Stop Being Shocked Please

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Last week, I saw a lot of shocked men. They were shocked about the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment allegations. They were shocked that fellow liberal men in journalism were colluding with Nazi Milo Yiannopoulos to trash women. They were shocked that there was yet another case of sexual harassment and abuse in science.

You know who wasn’t shocked? Women. We looked at each other and went, “yep, sounds about right.” We traded stories. We, collectively, our whisper networks in our various fields, we knew about Harvey, we knew about Sunderland and Lyons, we knew about Marchant. And if we didn’t know them personally, we knew someone like them, someone who pulled the same tactics. They are all so exhaustingly familiar.

Women have whisper networks. We warn our colleagues to say away from certain men. We keep an eye on the interns, and make sure they don’t go to lunch with that one guy. We pass secrets to each other in the bathroom, via text, at the bar after work. The next time you’re at the office holiday party and you jokingly wonder why women always go to the bathroom together, maybe consider that it’s because we don’t think it’s safe not to. Because he’s there. Or maybe it’s to trade this kind of information. “Hey, watch out for Gary.” Because almost every workplace has a Gary. Many have more than one.

When I was just starting out in journalism a senior editor sexually harassed me. I took the story to a trusted woman in the office, a woman who has a very no-bullshit attitude. She told me with a sigh that yes, he’s a problem. But it wouldn’t be good for my career to make it an issue. She was probably right. I didn’t make it an issue. I avoided him. And I slowly started asking other women what they knew about him. Soon I was part of my first science journalism whisper network. I learned that this man loved interns, and he specifically targeted former athletes. I learned that he had sexually harassed another editor’s wife, and still had a senior editor position. When I left, I warned the next set of interns, especially the one who ran track.

A few weeks ago I got lunch with a man who works at that same magazine. The sexual harasser still works there too. He came up, and this man who I got lunch with, sighed. Yes, he said, he’s a problem. We know. But what is there to do?

Last week I Tweeted about this story. I was vague, like I was just now, and I got five different DM’s from five different women asking about five different men at five different publications. “Was it so-and-so?” they all asked. “If so, he targeted me too.” None of them were the man in question. Some of the names I heard I already knew about, I already avoided at conferences and parties. Some were new. Each was added to my mental list. The one nearly every woman has.

Let’s do an exercise. Think about your workplace. Think about the men in it. Which one of those men is the creep?

The women reading this probably have a name on hand. Perhaps more than one.

I like to ask men this question though. It usually flusters them. Almost every time they get blustery and say, “oh surely my workplace doesn’t have one we have lots of women on staff we are very welcoming, I’ve never heard of anything like that in my office.” If that was your reaction, stop. You’re almost certainly wrong. If you work in science publishing or podcasting, I can probably name your office’s creep. If you work elsewhere, I’m sure the women in your field have a similar list. You just don’t know who it is because the women in your field haven’t deemed you trustworthy enough to tell.

So men, I’m tired of hearing about how shocked you are every time something like this comes up. Because at what point does this stop being shocking to you? How many stories like this do you have to hear or read about before you get past being shocked? You don’t burn your hand every time you see a fire, because you very quickly learned that fire is hot. I know you’re not dumb, so why do you insist on playing dumb about this?

When you tell me you’re shocked, what I hear is: “I have chosen to forget all the other stories I’ve heard about this from women.” Or, perhaps: “I have chosen not to actually listen to any of the women who have told me these stories.” Or, perhaps you’re the creep, and you’re simply shocked that one of your own got caught.

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43 thoughts on “Stop Being Shocked Please

  1. It seems slightly odd to acknowledge that information is not being shared with men (” You just don’t know who it is because the women in your field haven’t deemed you trustworthy enough to tell”) and simultaneously wonder why men find it shocking on those rarer occasions when it does come to light. It is shocking precisely because men are not being exposed to the information as frequently as you are, and so it is generally a surprise. It is unreasonably to expect people not provided the same information to be expected to reach the same conclusions.

