Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Still Anonymous

Today's guest blogger is Still Anonymous. She can tell you her story in her own words.
On Friday, Buzzfeed’s article on Geoff Marcy’s serial sexual harassment – and UC Berkeley’s non-response – went live. The story has enough momentum behind it for Geoff to toss off a non-apology to the CSWA as if pleading ignorance and promising maturation and growth make any difference this time. As if they ever have.
Students, postdocs, faculty, and staff have since issued letters condemning Marcy’s behavior and the University’s handling on the Title IX investigation.
Maybe a public shaming is what it takes to get the attention of the university officials who couldn’t muster a slap on a wrist. Maybe it is still not enough.
I did not share my name and my story with Buzzfeed. But as the article points out, this is an open secret. You don’t have to know much about the problem to identify potential victims. Complainants. Survivors. I’ve struggled with whether it is worthwhile to offer my name.
Like other complainants, I am junior and professionally vulnerable. I could further diminish the value of my own voice by dismissing my experience. My story was not the worst of those reported. Ruth Murray-Clay’s experience having a person in power defend Geoff and proclaim that nothing could be done is as common as instances of harassment. Every powerful sexual harasser has defenders who have prevented meaningful change. Of course Geoff is not the only one. Just the most famous.
But let’s pretend that my career in astronomy is not vulnerable to whistleblower retribution. What value is there in offering my name and story to the court of public opinion? Four official Title IX statements and many more informal complaints have gone unheard. I’m just one more story.
My family would be angry that they did not know. Why haven’t I told them? Clearly this happened because I was not assertive enough. I shouldn’t have been in the lab late at night. I should have had a boyfriend to protect me.
Others may offer pity that this had to happen to me. However, the number and nature of the complaints against Geoff clearly demonstrate that what happened to me wasn’t personal. I fit the profile. Young. Female. Vulnerable. I’m not special. Serial sexual harassers like Geoff are smart men. They know where the line is between hearsay and actionable offense. They understand the power imbalance. They have their defenders. They are not punished with more than a wrist slap. They know that my words have less value.
That power difference is at the core of the ongoing inequity. Buzzfeed alludes to this; Forbes makes it explicit. Geoff is a leader in his field. I am a “victim.” Geoff is “…mentioned as a potential Nobel laureate…” I get compliments on the quality of my data (but not my science). Geoff and his work are heralded in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Wired. I get asked to contribute to promotional materials because of the overtly female ways I perform gender.
Offering my name and story publically would not rectify this power imbalance. My deepest gratitude and respect to those brave enough to be identified. By keeping my anonymity, I evade the judgment of my family and the discomfort of being known to my colleagues. I maintain the illusion that I still control my narrative. But most of all, I still have the chance to be known for my science rather than the way Geoff treated me.
I’m not special. I’m one of many. I could give you my name. People in power have dismissed my experience to my face. They could dismiss my name in print.
Instead, I appeal to people with leadership positions who wish to be allies for diversity, but are unsure where to start. I call upon you to speak out against Berkeley’s non-response to a clear history of sexual harassment. Condemn poor editorial decisions to publish apologist and victim-blaming commentary. Then look hard at your own institution and how it has handled allegations of sexual harassment. Geoff is now astronomy’s most famous sexual harasser, but he is far from the only one. Use the security of your seniority and the voice afforded to you in your leadership position. Berkeley already made the choice to protect themselves, not nameless complainants like me.
After all, I’m still anonymous.