Jeepers, Creepers: What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like?

JOuellette crop sm

Jennifer Ouellette over at her Scientific American blog Cocktail Party Physics:

I have been largely silent publicly about the events of the past weekthat ended with the resignation of our blogs editor, Bora Zivkovic, mostly because (a) I was waiting for all the facts to come in and trying to process those facts in the throes of considerable cognitive dissonance, and (b) others have addressed so clearly and eloquently the many knotty issues I would have raised. Honestly, I’m suffering from metaphorical PTSD: Bora is a longstanding friend and colleague. I have spent the last week, like many others, grieving for what our small community has lost, and what the three young women who came forward have suffered. Each subsequent revelation was like a hard punch to the gut. Monica, Hannah, Kathleen — I’m so sorry. I truly had no idea.

And yes, I grieve for Bora himself, and his wife, Catherine, although I cannot condone his behavior, or deny the damage this has wrought. I cannot place concern for his well-being above that of the young women he has harmed through his actions. But human beings are complex, a mass of contradictions, and we are all, at various times, laid flat by our own frailty. His fall was just more precipitous than most, and because of his substantial influence, the fallout and collateral damage were more severe. As Ashutosh Jogalekar phrased it,

We can applaud the substance of Bora’s foundational contributions to the rise of science blogging even as we continue to denounce his actions. This episode is a reminder that human beings are flawed and that the same person can reach both the heights of achievement and the depths of failure.

Ashutosh is a thoughtful man, and he chose his words carefully, with plenty of caveats. But there was one phrase elsewhere in his post that bothered me, because it is one that I’ve heard echoed in comments all over the Web: that “in none of the three cases did Bora’s behavior descend into overt sexual or physical harassment.” It’s the same point Hannah Waters made in her post when she talked about “not-quite-harassment,” and when Monica Byrne confessed that at first, she wasn’t entirely sure what happened to her constituted “real” harassment.

I wish I didn’t feel compelled to talk about this. I just want to explore through my writing all the cool science and culture stuff out there and share my enthusiasm with others, augmented with the occasional funny video. But clearly we need to talk about what sexual harassment looks like, because it’s not always black-and-white, and no two cases are exactly alike.

More here.