Lady Scientists, Wanna Get Ahead? Smile And Let Men Sneak A Peek Down Your Lab Coat
We learned two new things this week! Numero Uno, we learned that Science Magazine has a career advice columnist, Alice Huang. And Numero Two-o, we learned that she is sometimes A Idiot, like when she told a female postdoctoral student to just smile and put up with her supervisor staring down her blouse, because boys will be boys and he is, after all, the boss of her. That doesn't strike us as good advice at all! It's almost as bad as a science museum offering rocketry for boys, and How To Create Pretty Makeup lessons for girls.
Science quickly deep-sixed the column and apologized, but the original got archived, so we can see it in its original doubleplusungood glory. "Bothered" wrote:
I’ve just joined a new lab for my second postdoc. It’s a good lab. I’m happy with my project. I think it could really lead to some good results. My adviser is a good scientist, and he seems like a nice guy. Here’s the problem: Whenever we meet in his office, I catch him trying to look down my shirt. Not that this matters, but he’s married.
What should I do?
Now, while there are many good answers ranging from "Wear a t-shirt with your university's sexual harassment policy printed on it in bold type" to "consult your state's 'stand your ground' laws to see if they cover a knee to the guy's groin" (haha, we are kidding, violence solves nothing), or even something radical like "talk to your institution's Human Resources department," Huang instead advised "Bothered" to just accept that when boys and girls work together, boys will look down girls' tops, because boobies exert a gravitational pull on the male eyeball stronger than a neutron star's:
Imagine what life would be like if there were no individuals of the opposite—or preferred—sex. It would be pretty dull, eh? Well, like it or not, the workplace is a part of life.
It’s true that, in principle, we’re all supposed to be asexual while working. But the kind of behavior you mention is common in the workplace. Once, a friend told me that he was so distracted by an attractive visiting professor that he could not concentrate on a word of her seminar. Your adviser may not even be aware of what he is doing.
Huang then cited the EEOC's definition of "sexual harassment" and added, "I’m not an attorney, but to me the behavior you’re describing doesn’t seem unlawful by this standard." Huang did at least acknowledge that leering isn't "acceptable workplace behavior," but cheerfully noted that there are far worse forms of harassment, and closed by suggesting that "Bothered" not make waves, especially not with her mammalian protuberances, because in the immortal words of Herman Cain, "You want a job, right?"
As long as your adviser does not move on to other advances, I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can. Just make sure that he is listening to you and your ideas, taking in the results you are presenting, and taking your science seriously. His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on your science and his best advice.
Big Surprise: the Internet was Not Pleased by this perfectly practical advice, and Science very quickly pulled the piece, replacing it with an Editor's Note that kinda-sorta apologized and clarified, explaining that Huang's column:
did not meet our editorial standards, was inconsistent with our extensive institutional efforts to promote the role of women in science, and had not been reviewed by experts knowledgeable about laws regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. We regret that the article had not undergone proper editorial review prior to posting. Women in science, or any other field, should never be expected to tolerate unwanted sexual attention in the workplace.
Which kind of leaves open the question of who did edit the column, if anyone, and whether that editor is also advising female postdoc students anywhere. So, yay, another great day for women in science, who really need to stop calling attention to the fact that they're women in the first place, anyway.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.