What I learned from the internet is that nothing upsets my male colleagues more than the pernicious sexual harassment that has been happening right under their noses for years. “What kind of world are we living in?” they wail, “And what can I do about it?” Ever since I can remember, I’ve actually been a woman, and so maybe I can offer some constructive advice. You can thank me later.
1. Calm the F*ck Down. If you walk up to me and say, “OH YOU CUT YOUR HAIR,” I’m not going to have you up on Judge Judy within 48 hours. The sorry pathetic reality is that you can say a lot of stupid shit and not get in any real trouble, so just calm the f*ck down. Women in Science often majored in Science where they learned that some people are just hopelessly socially awkward and that it’s different (yet not exclusive) from being a sinister calculating dickhead. We know that “Can a woman breastfeed while driving?” could be more a dumbass abstract query than a lascivious boobie-fantasy narrative. Jeebus, the sad truth is that we will generally give you the benefit of the doubt on this, time after time after time. I have colleagues who say stupid shit to me with such regularity that I’ve started using it to set my watch. Ok Guys, I’ll put my money where my mouth is, and take one for your team. You no longer have to KGB every single syllable that comes out of your mouth around me. After a while I might turn to you and say, “Stop saying stuff like that. I don’t like it and it makes you sound stupid as f*ck.” Regretfully, this will sap some of the enthusiasm from our burgeoning friendship, but if we’re truly destined for buddyhood, we’ll both get over it eventually. Guys seem to want RULES on how to act to stay in the clear on sexual harassment, so here are some RULES. Turn on your printer. Are you ready? Rule Number One: Don’t take your dick out while you are talking to me in your office. Let’s just make a blanket rule that all dicks shall be covered with at least one layer of clothing when we are in a place of academic employment, shall we? Rule Number Two: Don’t c*m into an envelope and leave it in my mailbox. I can’t imagine where you got this idea, but it was a Bad Choice. Next time you are choosing what to do, and it starts to seem like a Good Choice, you should email your Dean and put “I don’t have enough to do!” in the subject line. Rule Number Three: Don’t leave your pornography on top of my lab bench in order to remind me that you have a key to my lab. This is the kind of thing that I might just take the wrong way and make a big deal out of. Some of these things happened to me, and some of them happened to people I know. Are you shocked? My point here is that you shouldn’t be. By the time a sexual harassment case gets to the point where an institution is even talking about taking action, it means that something so egregious has been done, so many times, to so many women, that the Devil himself would first blush then vomit upon hearing the details. Should it be this way? No. But here I am, hauling this great big olive branch to the table. I’ll settle for 2014 to be the year when everyone swears to obey the Three Rules above. What do you say, Guys? We can call it “Rules of Three, Let Her Be!” or have a 5K race “Don’t Call Her a Whore in Two-Thou-One-Four!” and let Ofuck officiate. Let’s go one step further: if you think you have said something stupid to me, you can ask. You can say, “Did I just say something stupid? If so then I’m sorry.” Then – and this is the tricky part – don’t say that particular thing ever again. Wow. 2014 is shaping up to be a banner year from where I sit.
