At all levels of academic science men outnumber women by a great deal. Whites outnumber black by a even larger margin regardless of sex or gender. Out LGBT are outnumbered by an even larger margin. Without loss of generality I hypothesize that MOST of the sexual, racial and other tensions in the science lab is at root caused by this lopsided representation of people.
TL;DR: Male behavior + few females = Sexually Hostile astronomy workplace for women. That is the real #astroSH. The court of law can help with this.
First some data that shows the sexism is real:
That is good. Compared to other areas, like Physics, Astronomy is actually better when it comes to gender equality. In the end what makes a scientist isn’t their feelings but their work. A woman astronomer who observes something can’t be told they didn’t see what they saw. Anyone who wants to check their work only needs the RA and DEC, coordinates, of the sighting. The proof is not very disputable.
Compare this to theoretical astrophysics. There all it takes is for an authoritative man to harrumph and opine that ones work is not worthy for it to be ignored or dismissed by some. Whether it is correct or not. It can take a LONG time for a female theoretical astrophysicist work to be taken seriously. Take for example Vera Rubin, the mother of Dark Matter. One does not often hear her name mentioned in connection with it.
If it was Virgil Rubin I’d bet we’d call it “Rubin Matter” instead of Dark Matter. Just as we call Hawking Radiation after Stephen W. Hawking.
Science has a sexism issue.
As long as the number of woman scientist is less than 50% that will be the case. Science has a racism issue, as long as the proportional representation of all racial, ethnic, cultural, ability, and any other groups I failed to mention is below or way above their proportion of the population there is a problem. That is just math.
I am not in favor of quotas.
I am in favor of science teachers from high school to college thinking about how they present science. Teaching at community colleges, having went to one myself for my first two years, has shown me that many talented potential scientist of color, and every kind, have never thought of science as an option. Our culture shows images of scientist being one color, and one kind of person. (Link draw a scientist test.
Sexual Tensions and the numbers game.
So how does sexual tension and what would otherwise be normal dating behavior effect women?
No matter the color, sexual orientation, culture etc of a woman in all cultures she is already pre judged based on things like looks, and relationship status. Heterosexual men have a tendency to reduce women to their value as potential mates based on looks without a care for personality or intellect.
Part of the reason is that (young) men are superficial and shallow. As are many young women.
Part of the reason is that most men take whatever they can get. They play the numbers game.
Let us say in lab X that there are 100 biological males, of any sexual orientation or gender identity, one is homosexual, one is transsexual, the rest are at least bisexual in behavior or strictly heterosexual.
Let us say in the same lab that there are 40 biological females of any sexual orientation or gender identity. At least one is homosexual, one is transsexual*, the rest are either bisexual in behavior or strictly heterosexual.
The male to female transwoman is attracted to men and let us assume passes well enough and is attractive enough to be treated as socially a woman. The female to male transman we will also assume passes as a man and is socially treated as such.
So lab X has effectively 29% women of any description. A fairly typical proportion accounting for all levels of scientist from PI to students on a summer grant.
This means, accounting for LGBT and all racial/culture etc people:
There are about 99 single men for 39 single women.
Suppose those 99 men ask out one woman per week in search of a mate. They want a mate who has proven they are just as smart if not smarter than they are. So naturally they focus on their work place. The men ask each woman once, are rejected, and are respectful. They do not persist and revert to completely professional behavior afterwards. Nothing creepy just “Do you want to go out,” “No,” “Ok that’s fine : )”.
That means each heterosexual woman, cis or trans, in lab X, gets asked out about 2.5 times per week.
Being asked out 2.5 times per week, even if it is done in a professional, non creepy way, and the rejection is given and taken in an adult and professional way can add up to a sexually hostile situation.
Even if no cases of true legally defined sexual harassment like Ott and Slater, and a professor being a bit too familiar as in what was actually proven in the Marcy case had occurred … A science lab could be a very hostile place to be a woman.
Personally I noticed that if I want men around me to concentrate I need to be a bit of a slob or dress in an androgynous way at work. At one point I had 650CC implants, with those attention getters in place some men could not keep their eyes up no matter what I wore. I had them out due to nerve damage pain. Men still take note of my body in that way. Should I need to feel that kind of pressure … sort of the opposite of the usual pressure to be a sex object in my work and study places? NO. Yet, I know the bio male brain is very visual…the attention comes with the territory. For better and worse. The question is what men do about it.
