That grabass nonsense doesn't happen at my meetings....oh, wait

May 05 2010 Published by under Diversity in Science, Gender, Tribe of Science

When recently made aware of a situation along the lines of what Isis described in a recent post:

You see, I travel to a couple of scientific meetings a year and it seems like, for the last couple of years, I have been touched, or groped, or hit on at every meeting. Experimental Biology was no different, except that this time it came with an added twist. After the offending groping had occurred

I had the following smug reaction.
"Damn, that shit doesn't go on at my meetings! WTF is wrong with those [Society of -ology] douchehounds anyway? "
but after reading Isis' post, the comments following and thinking about it a little more....how the fuck would I know? It may very well be going on and I just don't know about it.
Maybe just like some other Society meetings, the women all tell each other to watch out for grabby ol' Professor Richard Swanger at the social events at my meetings.
Crap.
UPDATE: I just saw this topic-related post from Damn Good Technician.

38 responses so far

  • yolio says:

    I often make a point of talking about this behavior to people's coworkers, I feel it is my only revenge. I find that men are usually really surprised to hear about their colleagues behavior and that I am the only one talking about it. What is common knowledge for some is a total secret for others.

  • Kate says:

    Yeah, sorry, I can guarantee it has happened at every meeting you've ever been to. We all (those of us in the group of citizens who are victims of this shit) know about the dude who likes to talk close so he can look down your shirt, or the one who jokes about getting you drunk so he can get you in bed (both of these have happened to me at conferences). Last year, after being hit on several times, my friend turned her namecard over and wrote on it "I'M MARRIED" and wore it around... and still got lewd remarks and requests.
    Yay, sexism. We're not here to do science, we're here to be pretty! For you!!!1!1
    Anyway, thanks for noticing that you may happen to be in a class of people who doesn't notice these things. That will, most likely, lead to some noticing in the future :).

  • Dan says:

    I'll raise my hand and say this whole discussion has been totally enlightening for me. I had no idea this kind of shit went on at meetings, and I'm thankful to those who are courageous enough to talk about it.

  • arrzey says:

    Old Joke: Where does a woman hide a $20 a scientific meeting? Between her eyes, cause its the one place a man will never look.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    I find that men are usually really surprised to hear about their colleagues behavior and that I am the only one talking about it.

    There's a circular dependency going on here. It's widely observed that "d00ds" don't think there's a problem and are surprised when told of instances that women know is common. This naturally cranks up the "denial" reading in the reporting women, which diffuses through social contacts.
    Unfortunately, it also reduces the willingness of many women to discuss the matter with men, thus supporting the illusion of rarity. (See DM above.) Unfortunately, discussing the subject with men is a nontrivial risk for women in this screwed-up world. Paging Joseph Heller!

    I often make a point of talking about this behavior to people's coworkers, I feel it is my only revenge.

    I'm not a fan of "revenge" but if we can get a bit awareness spread around maybe we can do some "prevention" -- which IMHO is worth a lot more.

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    This, DrugMonkey. Exactly this. You make me proud to call you my friend.

  • "Maybe just like some other Society meetings, the women all tell each other to watch out for grabby ol' Professor Richard Swanger at the social events at my meetings."
    Yep, that's exactly what we do. šŸ™‚ I've primarily attended physics meetings, and word gets around very quickly which of the male scientists are grabby and such. On the upside, there are a growing number of male scientists who are becoming aware of these "problem colleagues" and do recognize the problem.

  • Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    "Last year, after being hit on several times, my friend turned her namecard over and wrote on it "I'M MARRIED" and wore it around... and still got lewd remarks and requests."
    Probably got 'em more excited, hitting on another guy's "property", as they'd see it.
    Christ, this is awful.
    Guys, we're geeks, right?
    Unwelcome hitting on women is what *jocks* do. Where's the geek pride here?

  • Alex says:

    I recommend wearing steel-toed boots so it hurts even more when the grabber gets kicked in the balls.
    If he tries again, administer pepper spray, followed by yet another kick.
    And post the video on youtube.

  • whimple says:

    It's an ingrained part of the culture. Academic science rewards assholish it's-all-about-me dominance behavior, so *shock/horror*, where did all these assholes at scientific meetings suddenly come from?

