Newest form of sexual harassment: One of your co-workers asks you out on a date.
And we can't have that. Here's the New York Times op-ed–in which writer A. Hope Jahren, a professor of geobiology at the University of Hawaii, does her darnedest to try to convince us readers that the amorous interest shown to one of her former students, also a professor, by a colleague-professor, amounted to an insidious campaign to weed out women from the department. The op-ed is titled "She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk Feelings."
She forwarded an email she had received from a senior colleague that opened, “Can I share something deeply personal with you?” Within the email, he detonates what he described as a “truth bomb”: “All I know is that from the first day I talked to you, there hadn’t been a single day or hour when you weren’t on my mind.” He tells her she is “incredibly attractive” and “adorably dorky.” He reminds her, in detail, of how he has helped her professionally: “I couldn’t believe the things I was compelled to do for you.” He describes being near her as “exhilarating and frustrating at the same time” and himself as “utterly unable to get a grip” as a result. He closes by assuring her, “That’s just the way things are and you’re gonna have to deal with me until one of us leaves.”…
Now you might be saying to yourself: A scientist in love!
But noo, not according to Prof. Jahren:
Since I started writing about women and science, my female colleagues have been moved to share their stories with me; my inbox is an inadvertent clearinghouse for unsolicited love notes. Sexual harassment in science generally starts like this: A woman (she is a student, a technician, a professor) gets an email and notices that the subject line is a bit off: “I need to tell you,” or “my feelings.” The opening lines refer to the altered physical and mental state of the author: “It’s late and I can’t sleep” is a favorite, though “Maybe it’s the three glasses of cognac” is popular as well.
A drunk scientist in love!
The author goes on to tell her that she is special in some way, that his passion is an unfamiliar feeling that she has awakened in him, the important suggestion being that she has brought this upon herself. He will speak of her as an object with “shiny hair” or “sparkling eyes” — testing the waters before commenting upon the more private parts of her body. Surprisingly, he often acknowledges that he is doing something inappropriate. I’ve seen “Of course you know I could get fired for this” in the closing paragraph; the subject line of the email sent to my former student was “NSFW read at your own risk!”
A scientist in love who wants to talk dirty!
Perhaps she decides to ignore this first email — and this is often the case — knowing that she has little to gain, and a lot to lose, from a confrontation. Once satisfied with her tendency toward secrecy, the sender then finds a way to get her alone: invites her to coffee, into his office, out for some ostensibly group event. At said meeting he will become tentatively physical, insisting that if people knew, they just wouldn’t understand. At this point, any objection on her part wouldn’t just be professionally dangerous, it would seem heartless — and she’s not a horrible person, is she?
Um, isn't an invitation "to coffee" otherwise known as a date? And isn't becoming "tentatively physical" what guys usually do on dates? Having a brother-sister relationship usually isn't why they've asked you out.
And I love that Little Miss Junior Scientist, who thinks that this colleague is so awful, can't bring herself to say no and turn him down. So which is it? She's supposedly a victim of dastardly sexual harassment–but she doesn't want to hurt the dastardly harasser's feelings. So instead, here's what happens:
The last time she talked to me, she told me that she was thinking of quitting.
There's dedication to science for you!
Prof. Jahren also throws in some yada yada yada about the paucity of women in STEM fields:
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, seven B.S. degrees are granted to women for every 10 granted to men; three M.S. degrees granted to women for every five granted to men; one Ph.D. degree granted to a woman for every two granted to men. The absence of women within STEM programs is not only progressive, it is persistent — despite more than 20 years of programs intended to encourage the participation of girls and women.
Maybe, just maybe, it's because girls and women aren't very interested in STEM. But according to Prof. Jahren, it's because boys and men keep asking the girls and women out for dates–all with the nefarious aim of getting rid of them, of course:
In the rare case when a female scientist becomes a faculty member, she finds herself invested in the very system that is doing the weeding, and soon recognizes that sexual harassment is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. My own experiences as a student, scientist and mentor lead me to believe that such harassment is widespread. Few studies exist, but in a survey of 191 female fellowship recipients published in 1995, 12 percent indicated that they had been sexually harassed as a student or early professional.
I love the "few studies exist." Isn't Prof. Jahren, as a scientist, supposed to be interested in data and replication?
Now, if I were Prof. Jahren, here's what I'd be telling Little Miss Junior Scientist: Yeah, I'd despise that colleague, too. I wouldn't be caught dead drinking coffee with him. He's needy, and all women despise needy men. They like men who radiate self-confidence. He's also, being a scientist, too, a dork who doesn't know much about how to win a woman's heart–which is not by showering her with suggestive little e-mails and cute presents. What he needs to do is to study one of those seduction blogs that tell you that the way to a woman's heart is to get her to chase you. So tell that colleague nicely but firmly that no, you don't want to have coffee with him, and that while you respect him as a fellow professional, you're not interested in extending the relationship. Then stick to it. You are in charge, as women are in every courtship. Period.