More About Bora (Updated)

If you consider Bora a friend, you may want to sit down before reading this latest post. It will take away all the “justs” that may have been trying to make you feel better this week.

No, it wasn’t just talk. No, it wasn’t just a lack of communication. No, it wasn’t just a question of bad boundaries between personal and professional relationships. There are no “justs” left.

Update: Bora has resigned from Scientific American.

More About Bora (Updated)

41 thoughts on “More About Bora (Updated)

  1. 10

    If you can’t stop being a predatory douche, you should stay the fuck home.

    QFT. This is not a difficult lesson for those who care. Most of us get along fine without being predatory douches to anyone – even most of the guys. <_<

    …to make it about me briefly, I *am* a clueless doof who will talk about sex, including personal experience, at the drop of a hat. But dammit, even I learned to ask for permission, often sentence by sentence, and back off the instant it isn't given. "Shut up about this unless invited" is not a difficult rule to learn and to follow, and neither is "do not ever talk about this in a professional setting".

  2. 11

    Seriously though why did he continue to do that when it clearly had such a bad effect on the women around him and he was told about it. Don’t get it. It fails as a pick up technique even, not that he should be doing that in any way in a professional environment.

  3. 14

    @4 PZ — Yeah, that’s the unfortunate part about all of this. It brings into question the trustworthiness of every male out there, even people like PZ who many of us (at least us other guys like myself) suspect women would be safe around.

  4. 15

    @14 myself — Ugg…should have phrased that “an unfortunate part.” I don’t want to be giving the impression that that is the most unfortunate part, because it obviously isn’t.

  5. 16

    Not even close to just a guy thing, except that men tend to have more of the power that makes these things worse. I only knew of one harasser in the SciO community before this, and that harasser is female.

  6. 17

    oolon #11: I could just see, JUST, someone having a few drinks and carelessly rambling on about their sex life. >_> But making that personal to the other party… no, no, ugh! How could that possibly go WELL? What’s the goal supposed to be – obligating a potential protégé into pity cuddling with their mentor? *retch*

    And with all the good Bora’s done mentoring women in their science comm careers… he could have done SO MUCH BETTER by leaving all of them at peace to do their work, un-threatened and un-intimidated. However many women avoided him and had their confidence and self-esteem sapped by him, that’s a direct loss to their careers, to the field, and to the presence of women in science as a whole, attributable directly to one person’s selfishness.

  7. 18

    And with all the good Bora’s done mentoring women in their science comm careers… he could have done SO MUCH BETTER by leaving all of them at peace to do their work

    Maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe the only reason he mentored women at all was so as to give himself ready access to a pool of women to sexually harass (& exploit?). Not unlike the way predators of children volunteer to be scout leaders or big brothers or church youth group leaders or community centre mentors of disadvantaged young people.

  8. 19

    Ibis3: speaking only for myself, I’m very sure that was a huge motivation. Maybe not the ONLY motivation, but IMHO that doesn’t matter. “But look at all the good X has done…” is never an excuse… it just leads to wondering how many unmolested women are the price of one getting victimized. (I don’t think you’re saying that, I’m just forcefully articulating because I’m so angry about this.)

  9. Pen

    The message I’m getting from this story is that this guy may have a mental health issue – his behaviour seems to fall outside the ‘she should/does like it really’ range and it seems to have an involuntary or uncontrolled aspect to it. Obviously that doesn’t affect the impact he has on his victims but perhaps he should be seeking professional treatment?

  10. 25

    Oh please, Pen. No. No. No. This is bog-standard “normal” behavior for too many men. Acknowledge that. Yeah, it’s really that bad. Yeah, you’re going to have to hear that lots of things you thought only crazy people/monsters do is actually something many of your friends probably do.

  11. Pen

    Josh – perhaps you need to acknowledge that there are a variety of reasons why people do things, even if it looks like the same thing. Clearly, most sexual or other misconduct is not due to a psychological or physiological issue, but some is. It would take a professional to make a decision, which is neither of us, I imagine. What I find unusual about this situation is that I wish most of my friends went all out to promote the work of women in their field. However, that’s usually exactly what they don’t do. Sexual harrassment is actually less common in my experience, though yeah, there’s plenty of it. Though the harrassers don’t usually repeatedly apologise then relapse.

    Has it occurred to you that your comment is incredibly patronising by the way? Or are we having another of those ‘I assume Pen is a doode who needs to be told’ moments? Where I come from Pen is short for either Penelope or Penthesilea, I really don’t care which, because Pen is the name I go by.

  12. 27

    Pen: There is seriously no reason to attribute to mental illness what is almost always the result of misogyny and entitlement. This is not some incredibly unusual series of actions that Bora engaged in. I don’t know a single woman who has not been sexually harassed either in academics, work or both. Not one. I get that you might wanna defend him, but being an ableist ass is not a defence, and what he did is not defensible.

