is to train men in science what it is like to be one of a few women in science.  To train them to control themselves and …unless that woman across the lab table from them gives them a clear sign… simply seek their mates and expend their sexual energies outside the lab/classroom/office.     

The kind of hostile environment created by explicit jokes and images is clearly not appropriate.  As for the “romance gone wrong” scenario the problem would be solved in science and in academics if these guys would not crap where they eat.   Even if they clear initial signs are given, and things go well for a while unless you two are the Curies in the making it will end badly.   Then handle that bad romance with some maturity on both sides.   Things go sideways with a lab mate, emphasis on the mate, will not mean that they disappear from the lab.   For that matter if things don’t go sideways even then a lovey dovey couple being a bit too touchy feely at work could also create a hostile environment.  


My three rules are a good personal policy and for any organization.

Don’t date (or be in any way emotional about) subordinates. 

If you date them keep everything above board and public no sneaking around.

If things go south, as the superior person, either leave or act to reduce the awkwardness for your former partner.


In short.  This is a complicated problem that has plagued science since Ughugh the stone blade maker took a fancy to Prr the fire maker/tender.  There are no perfect solutions.    No finite list of rules can cover all possible situations.  Just use common sense.  A good bro-standable way of thinking of this...

If you would want to beat someone up for doing it to your sister or mother, then don’t do it to someone else’s sister or mother.