  • neurospasm says:

    Yep. I had an awesome female grad student who was so excited to go to a small meeting where she'd meet a colleague of Dr. Richard Swanger whose work she had read and long admired. Advance discussion via e-mail indicated a postdoc position was about to become available.
    After spending time with him at the meeting, she was extremely put off by his forward behavior and constantly talking to her boobs.
    She is now working in the lab of an outstanding assistant professor and totally kicking ass.

  • ScientistMother comments chez moi that the pharma environment, with its corporate-ness and strong HR presence, is a less (let's politely call it) permissive place for grab-ass nonsense.

  • Namnezia says:

    Who would go and grope someone at a scientific meeting (or anywhere else)?! I mean, this is such a sleazy, disrespectful and condescending thing to do - I have to admit, like DM, that I am surprised this is so common. From reading the comments above and at Dr. Isis' blog, it sounds like a scientific meeting is no different than a bar full of frat boys. Could it be that we hear/read more about the times when it happens, and the people who do it all the time, as opposed to times when male colleagues are supportive and appreciative of their female colleagues? I don't know.

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    Namnezia, I think that these are the first safe places that people can talk about it. But, as long as I have been in science it has always been common place.

  • Alex says:

    Could it be that we hear/read more about the times when it happens, and the people who do it all the time, as opposed to times when male colleagues are supportive and appreciative of their female colleagues?
    Eh, I don't think we need to spend more time talking about all the times that sexual harassment doesn't happen. If anything, too many people are still surprised when it does happen, so maybe they need to hear about it more.

  • tbell says:

    I think seeing sleazy come-ons at the bar might only make me want to throw up, but if I saw someone grope one of my lab mates, I think I could happily do serious violence. BTW, the steel-toed boots are not for balls, they are for shattering shins or knees. A kick to the balls with a heavy shoe takes more time to deliver, and gives the kickee time to turn or deflect. The ball strike can be delivered after the initial incapacitating blow. Or, if you must strike the jewels first, use a knee. Or if you are intent on more serious harm (though ruptured testicles can occasionally be fatal) I offer the following dark fantasy...
    Ideally, it works like this: 1) initial deceptive blow to shins, or quick strike to the balls...repeat until recipient doubles over, 2) one or two hands on back of opponent's head, then rising strike with knee to face, or ribcage, or abdomen depending on effect desired, 3) hammer fist to back of skull, or neck and upper vertebrae if intent is to kill, kidneys if intent is to cause them to piss blood for days (still a risk of death), alternatively, you may bring point of elbow down on similar targets depending on your position at this point. If subject is particularly large and your initial attack has failed, you may wish to make use of an available poolcue, bottle, or other light weapon, the bouncers won't give you too much time so you'll need to be quick.

  • bsci says:

    While I believe drugmonkey hasn't personally heard of groping incidents before, I'm sure he can think of inappropriate sexual behavior examples.
    I've never seen or heard of groping at meetings I've attended, but I've known few scientists who relish one-night-stands. I have no reason to doubt these were consensual relationships, but I think it's very safe to say for every success a guy had probably hit on a number of female scientists who said no. It's one thing to be hit on at a random bar in one's home town. It's another if it's by a supposed coworker at a meeting.
    I go to meetings and can speak to these men as colleagues. If a woman meets them, are they treated as a colleague or a potential bed partner first?

  • DK says:

    Men hitting on women. What a horrible, horrible thing. Unheard of cruelty! Sheesh. What planet are you people from?

  • Anonymous says:

    Isis: Good point, I hadn't thought of it that way. I guess I had for the most part experienced the opposite power dynamic, in that my postdoc mentor as well as all (or almost all) of the major leaders of my immediate field are women.
    DK: That's not the issue, though. Men and women hit on each other all the time, but the workplace is not an appropriate place to do it.

  • Namnezia says:

    Forgot to sign the last comment:
    Isis: Good point, I hadn't thought of it that way. I guess I had for the most part experienced the opposite power dynamic, in that my postdoc mentor as well as all (or almost all) of the major leaders of my immediate field are women.
    DK: That's not the issue, though. Men and women hit on each other all the time, but the workplace is not an appropriate place to do it.

  • bsci says:

    DK,
    Like I said, it's one thing to go to a bar or some other strictly social place and to be hit on by a stranger. It's another thing to go to a professional meeting, being in a room full of professional colleagues (whether the room is a bar or a conference hall), expect to make professional connections, and finding out that someone you thought should be a colleague is simply trying to screw you. If you don't understand the difference, I'm not sure what to say.

