Survey vent, part 2: do gender better

For the last few years, all the official student surveys coming from my university have offered three options for gender: male, female, and transgender.  I appreciate that they’re trying—it’s better than only listing male and female—but arg, no, that’s not how it works.

By itself, “transgender” isn’t a gender; rather, it’s a descriptor meaning that your gender identity doesn’t match up with the gender you were assumed to have at birth.  Transgender people are male and female and non-binary, not an extra separate gender.

I’ve seen other surveys that attempt to do better by offering four options: male, female, transgender male, and transgender female.  However, that kind of setup implies that trans people aren’t “real” members of their gender.  It would be somewhat less problematic if the first two were specifically listed as “cisgender male” and “cisgender female”—but if you really need to know whether your survey respondents are cis or trans, consider breaking that into another question.  The Human Rights Campaign has a good example of a survey approach that separates “What is your gender?” from “Do you identify as transgender?”

Of course, as alluded to above, gender is not binary, and your survey also needs an option for people who are non-binary / genderfluid / genderqueer / agender / etc.  (Not to imply that these terms are interchangeable, because they are not, just that at bare minimum there needs to be some kind of “outside the gender binary” selection available.)  If your survey design allows it, an additional option with an open text field will help you avoid unintentionally excluding anyone.  And personally, I’d also like to see a “prefer not to say” choice for gender, as is common on some of the other demographic questions.

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Survey vent, part 1: married students exist

When designing a survey to be taken by university students, please remember: Some students are married or live with long-term partners—and some students have children.  These things are true for any college-student population, but they are especially relevant when your survey specifically targets graduate and professional students.

This little vent was brought to you by a graduate housing survey from my university’s Residence Life department.  “Lives with family” can mean very different things depending on whether you mean “lives with parents” (which was the implied meaning in this case) or “lives with spouse/partner/children” (for which there wasn’t another, more applicable choice).  And don’t frame your rent, roommate, and bathroom-sharing questions in a way that assumes people are single.

Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t ask me for my “hometown.”  Be more specific about what you’re looking for here.  Where I grew up, where my parents live now, and where I consider “home” are three different things.

Mrs. HusbandsFullName does not exist, so stop sending her things

Christmas-card season brings out one of my long-running pet peeves: envelopes addressed to non-existent people.  These are typically sent by my husband’s distant cousins, although we just got one from my grandmother and she really should know better.

Who are these non-existent people?  Mr. and Mrs. HusbandsFirstName LastName.  Or, because typing that is long and unwieldy, imagine that my name is Jane Smith and my husband’s name is Joe Smith, and we’re getting cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Joe Smith.

Mrs. Joe Smith is not a person.  That is nobody’s legal name, and it’s not 1925, so nobody uses that name socially.

(To add insult to injury, Mr. Joe Smith is not a person either—my husband worked damn hard for that PhD and if you insist on using a title, use the right one.)

I’ve pushed back on this a little with past wedding invitations, only to be told that it remains “correct etiquette” to address couples using only the man’s full name.  OK, well:

1.  Doing something because “that’s the way it’s always been done” is one of the most foolish reasons for doing something.  Especially when the reason it’s always been done that way is sexism.

2.  Does anyone in the year 2016 actually care if your invitations are addressed in the official, Emily-Post-approved* fashion?  For our wedding, I adapted the “correct” form into something that used everyone’s full names (think “Dr. Joe and Mrs. Jane Smith”) and zero relatives complained.

*(Side note: My parents owned a copy of The New Emily Post’s Etiquette, publication date 1975, and I read the entire thing—all 978 pages—in my teens, over the course of a month of 40-minute bus rides to school.  It was… interesting.)

Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this is Not a Big Deal, but it remains highly irritating.  Especially when it’s such an easy fix!  There are a multitude of non-obnoxious ways to address cards to me and my husband:

Joe and Jane Smith

Jane and Joe Smith

The Smiths

Dr. and Mrs. Smith

Dr. Joe and Mrs. Jane Smith

So simple!  You can even use fewer words!  And next year, when I’ve (fingers-crossed) finished my PhD, you can use “The Doctors Smith,” which is, let’s face it, the coolest-sounding option of all.

That gorilla incident illustrates how mothers are basically screwed

The internet’s perpetual outrage machine is busy right now with a sad incident at the Cincinnati zoo.  (Quick summary: small child fell into gorilla enclosure, gorilla behaved threateningly, child survived but gorilla did not.)  A significant chunk of that outrage is directed at the child’s mother: Why didn’t she see him entering the enclosure?  Why wasn’t she watching? 

Now, I wasn’t there.  I don’t know exactly what happened.  Maybe this particular mother was being genuinely neglectful.  Maybe she just had a lapse for a moment and made a mistake.  I’m sure it’s being thoroughly investigated, as it should be.

But all this B.S. about the mother “not doing her job” and the like?  That needs to stop.  If you’re tempted to say that, stop and ask yourself: Have you always done your own job to 100% perfection?  Have you never made an error, out of ever single day that you’ve ever worked? 

From a safe distance, it’s easy to say that she should’ve done this or she should’ve done that, but to do so ignores the cultural context in which women parent.  (And yes, it’s moms who face the fiercest judgement.)  I’ve read piles of “the kid should have been on a leash!” comments, often with a stated or unstated “if she couldn’t handle him” accompanying.  Which is the irony of those very comments—to put your small child on a leash might be convenient and safe, but it will get you branded as someone who “can’t handle” their rambunctious toddler.

People are damn judgemental about those leashes.  “Parenting won’t include those for us,” sniffed one woman in a now-deleted Tweet when the topic came up on my feed a few weeks ago.  A big chunk of American culture has decided that confining children in any way is a mark of lazy parenting—just look at how weird people are about playpens these days.

Another recurring comment I’ve seen is that the mom shouldn’t have brought the kid out at all if the kid was a known “runner.”  Because apparently the punishment for being an actual human being and not a perfect robot is that you don’t get to go anywhere.

For goodness’ sake, people, listen to yourselves!

If you use a leash, you get judged.  If you don’t use a leash and your kid does anything untoward, you get judged.  If you stay three inches from your kid the whole trip, you’re helicoptering.  If you stay three feet away, you’re neglectful.  If your child is any less than a perfect angel, or you are less than 100% perfect yourself, someone will think that you should’ve just stayed home.  But if you stay home, you’re not providing your child with the “enrichment” they need.

We can’t win.  All we can do is hope that our imperfections don’t make national news.

What the heck is Cesarean Awareness Month?

I’ve seen on several blogs lately that April is Cesarean Awareness Month, which sounds pretty cool on the surface of it.  Let’s talk about our C-sections!  Let’s share our experiences (here’s mine).  Let’s talk about realities versus perceptions, the good (babies!) and the bad (weird numb incision sites).  Let’s commiserate about how those pneumatic anti-blood-clot things they make you wear on your legs in the recovery room are really loud and obnoxious.

There’s just one little problem.

Turns out that’s not what Cesarean Awareness Month is about.

No, some quick Googling taught me that CAM is put on by a group called ICAN (the “International Cesarean Awareness Network”), to whom I will not link.  ICAN’s mission is to reduce the number of C-sections performed.  Their “educational” material is all about how risky C-sections are*, how to avoid an “unnecessary” C-section**, and how to get over the disappointment that of course you’ll experience if you have one.***

They mean “Cesarean awareness” in the same way that other groups talk about “breast cancer awareness,” as though C-sections were a disease that needed to be eradicated.  They even have a ribbon for it!  (It’s burgundy, in case you’re curious.)

Ew.

Ugh.

No.

Don’t do that.