  2. In my experience, there’s a difference between telling men that this happens a lot, and telling them who is doing it specifically. I tell every man I work with that this is incredibly common. There are also stories about sexual harassment in the news all the time. But most of the time if you name a name to men, they say “oh no he couldn’t possibly have it must have been a misunderstanding.” So why would I keep naming names to that person if I know they’re not going to believe me?

  3. Speaking only for myself and not for Rose, the author: what you’re saying, Sam, makes perfect sense. I wonder if the reason that warning other women, especially younger ones, seems more like an informal “watch out, honey” and less like a formal “this guy is a creeper and this is how I know it.” And I suspect that by the time a women is ready for a formal accusation with evidence, which is the kind she’d share with men in general, she’s also sharing it with HR or management. I’m making this up. I also haven’t worked in an office for several thousand years.

  4. Like Ann, I haven’t worked in an office for a thousand years. (Well, okay – 24 years.) But that last office had its Gary. And over even just the past five years alone I’ve heard plenty enough whispered accounts and read enough published accounts and studies about harassment to recognize beyond any shade of ambiguity that it’s ubiquitous.

    Sam’s point above seems on its face to be valid: If women won’t tell us this stuff, how would we know? But I don’t think that flies. I think if a man merely pays attention, and simply includes women and feminists and accountability journalists among the people and/or media or social streams he listens to, it will rapidly become clear that sexual harassment is, alas, absurdly common. Now and then a case is shocking in its boldness. But even the most shocking should not come as a surprise. This stuff is everywhere, and not in just rumor mills and whispered warnings, but in numerous and prominent news stories, surveys, and studies like the one led by Kate Clancy and Katie Hinde and others of harassment in scientific field work.

    If all this can be obvious to me, working at home at remote locations in Vermont for the last 25 years, I suspect it SHOULD be obvious to any halfway sentient man working more closely involved day to day in or near any non-solo workplace.

    So I suggest to Sam and others that uou don’t wait to be told, but merely pays attention instead. This is happening somewhere near you, to people you know – and it’s in the media all the time. To paraphrase Bob Dole and break a grammar rule: If you’re not unsurprised, you’re probably not paying attention.

    But this is important. It haunts women’s lives, ruins quite a few of them, and poisons society. So pay attention. It’s really not all that difficult.

  5. Every “Gary” that I’ve every worked with, all the men also knew who he was, but refused to acknowledge how bad he was, or how damaging. So, I disagree with Sam’s comment that men “don’t know.” They may not be intentionally avoiding the issue, and I certainly don’t think that every man is either complicit or a potential harasser, but anyone who acts shocked that this is happening around them is lying – to themselves if nothing else.

  6. The uncomfortable part of the equation is that the guys who are likely to cause these problems are also the guys who make it rain. If the guy doesn’t make it rain, he will wander off the edge of the board. IF he makes it rain, even the females who pass whispers around don’t advise making an issue of it.

    Those gentleman on the football field are free to take a knee. There are enough people who don’t like the kneeling that the blowback from the action may be counter to what they want. They may cause the rain to stop.

    If the rain stops, the jobs dry up. Life sucks.

  7. Brad, Rose says in her post exactly what you just said, that a trusted older woman advised her not to make an issue of it and Rose didn’t. Is that what you’d advise these rained-upon females to do? Rain, no rain, their lives are going to suck either way.

  8. Pay attention? How about instead of blaming men for not paying attention to what you ladies are whispering about in the toilet, you actually…..oh I don’t know… go to HR and make a complaint?

    Pretty sure just about every company has a Sexual Harassment policy these days. But someone has to come forward and unless the harassement takes place over the office intercom system, that someone usually has to be the harassee.

    What’s that you say? No one will believe you? Then get it on tape. There’s a million ways to do that these days. Stop being a victim. Take back your power. Get the SOB fired or at least counseled to change his skeevy ways.