    His mentoring-type work does seem rather predatory, or at least really sketchy with this in mind.

    And why he kept doing it even when it was clear that it was unwanted? Because he could. That he could pretend to be a friend to, and academically interested in women, and then keep fuckzoning them is a sign of his being pretty into abusing his power.

  13. 28

    There needs to be a wikileaks for sexual harrassment, a safe contact where these offenses can be reported without risk to livelihood, career, name, blow back of any kind even legal and with minimal emotional risk. There could even some kind of counseling support.

    These reports can be collated by a trusted agency and when a number of cases refer to a single offender, those women can be asked if they would like to go public as a group or as many of them who who like to. No pressure would be put on any reporting individual who could remain anonymous forever. Would there be a way to do this secretly and legally, with minimal emotional risk?

  14. 29

    PZ, Stephanie, other friends of Bora, my sympathies completely. I get how gutting it is to find out that, yes, it turns out that this is another friend who has made a habit of making at best questionable choices, and I’m sorry for the pain that’s got to be causing you.

    Ibis3, that’s a chilling idea that sounds entirely too plausible, and I’m a bit surprised I hadn’t thought of it.

  15. 30

    Leo Buzalsky @14

    Yes and that’s exactly why we men should be grateful to the women who come forward, not only because they help protect other women but because they help us also.

    Please notice, if you havn’t already, that when you are in a group where the women feel relatively safe, everyone has more fun.

  16. 31

    Another possibility for a minimun type wikileaks for sexual harrassment.

    A safe anonymous contact where harrassment could be reported. If two or more reports arrive referring to the same offender, the only thing that would happen would be that each reporter would be informed that one or more reports on the same individual have been received, nothing more.

    That would be the end of it unless one of the reporters asks that her(his) report be anonymously (or not by choice) be forwarded to the others. That too would then be the end of it unless the reporters themselves now in contact with each other decided to take further action.

    In other words it would only be a way for those harrassed by the same individual to become aware of other victims.

    This has been happening informally and by accident now, why not make it easier and with a choice of being less public.

  17. 32

    No, not wikileaks. Not anonymous. What we have to do is make it safe for women and men who are harassed to report this stuff by making it safe and respected to speak publicly if their problems aren’t addressed by the relevant authorities. We don’t need to cover for more people. We need to cover for fewer.

  18. 33

    @ Oolon & Stephanie, 11 &12

    Seriously though why did he continue to do that when it clearly had such a bad effect on the women around him and he was told about it. Don’t get it. It fails as a pick up technique even, not that he should be doing that in any way in a professional environment.

    Someone raised the point on Twitter that there’s a good chance it hasn’t always failed, which is tragic to think about.

    When I was thirteen, maybe fourteen, my mother gave me her “man” advice: “If you’re in a conversation with a married man who says, ‘My wife doesn’t understand me,’ leave immediately and get far away.”

    I’m not exactly sure what prompted this bit of motherly wisdom, though she said it was a hard lesson she learned by the time she was sixteen, and the result of a few bad experiences (and one that was really bad), though she never went into detail. I do know that when my mom was 16, she was already the assistant director of a church pre-school and experienced extreme sexual harassment (that almost ended in sexual assault) from the male director of the pre-school. However, nobody called it “sexual harassment” back then, and she just blamed herself (as well as getting blame from her family and pastor) for “leading on” a married man.

    Anyway, while I’ve never been the type of girl/woman that men hit on regularly, I’ve still filed that bit of hard-learned advice. Seems that it’s still relevant.

    (If in any way this sounds like I am blaming the victims of harassment, or implying that they should have “known better” or something, that is not my intent at all. No way. I’m just pointing out that some “techniques”, if you can call it that, seem to be eternal.)

  19. 34

    Pteryxx: I get what you’re saying now. You’re countering the idea that people often bring up in such circumstances: namely, that the good things a person has done somehow outweighs or makes up for the bad. Or, alternatively, the bad is just the price we (i.e. conveniently those other people who aren’t us) pay for whatever good the person has done. (cf. the excuses made for Joe Paterno) Yeah, that kind of “devil’s bargain” crap should be abandoned for sure.

    I was focussing on another angle: i.e. that in this particular case the “good” might have been really part and parcel of the bad. In other words, when Hannah wondered “Am I actually any good at writing, or was he just supporting me because he was sexually interested in me?” he *was* only supporting her because of his sexual interest (her writing talent completely irrelevant to him). The premeditation and calculation which that would imply is different than the “oh he’s a good guy who makes mistakes” narrative he’s been relying on since his name was named.

  20. 35

    “Seriously though why did he continue to do that when it clearly had such a bad effect on the women around him and he was told about it. Don’t get it. It fails as a pick up technique even”

    Because he’s a sociopath. And yes, that is probably the reason he was doing what he was doing. And no, it doesn’t mean all men are awful. But it does seem like young attractive women get to deal with this more than everyone else, doesn’t it?

