In case you’re not up on the latest Science Blogging/Writing/Communication gossip (which I’m assuming most of you aren’t), well, shit has really hit the fan recently.
There have been a slew of misogynistic occurrences in the past week, with more stories of sexual harassment coming to the surface. Numerous scientists and bloggers have commented on the developing situation far more effectively than I will be able to here, and I’ll be sure to link to them as I go. But first, the unfolding story.
Last week, Danielle N Lee (or DNLee, as she commonly goes by online), a biologist and blogger for Scientific American at The Urban Scientist, was invited by a relatively unknown biology site to do some guest blogging. Pretty standard. They said they were unable to pay her for her services, and she politely declined. Also pretty standard. Then the blog editor responded by asking her if she was “an urban scientist or an urban whore”. NOT STANDARD.
Obviously, her response was one of outrage, and she very eloquently documented the entire exchange on her blog for Scientific American. She included video, pictures, excerpts from the original email exchange, and an epic take-down of the idiot who dared insult her in such a degrading, simplistic and childish way.
At this point, the story should have ended with DNLee coming out on top, the editor being fired (which he was), all of us being shocked and appalled that such blatant unprofessional misogyny still exists, and writing a few tweets and blogs about it.
Unfortunately, it didn’t. Scientific American made the short-sighted and cowardly decision to take down DNLee’s post without telling her, claiming that their content was supposed to be solely science-based. Mariette DiChristina, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, explained this decision over Twitter, and the community erupted.
Re blog inquiry: @sciam is a publication for discovering science. The post was not appropriate for this area & was therefore removed.
— Mariette DiChristina (@mdichristina) October 12, 2013
Stunned by the backlash, DiChristina and Scientific American officially apologized the next day, DNLee’s original piece was re-published, and again it seemed like we could all move on.
But then it REALLY got messy.
Flash back one year ago. Monica Byrne, a writer and playwrite, posted on her blog about an incident of sexual harassment she had experienced from an older male mentor that left her understandably shaken up. There was no overt sexual assault, just lots of inappropriate, unwanted innuendoes, which in some ways left her questioning herself and her reaction even more harshly. At the time, Byrne elected to leave the perpetrator unnamed. However, the recent incident involving DNLee caused her to change her mind, as the man in question was very high up in the Scientific American blogging network, and she suspected he had something to do with the initial silencing. So on Monday she decided to out him in an update on her original post.
This man is Bora Zivkovic, or BoraZ, otherwise known as “the Blogfather”. He is extremely influential in the world of science writing and is known to be generous with his connections and retweets. (I have never met or had contact with him personally, but he has retweeted for me, and those I’ve met who do know him have spoken of him highly.)
This reveal shocked the SciComm community more than learning that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. Many were quick to jump to Bora’s defense, questioning and mistrusting the victim as we are wont to do in this “slut-shaming” society we unfortunately inhabit. However, Bora himself admitted on his blog of the inappropriate behavior he had engaged in with Byrne and apologized for his actions.
Then someone else spoke up. Hannah Waters, another female scientist and blogger at Scientific American, responded to the fury surrounding Byrne’s accusation with her own report of “not-quite-harassment” that she had experienced at the hands of Bora.
Again there was shock and outrage. Again, Bora did not deny the claims.
— Bora Zivkovic (@BoraZ) October 16, 2013
And then came the final nail in the coffin. The two prior reports accounting Bora’s behavior describe uncomfortable, unprofessional and certainly unnecessary interactions. But do they qualify as harassment or abuse? Some were still unswayed, staunchly standing by their friend and idol.
But Kathleen Raven ended all of that today with a personal and painful account of her own experiences with sexual harassment from Bora and others. Her post came complete with explicit email snippets sent to her, which are jaw-dropping.
The disappointment and disgust at this formerly revered man are wide and ranging. But by far the best response I’ve read was penned by Hope Jahren, a professor at the University of Hawaii.
The Worst Part Is Not.
The worst part is not when it all blows over just as you thought something was going to finally happen. When everything goes on as usual, except that your colleagues pass you in the hall with a wider berth. That when all the shock and outrage dies down, the only job that changed is yours. You used to be a valued mascot. Now you’re a traitor. You’ll never be Department Chair or Dean now that this has happened. How dare you throw all the Monopoly pieces in the air – we were letting you play! But that’s not the worst part.
The worst part is not when his wife and his employees come to you and say please don’t do this to us. Our mortgage, our children, our paychecks are at stake. When they ask you if you care about anything besides yourself. When they tell you the full story, which you never wanted to know. That there’s a rotten root of sickness and betrayal underneath it all. That this is your big chance to be the bigger person and walk away, proving that you are actually more compassionate than you seem. This is not the worst part. Although that part is pretty damn bad.
The worst part is the pivot. The click. When the switch flips. When you press down, turn the child-proof cap, and the thing breaks in your hands. When it dawns on you that this isn’t an interview, it’s a date. That there’s no study group, it’s a date. That this isn’t office hours, it’s a date. That it’s not a promotion, it’s a date. That it’s not a field trip, it’s a date. It’s a weird f*cked up date and you had no idea, you dumbass. You’re just as stupid as he thinks you are. Why are you carrying a backpack full of questions, homework, manuscripts, resumés and various other homely hopeful aspirations? All you needed to do was to show up. Show up for this weird f*cked up date. Sucker.
And then she got angry, and she wrote some more:
Five Reasons Why You Liked My Post
1. It Was Well-Written. Lordy lordy how well-written it was. Let’s all turn toward the East and say it together, loud enough to shake the walls where a certain book proposal is languishing on a certain desk. “HOPE JAHREN SURE CAN WRITE,” we bellow while choking back our collective sob. Someone should give that girl a goddam book deal.
2. It Didn’t Name Names. First Ofuck or Ofek or whoever-the-f*ck hate-spoke Danielle Lee and we were all like, String him up! How daaaaaare you! And the guys were all like, Let me at him! Then Borat or Boraz or Borehole sleazed up Monica Byrne and we were all like, Not Mr. Rogers! He’s a flesh-and-blood dude! He gave me peelings for my compost heap! He defragged my harddrive! Why universe, why? And the guys went kinda silent at that point (did you notice?). Then we looked at each other and said, Whoa this is complicated. Eventually we got to this place where we sure as hell don’t want him making decisions about women’s careers but we’d still probably perform CPR on him if we saw him lying in the street. Turns out he’s neither an angel nor a devil, just like all the other men I don’t know. Just like every sorry soul made flesh temporarily wandering this lonely dusty Earth.
So that’s what’s buzzing around the ol’ science-sphere these days. Name-calling, misogyny, back-stabbing, sexual harassment, victim blaming, and some badass, brave, brilliant women who will not be silenced when they have something important to say.
Update: Bora has officially resigned from Scientific American. And Christie Wilcox, another scientist, writer and former protégé of Bora’s, has written an excellent piece from a position not of outrage but of numbness. Equally powerful perspective.