  9. I’m a man with a strong feminist bent due to being raised by a single working mother, among other reasons.
    This does not shock me but it saddens me every time I see it — precisely because I felt I was the only guy who noticed. I’ve worked with some people who had a frightening obliviousness to this sensitive topic — and it is absolutely pervasive. In fact lots of my male friends don’t fully comprehend the idea that not trying to sleep with your co-workers just because you can is really for the best.

  10. Rose,
    Thank you for all the stories you have given us. I really appreciate your work and I’m grateful to you for making it. I believe you. I’m not shocked.
    I wonder if there’s a science story embedded in your post. I’m thinking of the cognitive bias to categorize groups and individuals differently, bias to ignore large numbers, bias to protect ingroup members even when behavior violates norms, and bias to make poor choices when narratives conflict.
    Who are the researchers like Kahneman and Thaler for the biases that create structural social failings around sexual harassment, sexual assault, men being/choosing to be blind to creepiness? How can we share, support, celebrate their work?
    All my best,
    Paul

  11. Thank you for this, Rose. It needed to be said. And thanks David for paying attention, but I would ask men to go one step further and confront the creeps when you see an opportunity to do so. Disrupt their degradations. Call them out publicly. Yes, I get that it’s a big ask, but I’m asking anyway.

    Women have whisper networks because women who have experienced harassment know all too well what happens when you come forward to confront the person, to HR, maybe even to a trusted colleague–it gets dismissed as a misunderstanding or worse, you are labeled “a tease,” “asking for it,” “using flirtation to climb the job ladder”. Your skirt was too short. You were sending the wrong signals.

    These labels don’t get stuck to men who are colleagues and peers of the creep. The chances of creepy retaliation are also dramatically lower. We need you to be allies–and not just passively supportive allies, either. We need you to call a creep, a creep. You’ll know it when you see it.

  12. Women are trading stories but rarely naming names (except within our whisper networks). There are multiple reasons for that. Here’s one: Anita Hill.

  13. The reason women don’t tell, be it hr or whomever, is that our experiences are denied. If you’re invalidated when you’re trying to tell someone something is wrong, do you keep beating your head against those who refuse to listen, or do you warn other potential marks?

    You warn other potential marks.

  14. The company where I was working engaged a consultant (female) to check with the female staff if they had any complaints. Several complained of sexual harassment. What “Sort of sexual harassment?” the consultant asked.
    “There isn’t any.” the complainants said.

  15. What a load of crap. I don’t know who these men are and I wouldn’t tolerate it if I did. I reported the only case of sexual discrimination I have professionally observed when I saw it.

    You won’t report it for
    You only passively avoid the perpetrators for
    You’re shocked all men aren’t aware of your secret world?

    Get some courage and stop whining about it. The power to get get allies and assistance is in your hands, not mine. I am neither the perpetrator nor the victim. Hell, I am not even in on the secret.

    You have the courage gossip about people but not the courage to step into the fight. Got it. The next victim is on your hands. You knew and did nothing because it might cost you something.

    I am ignorant. You are complicit.

  16. My experience when I was a young woman was that if a man was attracted to me, regardless of my age, dress or innocence, he frequently believed that this attraction magically gave him permission to transgress on my body and my boundaries.

  17. I know from personal experience that even a workplace with robust policies and procedures for bullying and sexual harassment on paper can fail miserably when we try to implement them. Too many slaps on the wrist or golden handshakes make it demoralising and too often the burden of proof put on the woman who complains is enormous. My advice to everyone who experiences or witnesses these acts is to document, document, document. Write it down immediately. Save it for as long as it takes. And these comments! It’s so easy for men to try and blame us for “lack of courage.” Take it from one who has had the courage – you have no idea what we face when we do.

  18. Part of it Is, many of the men in an office who are paying attention are known to the “Gary” in the office. As they’re known, Gary doesn’t act like that where a guy who watches (and shows it) can see. Once you’re not hiding your distaste and unacceptable of it, you don’t see it… because Gary learns to avoid you. I doubt hes stopping, tho.