  • ginger says:

    Okay, leaving completely aside the question of whether sex is appropriate at professional meetings - I really didn't think this had to be said, but apparently it does: GRABBING A WOMAN'S ASS IS NOT THE SAME AS MAKING A PASS AT HER.
    Sure, it's a way to say, "I want to have sex with you." But it's not the opening of negotiations - it's an expression of mutual good will once the contract's signed.
    Keep your hands off the merchandise until you've sealed the deal, gentlemen.

  • jc says:

    I told my boss last week about some sexist shit that happened to me recently and he said "that's not supposed to happen!" This is the defensive/dismissive reaction that I hear most often when talking to men. Women, on the other hand, launch into "meeeeeee tooooo" stories when they realize they are not alone. It wears me out having to explain to men that yes, this shit happens to women, and happens to alot of women, and it's not one boogieman hanging out in a dark alley doing this shit to random women. It's all around us, all the damn time.

  • Ace says:

    DK, suppose you turn up to a professional meeting, as a professional taking part in it, only to have a man dismiss you as a professional and grab your arse. You would be angry that this person had no respect for the fact that you are qualified and capable in this professional area, yes? Mortified and humilated that someone would treat you with that sort of disrespect, yes? Grabbing a woman's arse at a professional gathering like that is not 'hitting on her.'
    It is saying, 'I don't care that you have every right to be treated like a qualified member of this group, I don't even care that you deserve to be treated like a respected human being. I wil treat you like some thing here for my entertainment and I don't care how you feel or what that says to everyone else present about how I regard your work or your value as a human being.' That is the message women take away here.

  • Ace says:

    Maybe just like some other Society meetings, the women all tell each other to watch out for grabby ol' Professor Richard Swanger at the social events at my meetings.
    Eh, that happens at every meeting, sciency or not. šŸ˜› Sadly, there are always men who are convinced, to borrow a phrase from someone I know, that they are 'a golden god.' And a woman who turns them down just doesn't know what she's missing, yeah. Then there are those who don't think they're golden gods, they just don't give a damn how women feel.

  • grumpy says:

    so this whole grabbing ass thing--is it:
    1. a depraved pervert doing it in a crowd and hoping not to be noticed
    2. a slobbering drunk who doesn't respect women
    3. a ridiculously overconfident, immature guy who thinks he's flirting
    sorry for asking, but i haven't seen or heard of it at any of my conferences and would really like to know (i go to physics meetings in case that is a useful excuse).

  • Anonymous says:

    @ DK
    Grabbing ass is taking without asking. It is demeaning and any guy with two brain cells to bang together should see that. It is NOT 'hitting on' someone, although this can also be unwelcome and unpleasant in a professional environment.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    Ever since I started reading about this on blogs I've turned my sensors up to 11 but I haven't seen it in my field and I really, **really** hope this stuff doesn't go on. All the inappropriate contact I've seen has been mutual (get a room!). I hope it's as rare as I've "observed" (i'm male and I'd be pretty tempted to smack a guy I saw grab some poor person). I applaud Isis and others for talking openly about this kind of BS. Shining a bright light on just how inappropriate this stuff is will make the rats scurry away and enlighten at least some of the misguided/deluded/poorly-adjusted.
    It's a totally separate issue but I see no problem with available, consenting adults having sexual relations at a conference outside of professional circumstances any more than them meeting at speed dating or whatever. I have a BIG, BIG PROBLEM with someone treating a conference AS speed dating, though.

  • LadyDay says:

    In case some of you haven't seen this yet, Marion Cotillard may be on to something.

  • LadyDay says:

    Marion Cotillard's skit on "Forehead Tittaes" (as featured on Huffington Post) may be one way to resolve this issue.

