Friday, October 18, 2013

My thoughts on harassment

It took me about a week to gather my thoughts after I read that this happened earlier this week. And even trying to write this post now, I’m having a hard time to put my thoughts on paper. It seems like “it’s not that big of a deal” is engrained in me. Like @AmasianV wrote: “Because [these remarks I got] never really affected me much at the time, so why make a big deal out of nothing??” 

Thinking about this all week made me wonder: have I been harassed? I have got remarks on how I looked, comments on my body (especially when pregnant) and the occasional “you look very young” in a setting where it was not necessary to comment on my body or my looks. I wasn’t trying out to be a cheerleader; I was trying to convey my science. But at the same time I don’t mind getting compliments on my outfit for example, so that makes it kind of a grey area sometimes. I'm not sure I would be in favor of eliminating any comments people can make in this regard, but the hard part is that different people have different levels of what is acceptable. This makes it important to say something when you feel that line has been crossed.

What is worse about this, and I only fully realize that after this week, is my inability to speak up when I get comments I feel uncomfortable with. Sometimes it takes me a good 15 minutes to realize I just received an offensive comment and to come up with something to say in return. Other times (and this is much worse) I’m afraid that speaking up will come at a cost for me. If harassment happens in a professional situation where you are harassed by someone who is your superior I would be afraid that it backfires. For example, what if you tell your PI not to make certain remarks anymore and he takes it the wrong way? Even in the situation where you don’t work for this person anymore, you’re still reliant on your PI to get papers out, to get letters of recommendations and to stay in the club of scientists that you try to become a part of too. And I’m not sure if filing an official complaint makes these outcomes better or even far worse. So even if you recognize that a comment someone made makes you feel harassed, it takes a boatload of courage to speak up about this. 

It makes me wonder: what can we do to make this easier and how do you make sure speaking up doesn’t ruin your career? So my #ripplesofdoubt aren’t so much about whether I have got to this point in my career because of looks or whatever, but more about whether it is possible to do something about this without destroying where you are.

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