Wednesday, October 16, 2013

We have met the enemy and he is us.

I had this whole post written up about the horrible treatment of Dr. Danielle Lee, but then things got  turned upside down even further when Bora Zivcovic was named publicly for sexual harassment and he admitted as much. I don't want to recount it, because others have done so better. Seth Mnookin sums it up quite well. (If you're not familiar with these events, read what Seth has to say first).

I don't feel personally injured by his actions, but many of my online friends and acquaintances are. Science bloggers are all wrestling with their feelings of betrayal and outrage, but the outward expressions of disappointment are much quieter and less widespread than expressions posted related to Dr. Lee's treatment by the now fired Biology-Online editor.

I think one of the reasons for why there are fewer posts discussing Bora's behavior is because it is hard to put this event in the same "other" category that accompanies Dr. Lee's experience. The editor who called Dr. Lee's motives into question doesn't have a real name (at least publicly). We don't know this editor's background or expertise (clearly, not an expert in communicating with people). But we do know Bora. We've known him for years as a major driving force in science communication. He has been an ally, friend, and colleague. He has been one of us. And now it's come to light that he behaved in a way inconsistent with what we expect of those in a position of authority. And not some nameless authority, but one of our own who we have looked up to.

And that makes it harder. We want science communication to be a big tent, where everyone can come in and talk about what interests us. We want anyone with a passion for STEM and science communication to be able to pursue those dreams and explore them to their fullest. But no one is going to want to participate if, by being different, they receive unfair treatment. And Bora's actions were no less damaging to diversity in STEM than those by the Biology-Online editor.

If we want to increase the diversity of the people in STEM fields, we have to change. When I say "we" I'm referring to white, cis-gendered males. People like me. I am aware, painfully so in some cases, of the privileges I have. But this is the thing that really gets me about privilege: 1) they aren't obvious, 2) it takes someone without those privileges to point them out, and 3) it usually requires those with that privilege to change. Dr. Lee's experience would not have been my experience in a similar situation. My female friends and colleagues face every day with a set of challenges I haven't, nor will I ever likely have to face.

One of the questions that invariably comes up during or after events like these is, "what can we do?" How do we embody the change we want to see? I don't have an answer, but I have a plan. And that is to listen. I find it's a lot easier to recognize my privileges when I hear other people talk about their experiences without that same privilege.

I was going to sit and think about whether I need to add something - to mull it over. But I was reminded that this continues that "deafening silence" others had pointed out. I don't want my own self-doubt to imply that I condone Bora's actions. I hope Bora's contrition is real, but I deplore harassment of any kind, especially by those in positions of authority. I want STEM to be a place where fascination, not trepidation, overwhelms you.

A couple more randomish items:

*The title is borrowed from a line in the comic strip Pogo, by Walt Kelly.

LadyBits is posting a call for submissions to recognize and avoid sexual harassment.

And This. This is important. If you are a white, cis male you need to read this and not just go "yeah, yeah, that's someone else behaving poorly." Read it and recognize how your behavior contributes to what others think is okay and acceptable. And that even if you don't condone it, because of that behavior by others, people do not trust you.

We are the enemy, not because we are trying to be, but because those of us who do not want to be the enemy have been silent. I don't want to be silent. But I don't want to drown out the voices of those who deserve to he heard. Consider the end of my silence, but not the start of my speaking for others.

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