Asking a man not to gaze is like asking him not to sneeze. Staring is rude, noticing especially the first meeting, is impossible to suppress.
As long as they keep the comments clean and their hands to themselves not much can be done that would be ethical.
Then add to that sexist comments and assumptions about women in the lab.
Then add to that 12 to 16 years of cultural messaging that science is not really for women.
Then add to that, if one is a professor, teaching students who can also bring sexist ideas to how they relate to you.
That is enough to add up to women leaving pure science and academia. I’d argue that compared to the number of so-called serial sexual harassers it is the combined effect of what is just normal male dating behavior WITH a small dating pool that energy is focused on, and cultural stereotypes about women and scientist, that add up to what feels just like sexual harassment without technically being sexual harassment.
It all adds up to a sexually hostile environment. A woman in full radiation gear can look #Distractingly sexy to a man.
Sexual harassment in the strict legal sense is person A either ask person B for sex in a quid pro quo. OR Person A makes unwanted sexual request of person B or creates a hostile work environment. Society at large, plus sexism, plus each of 99 men asking out each of 39 women exactly once in a year does not meet that definition. Neither does people asking going out on and off or any number of other possibilities.
The simple axiom is once someone makes it clear the attention is unwanted, and assuming they don't contradict themselves by coming onto you, and you keep on keeping on it is sexual harassment.
Calling the real problem sexual harassment is a distraction. This is a much more serious issue than that.
Sexual Harassers are the easy part. Increasing the number of women to parity at all career stages, plus training all faculty on the ethics of having power over people, is much harder.
The solutions offered so far are things like banning ALL dating in the scientific work place and/or conferences. There is also the idea that a passerby can file a complaint anonymously and have summary action taken.
The problem is in real life the women aren’t likely to say no to all of the men. It is not uncommon for people who work long hours in the same lab to pair up and everything is fine as long as everyone is mature about the situation even if and when it ends.
It is also an open secret. People sometimes consensually hook up at conferences. They are held in nice cities at nice hotels. MOST of the time everything is consensual. SOME of the time problematic behavior occurs. I applaud the AAS and other such organizations in getting on top of that issue. As an older man I met, not a physicist or astronomer once put it, “What happens at these kind of conferences stays that these kind of conferences.” (Don’t ask me the story I can’t do it justice without quoting Shakespeare.)
The solution for unwanted pursuit at a conference is to report it to the organizers and after hearing from the accused at least barring them from meetings that the complainant must attend.
If it is really bad throw them out of the conference and call the authorities. Then file criminal charges. Maybe even get an emergency restraining order which would cover the duration of the conference and have the force of the state behind it.
The other thing that is often brought up is the idea of allowing third parties to complain about what they see that could be construed as sexual harassment. That is an idea that is just ripe with potential abuse.
As a known transgender woman no matter how I look I am a target. Some trans exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) could based on their own honest if misguided interpretation say that my using a rest room I am comfortable with rather than one that makes others comfortable is “sexual harassment”. Conservatives have tried to use this same argument against trans rights. To me this is not a hypothetical as I’ve seen it done with real political consequences.
Leaving aside what would be an issue for only a few. There is the issue of suppose a scientist sees a man of color or an immigrant or cultural or religious minority male is socializing with a white female. The white female appears annoyed at the moment. The scientist suspects harassment and reports it. Passersby harassing interracial couples by way of officialdom is not a hypothetical. That really happens. (Case of an interracial lesbian couple. Case of an interracial heterosexual couple.)
Personally all but one of my relationships and casual lovers could be construed as interracial due to different skin color. Being with very dark skinned men, white men, Hispanic men, and literally a handful of bio females(transmen or trans masculine/gender non conforming, or very notably tomboyish). The only time I didn’t get strange looks was with a BF who was my exact same skin tone in high school. That could’ve been because he was a 6ft 6in wall of muscles. Scratch that, a school staff member did once ask me “are you alright” when he had his hand down the back of my pants. Should they have had the power to have my man disciplined because it made them uncomfortable?
The idea that passersby should be able to have someone summarily thrown out of conferences, fired etc is just asking for trouble. We can never really know whats going on between two people. Unless we see really unambiguous signs of abuse for which current policy mandates certain people to report this should not be done.
