Not Acceptable (Aside from the Taking Responsibility Part – That’s Good)

By now, most of you know that Bora Zivkovic harassed several women. He engaged in the kind of everyday sexism that chips away at a woman’s psyche and drops her into a vortex of doubt, disgust, and anger. What he did isn’t as obviously terrible as groping or assault or rape, but it did its damage, and is unacceptable.

Dissapointed cat

This kind of sexism – the inappropriate remarks, the (perhaps) unconscious belittling of women, reducing them from professionals to sexual beings – has no place in this world we’re forging. It’s no more to be tolerated than other forms of degradation. Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any form, perpetrated by anyone. It doesn’t matter how much we otherwise admire them.

Bora’s my blogfather. He gave ETEV a boost onto the public stage when it was just a potty-mouthed political blog taking its first tottering steps into the science blogosphere, and without him, there would be no Rosetta Stones. The online science community is flourishing in large part because Bora was there, tirelessly promoting, prompting, and pushing to make it happen. He understands the internet like few others. He is one of those people everyone knows and almost no one can imagine us being without.

But he didn’t just make a mistake, apologize, atone and change his behavior. He harassed, and kept harassing. From reports of what happened, it seems he was told that his behavior was inappropriate, and continued that behavior with other women regardless. That’s not something we can quietly accept anymore. Not even from blogfathers. Not even from people who have done so much as Bora.

We all of us make mistakes. Sometimes, those “mistakes” are willful, and repeated, and so hurtful that they outweigh the good we do, and we must atone.

This could have been the story of a man who harassed women, then turned on those brave enough to speak out, trying to destroy them. This could have been the story of a man who had to be forced out of positions of authority he was all too willing to abuse. This could have been the story of a long and bitter campaign to bring the victims some measure of justice.

And that would have been easier for those of us who have determined to be silent no more, but owed Bora so much of our success, and liked him so well. Speaking for myself, and myself alone, I know it would have hurt less. So much less. It’s so much easier when pain can be subsumed in anger.

But Bora’s a better man than so many of those clay-footed former heroes we’ve seen revealed as harassers and predators. He’s resigned his position at Science Online, and apologized to the women he harmed,* even giving them plaudits for sharing their stories.

Bora Tweet 1

No need to defend me. Kudos to @monicabyrne13 and @hannahjwaters for having the courage to speak up. I was wrong. I am sorry. I am learning.

I wouldn’t be crying right now, if he’d been one of those who turned on the women who refused to remain silent.

He understands there must be consequences, and isn’t forcing us to impose them. And that gives me hope that this isn’t the end of his story in our community, that he will become part of the solution rather than remaining part of the problem. He did wrong things, and owns them, and doesn’t ask us to forgive or minimize them.

Bora Tweet 2

To friends I let down and perhaps lost today: I understand why. I am sorry. I will miss you.

That’s not something I’m used to seeing from men who have harassed. I’d rather have no harassment, but when there is, I’d like to see more of this, please.

There will be accountability, as there should be. Chances are he won’t be my editor anymore, and that’s what should happen**, although I take no pleasure in losing him at all. The women who spoke out – women like Monica Byrne and Hannah J. Waters – did exactly the right thing. We needed them to, and need more like them, more people willing to stand up and say, “This person with this power did this terrible thing.” It’s so much harder when the person doing terrible things is so well-loved. I admire their courage, and hope others follow their lead, until we’ve changed this world for the better.

And I hope that more of those who have done the damage will have the kind of integrity Bora has displayed. That’s a huge part of being better humans: owning our failures to be the people we should be, and showing that just because you have done some wrong things doesn’t mean you can’t step up and ultimately do what’s right.

A better science writing community can emerge from this. And knowing the people involved, I believe it will.

I shall now return to my costuming, avoid the internet for many days, and cry some more. Please excuse me.


*Some of you, doubtless, will point out the inadequacies of his original apology. That’s your prerogative, of course, but I suspect a part might have been played by legal counsel. So don’t expect me to launch into a full-throated condemnation, please. I also will not be commenting publicly on what is not public knowledge. Do not expect me to, and keep in mind that this may factor in to the way I respond to this situation in the future.

**Scientific American is determining the appropriate course of action. They’re not internet-fast, and they sometimes stumble, but I do trust the people there to do the right thing.


Not Acceptable (Aside from the Taking Responsibility Part – That’s Good)

7 thoughts on “Not Acceptable (Aside from the Taking Responsibility Part – That’s Good)

  1. 1

    Very well said, Dana. I was absolutely stunned by this. Bora has been a friend for many years. We’ve met in person more than once and I am very fond of him and of his wife as well. So it all just makes me sad. I’m glad to see that he’s taking responsibility for this and, like you, I really hope this is the beginning of a serious change. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while in a situation like this there is genuine redemption. This is the only way such redemption can begin, with an unqualified acceptance of responsibility and genuine contrition. That doesn’t guarantee that the tragedy can be turned into something good, but it’s the only possible way it can. So I’m hoping this is one of those rare situations. Only time will tell. Until then…very disappointing and troubling.

  2. 3

    I hope his redemption turns out to be as sincere as it appears. I seriously do. It would be nice to see someone actually do “I fucked up” right. And my sympathy to all of you who are personal friends with him. It’s a hard position to be in, to have to say, yes, I recognize that you, my friend, did something rapey (in this case, sexual-harrass-y, but I think the point stands), and not once, and i hope you can fix that and we can still have some friendship.

    So safe distant hugs from Canada offered. I really hope he is able to carry through with what (today) is a good start at reacting to this kind of revelation.

  3. 4

    I think it’s a very promising start that Bora is owning his mistakes rather than going against the various rules pertaining to holes and the digging of them, but I really hope his friends can encourage him to seek help for his problems, for his own best interests and for those of all he has to work with as colleagues. I’m very sorry for those whose trust in him has been tarnished, but I’m even more sorry for his family and in particular his wife, if this unprofessional behaviour of his had been largely unknown to her up until now.

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