  • TeaHag says:

    I have been the recipient of such attentions since I was a graduate student. I don't think it's because I'm particularly "hawt", but that often, my academic interest in their data presentation, has been mistaken for enthusiasm of another kind... so, hey, it really isn't about you.. it's about your standard curve.
    The above situation I've grown to consider a "fortunes of war" type issue. What is considerably more venal, is when Senior Prof deliberately acts in an inappropriately or overtly sexual manner in order to hide his academic interests. This happened to me at a quite prestidgeous meeting of our small field (so everyone knows everyone else). At the time I was just striking out independently (Instructor-level faculty) but was presenting exciting work performed during my post-doc and my former mentor was also present. My talk was scheduled for the last day, but I knew that there was a great deal of interest because the chairman of the organizing committee had personally contacted me about data that was described in the abstract that I submitted. Second evening in, I was seated at a large round table for dinner, my former mentor on one side of me, when the chairman shows up and sits down on my other side. The remainder of the meal was spent with me trying to "fend off" his commentary about my looks etc. interspersed with probing questions regarding my data. At no time did he attempt to address a question to my co-researcher just a seat away. Eventually, all conversation at the table died and I was acutely aware that everyone was watching. Finally, he gave up and left. Afterwards, several people apologised to me. I was embarassed and just wanted to leave. With hindsight, I want to say two things.
    1. Gentlemen, speak up if you observe your female colleagues trapped in these situations.. you don't have to be confrontational, you can just change the subject. I didn't want your apologies, I would have appreciated your tacit support.
    2. It's the respect damnit! Did Senior Prof think that I was too stupid or too flattered to realise what he was really after? He wouldn't have been able to pull that particular stunt with a guy in a poorly-fitting suit.

  • @26 -
    D - any and all of the above.
    The better question is: does it matter *why* the asshole is ass-grabbing? Does knowing this explain away the bad behavior? Or rather, does it allow women to concoct better escape plans? If the former, what good is to come from making excuses for these asshats? If the latter, should the onus really be on the women for making sure they jump through every arbitrary social hoop in order to attend a professional meeting without being harassed? Would that actually work? (Hint: does refraining from wearing skirts, having a drink, being alone in public guarantee that a given woman will not be raped or assaulted?)

  • DSKS says:

    "It's a totally separate issue but I see no problem with available, consenting adults having sexual relations at a conference outside of professional circumstances..."
    Well, there really is no "outside of professional circumstances" at a conference, imho. Whether at a poster session, or in hotel bar at 1 am, you are with professional colleagues and you need to guard your esteem and dignity accordingly. So, although I defend the right for consenting conference goers to hook up if they really feel they need to, I still think it's sound advice to take the line that this is just generally a really bad idea. Furthermore, that even entertaining the frame of mind that harbours such expectations from a meeting in the first place is a bad idea.

  • Grumpy says:

    Ambivalent,
    yes it's fucked up no matter what the circumstances and no it doesn't really matter in terms of how to deal with it. I was just curious because it is interesting.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    The better question is: does it matter *why* the asshole is ass-grabbing?

    I was going to write, "know thy enemy" but hesitated over the wording. Since I can't come up with a better way to put the general idea, I'll just beg forgiveness in advance.

  • DK says:

    Since so many seem to object, a clarification: grabbing ass is wrong. That's why it's basically illegal, right? Conference or no conference, doesn't matter. And so is, of course, taking advantage of one's position, etc. OTOH, staring at boobies is perfectly normal. 100% of women who complain of things like this AND wear make up are hypocrites.

  • ginger says:

    No. Grabbing ass without consent is wrong. Grabbing consenting ass is fine, but unprofessional. Staring at boobies with consent is fine, but unprofessional. I do not put makeup on my breasts and I completely fail to understand what that has to do with anything.
    I don't ordinarily wear makeup, but I do if I'm presenting at a conference. Not to look more sexually appealing - sex is far from my mind when I'm shuffling from ugly meeting room to ugly meeting room thinking Big Thoughts and drinking gallons of terrible coffee - but as a signifier of formality, like wearing a suit and fancy shoes.

  • Although DK is probably a troll (and therefore hopeless), I'll make one response and then stop feeding him.
    Staring at boobies may be normal, but it is unprofessional. The hallmark of a successful adult is impulse control. When you need to urinate do you just whip it out and pee on the floor, or do you wait until you find a restroom? Ass grabbing is just a less socially acceptable form of boobie staring. Both of them assume that any women in the vicinity are objects to satisfy the offenders' pleasures/impulses and not equal colleagues. Proper impulse control (i.e. there is a time and a place for everything) should eliminate both behaviors in a considerate adult.
    I am happy to say that none of my current colleagues stare at my boobies. This is a marked improvement over previous workplaces.

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