  19. Ah yes, reporting the perpetrator seems to go so well. We’re a society that can’t even put Brock Turner in jail for more than 3 months despite him being caught in the act of raping a woman behind a dumpster. You think that corporations are willing to fire people over this stuff? Time and time again the answer is no. Women write stories about how they reported an abuser and they end up having to spend even MORE time with them, working out their ‘differences’. (The differences being that women don’t like being abused and powerful men do it anyway.)

    The establishment hardly ever acts. Or at least, it hasn’t in the past. Maybe it will now, but I’m not holding my breath. You jerks telling women that they haven’t been brave in dealing with this crap for years are so full of it. It’s not your job and livelihood on the line.

  20. “The establishment hardly ever acts.”

    In my experience, they always act. Granted it was only one time and 15 years ago but a man in my office was accused of sexual harassment and was fired. Happened pretty quickly and the women involved did not even want him fired but fired he was.

    The whole tone of this article and comments seem to attempt to put the onus on other men in the office to somehow make this right. That is never going to happen. “Gary” does not do his thing in front of us. He does it when it is only you and him alone in a room. The last thing he wants is a third party witness.

    And if you accuse him he will deny it. He said +she said = nothing happens. It has ever been so and if the shoe was on the other foot, I would say the same thing.

    You need video or audio evidence. If Gary is really as bad as all that, it should be easy to get.

  21. The simple fact of the matter is that not speaking out is an act of cowardice.

    I can’t condone without comment an article that blames uninvolved parties for failing to act. Do you expect the police to prosecute vandals for unreported vandalism?

    James is probably correct that creeps won’t act like that around me at work. Neither do racists, misogynists or other similar people. I am out spoken about my intolerance for such behavior and they probably do just avoid doing it in front of me. I fight this crap when I see it. Do you?

    I will be as constructively clear as I can be. My coworkers come to me when they need advice about substance abuse issues, family problems, etc… I actively campaigned for coworkers who happened to be gay and transgendered to be promoted to the roles they were the best qualified for. I do this for people from other countries, cultures, religions, etc. I have driven psychologically abusive management out of a company. I don’t do this for thanks or recognition. So what I am trying to tell you is tough love. You are free to continue to alienate potential allies and wallow in how unfair life is.

    Get over yourself. Find some guts, enlist help and go fight. People are only powerless when they accept that they are.

  22. Sam, I can’t speak for the author but it’s pretty understandable that women don’t talk to their male co-workers about this. Have you seen what happens when women talk about this stuff?

    They get told they are over reacting, too sensitive, men-haters. They are told this is just how men are, they can’t help it, that it’s a compliment. And it’s usually men that are telling them this.

    If you genuinely want women to confide in you then speak out when you hear you fellow males making these kind of comments. Create a culture where they are not acceptable responses to claims of sexual harassment. Then you can legitimately say, “why didn’t we know?”

  23. That’s just not true, Chris. To suggest that powerlessness is a nothing more than a state of mind is just incredibly naive. Sometimes not speaking out is an act of self preservation. Also, I think you’re missing the point of this post.

  24. Wow, the proof is in the posting of some of these individuals here. Do you people hear yourselves? Victim blaming is precisely the point. When I was young, I was harassed sexually at several different jobs, from The Las Vegas Hilton head chef tying to do the casting couch routine on me (I was 15 at the time mind you) to coworkers grabbing my ass or my breasts. Every single time, and I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME, I brought to HR or upper management it was me that was reprimanded or fired, even when I had witnesses. I was fired from the Hilton for daring to “make up”stories about their illustrious chef, and was told for the most part that boys will be boys and to get over myself with all the other cases. If I had it to do allover again I would still report it,but I do not blame any other woman who learned to avoid “Gary’s” and to warn others about them,if I had a career to worry about and/or mouths to feed who knows, I may have chosen that path too. So get your heads out of your asses and listen to women, this is real, it is prevelant and it is on you, the deniers to help us stop it.