What I would do if I had the power to impose my will.
At each university and research institution I would either set up a harassment and abuse hotline, website, and walk in center where anyone could get confidential counseling both legal and psychological to deal with all forms of harassment and abuse. This would be a separate organization from the usual hierarchy of deans. Maybe it would have it’s own dean. Similarly, a ta conference their would be a committee to handle these issues. At least three people who would investigate, ask questions and decide what to do based on written policy and any available evidence.
I would charge this anti-harassment and abuse center (or a ta conference a committee) with taking actions based on at least title IX. They would also coordinate with law enforcement to determine if a criminal violation has occurred. They would impose sanctions based on written policy and the available evidence.
i.e. Dr. Touchy Touche is an expert in Theoretical Neutrino Physics and never teaches courses. … YET he is at every talk attended by a certain young woman on Physics education. He never ask any questions, and only talks to the young woman. Then he ask her to his room to discuss “research”. (The “Netflix and Chill” of scientist.) This behavior is observed by others at the conference. The young woman gathers a witness or two and reports it. Dr. Touche is then barred from any meeting that does not deal with his specialty OR at which he is not a scheduled speaker. IF he breaks this then he may be thrown out of the conference or worse.
On the other hand.
Dr. Bryant Kobe is a black astronomer. Like this video says in a very blunt NSFW way, decent looking black males are subject to a sexualized female gaze. ( A scholarly work on the same issue) Being a ladies man a young woman accompanies him to his room and has a goodtime. Later she text him that she had a great time and wants to meet up the next day, maybe even sends a racy picture. She changes her mind, AND accuses him of raping her when she is shamed for breaking the interracial taboo. The committee investigates and several people come forward to say the young woman was cold sober, and said she had a great time with Dr Kobe to them. They view the text sent to Dr. Kobe and decide not to take their own action.
In this case since the young woman feels wronged but their own investigation finds nothing, and the accusation is serious it is reported to law enforcement no matter what. Dr Kobe gets a fair trial and unless there is more evidence would likely be acquitted.
Don’t frown. The above really does happen to black males almost regardless of sexual orientation or gender ID. The stereotype and myth which I will not dispute for more than one observation…has at times made any male bodied African American a sexualized fetish object. Too many cases to name… my reference for this fact is any good US history book and/or a reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “strange fruit” or watch either “Birth of a Nation” or “Sargent Rutledge”.
The big change to my ideal system VS the current system is that law enforcement, domestic affiars/family courts, counseling etc are all well integrated to help the victims much more effectively AND avoid punishing the falsely accused.
Victims get justice with the full force of LAW and the sweeping power of the courts.
The accused get justice with all their rights protected by LAW with all witnesses under oath.
I see only two reasons to oppose involving the legal system.
One is afraid that involving the courts will scare victims who have a shaky case from coming forward. That is a valid concern, but to do more than is already being done court must be involved. If a young woman wants to ban a tuition paying man or tenured faculty from campus for years it has to take more than a cursory title IX investigation.
The other is the invalid reasoning that women are too delicate to sit in the witness stand and testify against their abusers. That is bunk. There are women who are lawyers, judges, and supreme court justices. Either they are made of tougher stuff than women astronomers, or women are just as mentally tough as anyone.
As someone who was raped in high school, who has had to do kinds of work that young transgender women are known to have to do to make ends meet…. I STRONGLY REJECT THE IDEA OF BEING A PERMANENT VICTIM . I saw the person who raped me get 7 years for unrelated drug charges. They threw the book at him. I’d like to think my being there to see that was by design. Seeing justice done can give back your power. Avoiding court is giving away your power. IF court does not go your way that’s life. You have to be willing to accept that your own perceptions of an event may not be 100% correct. Yes you may loose. However, you can also WIN.
Anyone who reads all of this. If you are on #astroSH reading things. Know this in no uncertain terms. My call for use of the legal system does not mean I am calling anyone a liar. It means as a principle I believe in the rule of law not # mobs of any kind or inclination.
*Yes Female to Male trans MEN exist. Ben Barres a legend among FTM transsexuals has a story he has told many times about how his work was seen differently when there was a male name on it. I can personally attest to stories of sexism and sexuality directed at me too.