Monday, June 1, 2015

On Science and Boobs.

In the column, titled "Help! My adviser won’t stop looking down my shirt!" an anonymous woman asks what to do about her academic adviser gawking at her chest. "Whenever we meet in his office, I catch him trying to look down my shirt," says the woman, "Bothered." The response, from Alice Huang, a molecular biologist: "I suggest you put up with it,  humor if you can."


  1. Just read the linked article. OMG, it was in Science, which did the right thing by deleting the advice.

    The woman seeking advice was a post-doc. The woman giving advice wrote an apologia that said basically, "Men are men; an attractive woman is such a turn-on that men can't pay attention to what she is saying. Your advisor may not even know he's leering. Unless he follows it up by doing more than looking, it's not really sexual harassment."

    My advice would have been:

    1. Document the behavior for a week or so in a journal with times and dates.

    2. Confront him. Say, "Please stop doing that." (Stop what?) "Looking at my shirt instead of my face." (I wasn't doing that.) "Then it will be no problem to look at my face when we talk." (I don't know what you're talking about.) "As long as it stops, we have no problem. If it happens again, it will be harassment, and I will report it." (I don't know what you're talking about.) [Look at watch.] 'Oh, my, the time. About my project . . . "

    3. Document the conversation and his response in the journal.

    4. Talk about it and provide a copy of the journal to someone else, such as the EEOC rep or ombudsman on campus. Include a copy of your most recent work evaluation, if possible.

    5. Continue doing a great job, and put on a loose-fitting lab coat when he's around. I know, we shouldn't have to dress differently, but if your clothing is reasonably loose and well buttoned up, Mr. Leer won't get rewarded for his leering, and his habit may be extinguished -- at least around you.

    6. Document and report any retaliation.

  2. So how do we nominate Proffie G to fill a (presumably) vacant spot for an advice columnist? Maybe they'd like to alternate between her and Academic Monkey, who also has talents in that area?

    Also, how do we tell Science that imitating Slate's clickbait headlines for advice columns ("Help! I xxxxxxxxx") isn't really the best idea?

  3. I think the problem here is "proportionality". Some offenses are egregious (crimes, or at least termination worthy) and some might be those "I didn't realize I was doing it" and the remedy might be as simple as another male colleague meeting with the guy privately and saying something like "hey, you might want to watch where your eyes wander; you can unintentionally creep someone out" or something like that.

  4. It's also possible the prof is uncomfortable making eye contact and looks down automatically. I find myself doing that sometimes. I like Harriet's advice. Perhaps the young woman should have one of the prof's peers take him aside for a small word or too about where his eyes wander.

  5. I like Harriet's advice too, and wish we lived in a world where a new, subordinate employee (6 months into a post-doc) could trust the male peers of her boss to do the right thing. But approaching them could backfire.

    She could ask around among her peers-- other female post-docs and advanced grad students -- to see if her advisor has a reputation for a shirt-peeking and what the general climate is for women in the other labs.

    (Thanks, Cassandra! I owe a lot to my own mistakes and to Captain Awkward and her jolly crew, but can't honor them with a link as I'm using a cell phone.)

  6. I second everything Proffie says. Document everything. That's the only way to deal with this crap.

    I haven't had to deal with such nonsense from someone above me (so to speak) in the chain of command, but I've had to deal with unwanted attention from students at LD3C, which attracts people who have never been socialized, apparently. Call me paranoid, but the first whiff of something inappropriate -- staring too long at my boobs, a comment about my appearance that seems a bit "off" -- I go straight to our chair. Fortunately and sadly for us, this sort of behavior is commonplace, so we are believed when we impart such information. Four times in the past five years, I've had to take action further than that because of a student's inappropriate attentions.

    It's not the same thing, I know, when you're the teacher and not the PhD student dependent on your advisor for your very livelihood and I am very lucky to work in a place that takes such attention from students seriously, but as students gain more and more power -- their feelings are so precious! -- in academia, it's disturbing to think of what happens to teachers who receive such attention at institutions that aren't as aware and supportive as mine is.