Maybe it’s because I’m actually intimidating, but I for the most part consider myself fairly lucky as a woman in science. I’ve been fortunate enough to escape the horror stories of exploitation and sexual harassment that fill many of my colleagues’ journals. Yet, the recent story about the lack of medium-sized spacesuits – and the social media chatter about lack of women’s field gear – hit a nerve. It made me question my perceived luck.
I also remembered reading other women’s long list of times gender bias reared its ugly head in a career perfectly devoid of major sexual misconduct. I bet I could write that, I thought to myself. I wonder how long the list would be. So here goes, starting with the most egregious:
Dr. Lisa Whitenack is an Associate Professor of Biology of Allegheny College. She is a shark paleobiologist, studying modern and fossil shark teeth over their 400 million year history. While she is also a member of the Board of Directors and acting chair of the Equity and Diversity committee of the American Elasmobranch Society (AES), this piece is not written under the umbrella of AES. Follow her on twitter at @WhitenackLab.
Author’s note: italicized quotations in this piece come from many different female shark researchers who gave Lisa permission to share their stories in this post.
“Funny that all of this Harvey Weinstein nonsense triggers feelings of AES in me…”
Back in mid-October, a colleague of mine sent the above to me in a private message on social media.
Over the last few years, there has been an increase in stories of sexual harassment and assault coming out of the scientific community. There have been papers and commentary published on the prevalence of harassment and assault in STEM fields such as anthropology, astronomy, and geology. There have been some high profile cases that have made it into the popular media as well. It’s easy to point to the fact that some of these fields are male-dominated as an excuse or a reason. Despite the fact that women are well represented in the biosciences, earning approximately 58% of the Bachelors degrees, 57% of the Masters degrees, and 53% of the Doctorates in 2014, the field of biology is not immune from these issues (see these articles about allegations against Ebola researcher Michael Katze, mammalogist Miguel Pinto, and molecular biologist Jason Lieb.)
“I arranged my desk so he couldn’t sneak up and rub my shoulders anymore.”
Even before the Weinstein news broke, harassment and assault have been at the forefront of my mind, and have been for the last 3 years or so. Until July 2017, part of my committee work at the institution I work at was to evaluate our student code of conduct and to serve on panels for student misconduct cases, including Title IX related cases. As is typical for many female faculty, students tend to visit my office looking for a sympathetic ear or help. Most recently, I have been helping American Elasmobranch Society (AES) write a Code of Conduct for its meetings and am serving as chair of the Equity & Diversity committee. It’s hard to escape these topics when it’s your job. But, it’s really more than just my job. These are issues that infiltrate most aspects of my life, and have for a long time.
“I’ve been told that women can’t do fieldwork.”