In case you missed it: Science Careers, from the journal Science, decided to publish some advice from Dr. Alice S. Huang, former president of AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science, whose tagline is “Advancing Science, Serving Society”) and someone who, according to her bio, advocates for women in science. The piece, titled Help! My adviser won’t stop looking down my shirt!, was swiftly taken down but lives on in Interneternity thanks to PDF screengrabs and the Wayback Machine.
The tl;dr of the piece? “Suck it up, Buttercup.” The rest of it is some rather disturbing and gender-essentialist apologia for the sexual harassment of women in STEM.
Dr. Huang begins by counterarguing against an argument that literally no one makes, let alone the letter writer.
Imagine what life would be like if there were no individuals of the opposite—or preferred—sex. It would be pretty dull, eh? Well, like it or not, the workplace is a part of life.
Gender segregation isn’t the answer, got it. No one was making that argument in the first place, but good to know that her (uncontroversial, conventional, nigh-unchallenged in STEM) stance is clear. Also, the dry, leftover-from-last-Thanksgiving bone thrown to people who aren’t straight is cute, but it isn’t fooling anyone.
It’s true that, in principle, we’re all supposed to be asexual while working.
So, not harassing makes you asexual? I beg to differ. I’m pansexual despite the fact that I don’t actively leer at every person I find attractive, especially not in the workplace. I’m pansexual despite the fact that I am not currently in a relationship with a woman. Not acting on your desires in environments where it is inappropriate to do so does not change your orientation. PSA: Asexuals are asexual whether they are working or not, just as straight people are still straight even if they are celibate and bisexuals are still bisexual even if they aren’t in relationships with someone of every gender.
But the kind of behavior you mention is common in the workplace. Once, a friend told me that he was so distracted by an attractive visiting professor that he could not concentrate on a word of her seminar.
Good Noodly Lord. This is disturbing. Is he in a position of power or authority? Is he being held accountable for the material of the seminar? That his attraction renders this man incapable of cognition points to a significant lack of maturity and professionalism. As a friend, you’d hope Dr. Huang would aid him in getting the help he needs rather than use him to excuse other instances of unprofessional behavior.
Your adviser may not even be aware of what he is doing.
So the solution is to alert him to his lack of professionalism, right? Come on, Dr. Huang, you’re killing me here.
I don’t mean to suggest that leering is appropriate workplace behavior—it isn’t—but it is human and up to a point, I think, forgivable. Certainly there are worse things, including the unlawful behaviors described by the EEOC. No one should ever use a position of authority to take sexual advantage of another.
Did she just Dear Muslima the letter writer? I think she just did. At least the writer is Bothered but isn’t getting raped, amirite?
As long as your adviser does not move on to other advances, I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can.
Yep, it’s simply hilarious when a man is so distracted by his own desires that he can’t behave like a grown adult in front of a woman whose breasts he finds attractive.
And when you thought Dr. Huang couldn’t get any more disingenuous:
Just make sure that he is listening to you and your ideas, taking in the results you are presenting, and taking your science seriously. His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on your science and his best advice.
Her defense of this man includes bringing up a friend of hers whose libido is so strong that it renders him incapable of listening to the work of women he finds attractive. Yet, somehow, it’s on Bothered to wipe this man’s drool off her bosom and work harder than she would have had he not found her figure pleasing to him to get him to take her seriously? Dr. Huang puts the letter writer in quite the bind with this closing bit of “advice”. In her view, she thinks that it’s “forgivable” that men cannot be counted on to put their lust aside when around female colleagues, but also that women have to somehow get around that lust.
I prefer to think better of my fellow human beings. Call me naive, but I think that setting such low standards for male behavior discounts the wonderful things that men are capable of, even when working with and around women. Just as women are more than their looks, men are more than their libidos.