  25. “Get over yourself. Find some guts, enlist help and go fight. People are only powerless when they accept that they are.”
    Get over yourself? Did I really just read that? Chris, you clearly have not a clue. You have no idea how extraordinarily traumatic these experiences are, how difficult it is for those who report them, how dangerous it can be to report them, how futile it can be to report them. I agree, report them. And then be prepared to experience push back, victim blaming, inaction, and having to face the person who bullied, sexually abused, or even assaulted you for months while the creaking wheels turn. Your callous lack of any kind of compassion and victim blaming are shocking. Instead of a defensive rant about the wonderfulness of you, maybe you should step back and listen to what we are trying to tell you. Many victims are young women and are in an extremely vulnerable situation.

    And Dan, you admittedly have ONE experience with this. Video evidence? Should we all whip out our phones when our boss is harassing or bullying us? When we are stunned and almost unable to respond at all because we are in such a state of fear and misery? Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to have this happen to you when you are at work, in what is supposed to be a professional setting? It can take months of carefully documenting every incident to even get a complaint to be considered.

    Unfortunately, gentlemen, your responses only illustrate the point the author is making here.

  26. I’m not denying it, but I’ve been in the workplace over the last 50 years, and I’ve never experienced it. I’ve worked in a variety of settings–banks, factories, schools, hospitals, legal offices. I wonder if there are any other women out there who can say the same, and if they have any ideas about why/why not?

  27. Wendy

    Sigh. No, I’m not suggesting you whip out your cell phone to record your bosses tirade.

    Two words. “Spy pen.” Google them. If you’re ” documenting incidents for months”, I think you can record some of them. Yes?

    [edited for civility, substance remains the same]

  28. I understand that standing up has consequences. Sometimes you have to fight for people who can’t fight for themselves. That’s how it all works. Powerful men can be taken down. Sometimes it takes multiple accusers and years to come out. It not right and it’s not fair. I fully get that.

    What I am not getting across is that someone has to pay that price. Sometimes multiple someones. Sometimes the fight is lost. What is truly empowering to these men is your silence. I have been a victim, my sister has been a victim, and I am VERY aware of the harm. The years of therapy. The loss of security, the paranoia and the anxiety of not being believed. Why do i need to provide bonafides to explain a very simple fact. If you dont stand up, you leave victims in your wake.

    I can’t break this cycle for you. Ultimately, you have to do it. Or the next victim has to. Or the one after that.

    Yes these abusers can be protected by the system but what they are truly counting in is your fear and your silence. Stop giving it to them.

  29. Dan:

    Spy cameras? Maybe we should just wear body cameras at work like cops.

    Seriously, I don’t think spy cameras are the answer. It sounds great in principle but in practice? Sexual harassment often just comes out of nowhere at times when nobody would expect it, inappropriate times when women aren’t expecting anything to happen because they’re at work or a professional conference or in a meeting. We aren’t often able to say, excuse me while I grab my pen. Or should we have our pen out and ready every time we get into a lift with a man with whom we work? Anytime we have coffee with an office mate? Any time we’re at an office celebration? Glass of wine in on hand, spy pen in the other?

    No, documentation means saving those inappropriate e-mail messages, writing down everything that happens and is said as soon as possible after it happens, dated, with time, place, and who was there, because the more documentation you have, the more likely it is that the institution cannot ignore you. Sometimes sexual harassment is the inappropriate comment about your appearance, sometimes it’s overt, but it can also be very subtle. It’s someone touching you in a seemingly innocent way – except nobody should be touching women at work. Sometimes it’s touching you in a very obvious way, from behind, like grabbing your ass. Sexual harassment can happen in public places in full view of a room full of people who do absolutely nothing because, “It’s just so-and-so being so-and-so, he’s harmless,” or, “Oh, that so-and-so, he’s just had too much to drink.” The problem isn’t necessarily that nobody believes us – it’s that nobody cares. The harasser is frequently in a position of power relative to the person being harassed. It’s senior scientists and students, senior editors and interns, managers and staff. The reason we need documentation is not because we are thought to be liars, it’s because without a huge trail of evidence, nothing will be done. It is in the best interests of the company or institution not to let anyone rock the boat that way, risk losing that guy who’s so good at whatever, or brings in those grants, or investors, whatever it is that got them into a position of power and influence to begin with.