  21. 36

    Isabel @35:

    Because he’s a sociopath.

    Zip the ableism. We live in a culture that has very mucked up ideas of consent. When a song that rationalizes rape can become a pop hit, and major news outlets moan about the ruined reputations of rapists, it’s not hard to believe that rational, sound-minded people could ignore consent.

    While everyone loves to point out that 5-15% of men admit to sexually assaulting someone, fewer people note that half of those are one-time offenders. Would a sociopath stop at one?

  22. 38

    I’m with Pen on this one to some degree, in that something about the details of the Bora stories just SCREAMS mental health issues to me. The intense vulnerability and desperateness just reminds me very strongly of some particular cases of individuals I’ve encountered who’s mental health issues manifested in some serious boundary issues, despite the fact that intellectually, they knew better and were disgusted with themselves.

    That said… 1) it is entirely possible for a person who is just a predator and doesn’t give a shit about who he hurts to imitate this pattern of behavior, recognizing that the pathetic-ness angle might make it harder for certain types of victims to fight back and 2) regardless of WHY, Bora was clearly unsafe to be around for many young female writers, full stop.

    I don’t think Bora’s intentions/underlying issues are 100% irrelevant: in combination with the way he handled the accusations (some initial defensiveness, but ultimately stepping down rather quickly and seeming sincerely sorry, rather than remaining indignant and threatening lawsuits and hurling counteraccusations), I think it would be reasonable to take them into account in the future if Bora tries to rejoin the community in some capacity and asks forgiveness. Basically, it would be easier for me to believe that Bora had actually reflected on his behavior and changed than for me to believe the same about certain other harassers who have been bigger dicks by several orders of magnitude. It still wouldn’t be EASY, and no one would be in any way obligated to accept his apology in that case, but easier, sure.

    But right now, at this moment, I don’t think the motivations make any difference to how we should treat the situation. Regardless of whether the perpetrator here was a sociopathic misogynist coldly manipulating people by putting on an act of a bumbling weirdo with boundary issues, or an actual bumbling weirdo with boundary issues, the situation was still allowed to continue because of a culture that promotes fucked up ideas about consent, sexism, and abuses of power. All of those things are in play here regardless of whether Bora made a conscious decision to take advantage of them.

    Basically, I understand where the “this guy is not mentally healthy” reading of the situation is coming from. I don’t think it’s the only possible reading of the situation, but it is one. But I’ve been abused by a lot of people in my life who were deeply fucked up and hurting, and learned this lesson the hard way: Reasons are not Excuses.

  23. 39

    One particular factor takes the behaviour from being just weird behaviour by a pathetic guy to sexual harassment, and that is the power differential. It appears that he generally stopped the harassment when told to do so by the harassed, unless I’ve missed a recent story saying otherwise.

    If Bora were inclined to do this routine with women he met randomly in bars – and I’ll say that I’ve certainly met my share of men who’ve tried exactly that pseudo-pathetic “My wife doesn’t understand me, I’m a very sensual guy, I’m so lonely for someone who can understand what I’m going through” line – we would think he was pathetic, and maybe kind of manipulative, but no one would be even thinking of asking him to resign his positions. It is that he was doing so with an implicit threat to their livelihood that makes this into ‘the casting couch’ problem.

    So, given that he has now quit those positions, and has no power in the community anymore, I don’t really have a problem (except in sympathy with his wife) with his continuing the very same routine in the very same ways. Forgiveness wouldn’t be mine to give; I’m not among those he harmed. The piece I’d want to see from him before I’d be interested in being in a community with him, at this point, is “It was wrong because I had the power to offer potentially life-changing reward for pleasing me”.

    If he wants to try and have secret affairs, I think that’s reprehensible (because I’m poly, not least; bad communication is bad behaviour), but it’s really none of my business after the point at which he’s no longer in the power spot. If he wants me to accept him into the community (and why he should give a monkey’s sclerotic testicle about my opinion is another matter entirely), I’d want to see that he gets what the problem was, and that problem was the implicit threat of the use of power. That being: there is no ethical way to ever introduce sexuality of any kind with a person over whom you have significant power, because their consent cannot be obtained when they are under duress.

  24. 40

    hjhornbeck #36, a caveat about those statistics.

    While everyone loves to point out that 5-15% of men admit to sexually assaulting someone, fewer people note that half of those are one-time offenders. Would a sociopath stop at one?

    Note that those numbers are generally taken from two studies, one of male college students (average age 26) and one of Navy enlistees (average age just under 20). Source: Meet the Predators

    There is no reason to assume that all, or even most, of the offenders who happen to have raped only once at that age would never rape again.

  25. 41

    *which still doesn’t necessarily imply that repeat rapists must be sociopaths or somehow compelled, rather than just being so buoyed up by rape culture for so long that they simply never find reasons to stop. At this point there’s just no way to know how many people really do stop after committing a single assault.

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