The Me Too campaign has brought numerous instances of sexual aggression against women in many fields and situations. Women in science are now also coming forward with their own stories.
Women have had to deal with working in a challenging field while fending off unwanted advances and various kinds of sexual harassment.
That there is sexism and misogyny in science and tech--or, really, in almost any other field--isn’t all that surprising or new. When more and more women and men began revealing the rampant sexism and misogyny in the entertainment industry, more and more people from other fields have been sharing their stories as well. However, while the Harvey Weinstein scandal is quite new, stories of sexism and misogyny are not. Just a quick Google search would reveal that women have been speaking out about misogyny in science and the tech industry for years. Stories range from micro-aggressions to actual assault and even rape.
According to a 2014 survey, it was “normal” for male senior scientists to hit on younger female colleagues. 64% of respondents, 142 of them men and 516 of them women, had reportedly experienced inappropriate remarks and jokes as well as incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. Over 20% reported having experienced “unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature”. The findings also showed that 26% of women experienced these things, while only 6% of men reported the same things.
Still, surveys like this don’t really give us an accurate sense of how widespread sexual aggression is in science. However, what it does show is that deplorable behavior like this is taking place in what should be a professional setting.
There are times when, because of the seemingly rampant sexism in the field of science, women may find it more difficult to succeed. For example, women in tech start-ups have spoken up about experiencing sexual harassment from investors. Uber, meanwhile, has had a highly-publicized scandal that revealed a pattern of continuing sexual harassment against women within the company. Some stories, meanwhile, have revealed male colleagues, bosses, and even educational advisers that have been more interested in a woman’s “charms” rather than her work.
Let’s hang on to science education for a moment. When a professor or an adviser makes unwanted advances on a student, it puts the student in a precarious spot. Graduate and postdoctoral students in particular may put their future careers in jeopardy if they alienate their adviser. This, unsurprisingly, makes saying “no” precarious.
Hopefully, things will be better in the future for our young girls.
Sadly, though women report these incidents, they are often revictimized by being punished for speaking out. According to one story in a piece by Ushma S. Neill for Scientific American, a woman had reported an incident of sexual harassment in her university’s lab. The university then barred the woman from entering the campus for a portion of the investigation, ultimately asking the victim to be the one to leave the lab instead of the aggressor.
Now, we may need to acknowledge that we have a long road ahead of us. However, with movements like the Me Too campaign, we’re taking the first steps toward making science and tech a better, safer place for future generations of women.
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