Today's guest post is from an astronomer friend of mine who moved to the states relatively recently. Her story is not her's alone. I have heard the types of stories she will describe below from many independent sources over the years (dozens, sadly). I have found it increasingly disturbing that certain serial harassers are free to ply their disgusting trade freely within our community. They are not reprimanded because they are highly skilled at covering their tracks and intimidating their victims. Also, universities tend to protect their high-profile professors much quicker than they are to back their younger employees.
Readers: no matter how you might perceive the interactions described below, the key thing to consider is not whether you feel it's right or wrong. Human interactions involve two people, and two sets of experiences and opinions. So please avoid the simple-minded response of, "Jeez, I don't see why this is such a big deal!" in your comments. That response is just not intellectually compelling in my view because it lacks empathy. It takes a lot for a woman in science to speak out about these issues (hence the anonymity of today's guest blogger). I feel it's important for us all to hear them out and try to walk a bit in their shoes rather than sticking to our limited set of personal experiences. Thanks for your attention and thoughtful feedback, dear readers!
In my home country women get remarks on their looks on a daily basis. It happens when they walk down the street, when they are at the grocery store, and sometimes even at work. Here in the US, this doesn't happen so often, and I like it. Especially at work where I can focus on science and nothing else. There is a generally accepted "rule" that we are all scientists in the scientific workplace (for the most part anyway).
Yet, something goes wrong at science conferences; so wrong it tips the balance between men and women in science. It took me a while, with the help of friends, to figure it out (maybe even too long). The rules are subtly different at conferences. What is going on? It makes me wonder: is this a conference or a nightclub?
Here is a situation: at the end of the conference day serval men and a few women (we are often much fewer in number than men) are having dinner and a professional chat. Suddenly one of the women gets a compliment about her eyes (or some such thing).
Wait a minute!