    So a spy camera might record evidence but it’s not enough. And the point is that collecting evidence is not the problem. It’s the response to the evidence that is the problem. And really, that isn’t the problem either. The problem is that men continue to think that sexual harassment is okay and keep doing it.

  30. A few thoughts here. First, these sexual assault and sexual harassment cases are about power more than sex. Did you read about what has happening in Antarctica? She didn’t feel she could report until she got tenure—so entrenched was this power dynamic with Marchant that she felt he could destroy her career. One of the women DID report to the department chair at BU and was told that it was better to just get the degree and move on. Even her male colleague felt he could not come forward in defense of her because Marchant could destroy his career too.
    Second, being a victim of sexual assault and sexual harassment is extremely shaming and stigmatizing, even though the victims did not do anything wrong. They often report feeling ashamed, alone, scared, traumatized while their perpetrators get to carry with their lives normally. The decision to report an instance of sexual harassment or assault is a huge burden. It can be triggering. It forces the victim to confront an experience that they may wish to put behind them. They feel that they did nothing wrong, so why should they have to go through the burden again. Reporting a sexual harassment and assault is a punishing task. So to the victims who do report, brava. They should be commended. But to the victims who choose to not report, they should not be blamed or made to feel guilty. And that’s why there are whisper networks.
    Third, it is extremely inconsiderate and unjustified to blame future cases of sexual assault/ harassment on the victims that did not report. Again, they did NOTHING wrong. They should not bear the responsibility or feel guilty for doing what they felt they needed to do to survive–to survive the assault, the trauma, the mental anguish, the shame, the fear of not being believed, the fear of retaliation, the desire for things to just go back to normal so they can focus on their career. In the meantime, if they feel they can protect other potential victims by whispering they will. And to echo the original post—just stop being so shocked about it. And #notallmen.

  31. Why should we tell men? Are they somehow impaired? Can they not see this happening? Do they not hear the creep make jokes, boast about his conquests?

  32. Couple of things: This post isn’t about women. It’s about men, both about what we should do if we see other men acting predatory, *and* how we can send signals to women that we’re people they *can* confide in about this stuff, because clearly, a lot of men have made it clear that they won’t believe women or make excuses for the men. I find it interesting that 2 or 3 commenters have instantly shifted it to what women should do.

    Along that note, Dan, it’s worth noting that one of the victims of Harvey Weinstein did exactly that–got audio evidence of Weinstein being wildly inappropriate on tape, took it to the police, the police okayed it, started building a case, took it to the NY D.A…. who decided, following a campaign donation, NOT to bring any charges. This is the problem. Many predators are smart, and spend years building up a power base and insulating themselves from consequences while violating women and society norms. So again, this post is about what non-predator men like us can do to combat predators with strong power bases. Women have been fighting against predators for decades. It’s time we helped them out.

  33. Chris, bravo for you for standing up and making your abuser pay and receive justice. Unfortunately, not everyone has your moxy, nor was/is in your situation, and likely you had support around you to help you get this thing done. Instead of victim blaming and shaming, how about a little compassion? How about a little “I know what you’re dealing with, because I faced the same and overcame it. So can you.” instead of your “holier-than-thou” speech from on high about “how you made your abuser pay” and now “you’re fixed and okay to participate in society with the help of therapy”.

    One size does not fit all in terms of solutions for this issue. The best thing we as men can do for women is listen and be a space of safety for them. Women are not men, nor should they pursue solutions the same way a man would. As you may have read via some of the other comments and other public reports ad nauseum how generally the women who come forward are disbelieved or dismissed, or worse shamed or punished for speaking up, like you are doing with your condescending tone and disdainful comments.

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