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.


Anonymous said...

Dear Still Anonymous. I want to thank you for sharing and say that I agree fully with your desire to be known for your science and not these other dark experiences. As a fellow survivor of sexual harassment (not by Geoff Marcy - there are many more like him out there) as well as someone subjected to horribly failed investigations without any remediation, I want to say that I understand completely why you wish to remain anonymous. The news reports this weekend are like a PTSD trigger for me, forcing me to relive the horrors that I'm finally starting to get over (written about here - anonymously of course http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2014/06/sexual-harassment-understanding-impact.html). I wish the world could understand the depth of pain that we experience because of sexual harassment, without having to endure it themselves. Standing before the media and discussing this would be so much more traumatic and I'm so grateful for the people involved in this investigation who have taken such a brave stand. They have done what I do not have the strength to do. In spite of reliving trauma while reading through the news reports, I'm also seeing that there are people in this community who truly care about what we've endured. It is encouraging to know that we are not alone and that some people care about us.

Berkeley alum said...

I am so sorry that you have been forced to wrestle with your dignity and your value within the scientific community. You deserve much better than this, and I hope your name is linked positively to your scientific contributions, as you wish above. Thank you for your bravery and powerful writing. Even without your name attached, you are shedding further light into the darker corners of our field.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for these contributions. Many of us have such stories and they are not limited to US departments.

Slowly healing said...

I feel your frustration and pain, and the sense of a no-win situation. I have also been there. It's all about power. Although the number of gross instances of misogyny, blatant sexism, and sexual harassment of women in science has lessened since the 1970s, we still have far to go. After 40 years, I took the opportunity in an undergraduate lecture last spring to tell my students what life was like at Harvard-Radcliffe in the 1970s. I left out the worst--it's still too hard to talk about--but there was more than enough to shock the students. I took comfort in some students telling me my story was inspirational, but as we see from recent surveys on sexual harassment on campus, we still have a serious situation on our hands.

And we still, of course, have incidents of job discrimination, when a male colleague and hiring authority can tell a woman applicant that there is good news! They are going to make two job offers rather than one: She is to be hired at an assistant level while the senior position is going to a male applicant because "he is older and besides, he's a guy." When this instance was reported to the university ombudsman, she said to suck it up. ARGGH!

Unknown said...

Not to mention the practice of hiring a married pair of scientists, making the man group leader and professor, and the woman a research scientist. Often, but not always.