2. Step the F*ck Up. I read some study (or I made it up) about how when a child has one abusive parent and one non-abusive parent, it is the non-abusive parent that is perceived as more hurtful. The abusive one doesn’t let you down, you know what to expect from them. It’s when the non-abusive one doesn’t and doesn’t and doesn’t step up that you really start to question your worth. I’ve painted myself into an unfortunate rhetorical corner where women are metaphoric children and men are metaphoric parents, but let’s soldier on for the sake of argument. Dear Mr. Ally, you are hurting me when you stand by and say nothing as you see me harassed. I’ll go one better and claim that you are hurting me just as much the harasser is hurting me. Let’s take a purely hypothetical situation that happened to me once. Here I was, the only woman in a sexual harassment workshop led by two badass female lawyers, happily scarfing down one free sammich after the other. We all started sharing our feelings in a safe space of mutual respect about the value of women in the workplace. One of my senior colleagues offered the following observation: “Women don’t belong here. They are like wolves at a campsite. They come and piss all over everything, just to ruin it.” I was shocked. Stupefied. I simply couldn’t believe it. The lawyers — one of whom had prosecuted a sexual harassment case within the NYC police department which is the lawyerly equivalent of the Sudan gig in Doctors Without Borders — were also stunned into silence. Tick, tick went the clock and nobody said anything. After a pause, we … well … we continued on as if in a dream. Let’s examine this. What should have happened? This was actually a perfect opening for a wannabe Ally. Rule of Thumb: if some dude says some off-the-leash cray-cray shit, and you turn to me and my pupils are dilated and my breathing is shallow and irregular, it is probably up to you to inject an alternative perspective into the discourse. Maybe I’m just not paying attention. Maybe I’m distractedly composing a witty blog entry in my head. OR MAYBE I’M DYING A LITTLE BIT INSIDE. It’s time to choose sides, my Y-chromofriend. You’re either with me or against me. Afraid of making everyone uncomfortable? Guess what, we passed uncomfortable three exits ago near the boarded-up Waffle House. You’ve got to step the f*ck up. “But what should I do?” you implore, “What should I say?” … Well, first off, I wish to stress that these situations must be handled with delicacy and sensitivity. Ever mindful of this, you should turn to Dr. Bozo, establish eye-contact, and say “SHUT UP.” Out of the many things that you could do — you could laugh nervously, you could check your phone, you could come to my office later and say, “Well I never!” — I personally recommend that you turn to Dr. Bozo, establish eye-contact, and say “SHUT UP.” “Shutup shutup shutup,” you add, by way of exposition. This approach is, admittedly, rude, crass and juvenile. There are other more mature ways to handle this. For example, you could instead turn to Dr. Bozo, establish eye-contact, and say “SHUT UP.” Make sure you tailor your response to your own individual personality. For example, wear whatever shirt you want to as you turn to Dr. Bozo, establish eye-contact, and say “SHUT UP.” Let’s all practice, shall we? I’ll turn off moderation for the comments below, and every time someone calls me a c*nt, one of you responds with “SHUT UP”. It’ll be like Simon Says, only with trolls.
3. Remember That It’s About Her, Not Him. This is also known as “Don’t make the mistake of overfocusing on the harasser.” I’m not saying this to demonstrate munificence, because I looked it up and it turns out I don’t have any. I am descended from a Viking warrior who would slaughter you for looking at her wrong, throw your entrails to a Great Dane and then use your skull as a goblet. It’s just that when you hear a car slam into a pedestrian, you don’t go running over there and say, “Oh car! Are you okay? Has your driving record sustained any short-term or long-term ill effects? Where-oh-where will you park now? You had such high miles-per-gallon, how could this have happened? What does this really mean about the manufacturing processes at Kia?” and so forth. No. You stop traffic, and you go see how badly the pedestrian has been hit. You ask her if she wants any help or if she wants you to call the authorities. You wait around to make sure it gets dealt with. You take down the license plate and document the details. Your biggest priority is to get her through this. Now that we’ve arrived in familiar rhetorical territory where men are metaphoric cars, let me say a little more. Wide-eyed naiveté notwithstanding, Dr. Bozo is not going to change. He’s been saying stupid shit since before I was born. He’s probably saying stupid shit to some poor bastard right at this very moment. Nope, unfortunately we must simply “anticipate cohort mortality” with a lot of these guys, as my Epidemiologist colleague might put it. Feminist actuaries have modeled this projection and assure me that we should see marked improvements within the next two-to-four decades*. But you, as a self-professed Ally, have a responsibility now. Ask yourself, “What will ensure that the pedestrian survives – no thrives – through this?” Better yet, ask her what she needs in order to thrive through this. Then put your heads together and strategize. And go get it.
*The younger generation of misogynists are a whole other ball of hateful wax that I’ll post about later or someday.