Don’t hang a ribbon for me because I was born by C-section.  Don’t hang a ribbon for me because I gave birth by C-section.  Don’t act like either of those is a terrible, terrible thing that makes me unhealthy and traumatized.  Don’t act like I didn’t make the safest choice for my baby, and that my mom didn’t make the safest choice for me.

Seriously.

 

*All things being equal, yes, surgery is riskier (to the mom).  All things are not always equal.  It’s not like vaginal birth is risk-free, either.

**Can we please stop with the false narrative that most Cesareans are unnecessary, and instead focus on actually improving maternal health?

***And can we please, please stop acting like C-sections are an inherently traumatizing experience?

How I came to hate attachment parenting

When Little Boy was an infant, I spent a lot of time online.  Trying to keep myself awake, mostly.  Somewhere amid the long dark nights, I found myself Googling “I hate attachment parenting.”  I needed affirmation for the black fire of anger that had arisen during pregnancy and spilled out everywhere during those newborn days.  I needed someone to tell me it was OK to parent in a way that really, truly worked for me and my baby.

This post is about where that black anger came from, and why I’ve had so much trouble letting it go.

Before I go any further, let me be very clear on one thing:  If you practice attachment parenting or any of its components because it is what works for your family, then this post is not about you.  All the core components of AP fall onto the spectrum of perfectly acceptable parenting behavior.  We did several of them ourselves: I breastfed Little Boy for 17 months; we frequently “wore” him around the house and neighborhood; we room-shared for the first few months.  Heck, most of those things are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

No, when I say I hate attachment parenting, I mean that I hate Attachment Parenting™, the worldview that believes that it is the only acceptable way to parent.  I hate the naturalistic fallacy that has infected the white, liberal, middle-class approach to parenting, and I hate the misinterpretations and misappropriations of science that are used to back it up.

It started when I was pregnant.  As those of you who’ve read Little Boy’s birth story know, I was interested in “natural” birth—that is, giving birth without pain medication—until Little Boy flipped breech in the third trimester and it became clear that a C-section was likely.  I am the kind of person who likes to learn as much as I can in advance, so I did a lot of reading about “natural” childbirth.  Only… it turns out that there aren’t a ton of resources for women like me, women who want to skip the epidural but stay in the hospital.  It was always sort of assumed that if I was going that route, then of course I didn’t trust doctors and of course I’d probably really want to give birth at home.

Here’s the thing: I’m a trained scientist.  I may not be a medical expert, but I have enough background to read medical papers, and my university affiliation gives me access to the full text of most major journals.  I can tell when people are spewing bullshit, and my bullshit meter was blaring like a siren.  It was so easy for me to check that all the woo about homebirth was wrong.  And all this scary stuff that people were telling me about hospitals?  It hasn’t been true since before I was born.

Unfortunately, while it was easy to dismiss the stuff that was obviously fringe, it was much harder to ignore that which had crept into the mainstream.  One of my friends, a smart, educated woman, was reading Ina May Gaskin and planning to deliver at a local birth center.  So that couldn’t be that weird, right?  The local hospital’s birth classes were taught by doulas and lactation consultants; the hospital itself boasted that babies were expected to room-in full-time after birth.  So that was good, right?

Except… My OB was a wonderful, caring woman, and the lactation consultant who visited our hospital room was a jerk.  Full-time rooming-in was terrifying and exhausting.  All of the naturalistic stuff I’d been hearing just didn’t jive with my experiences.

The second step came with the breastfeeding.  The funny thing is, breastfeeding went really well for us.  No problems with supply, no issues with weight gain, nothing to feel guilty about.  So why does the über-pro-breastfeeding culture make me so angry?

Well, there was the way the lactation consultants in my breastfeeding class spent the first 10 minutes telling us how inferior formula was.  We’re here at this class—we’ve already decided that we want to breastfeed!  Plus they seemed to be going way beyond what the science actually says, twisting and stretching the facts to suit a certain narrative about good motherhood.  Like I’ve said, I hate it when people get the science wrong.

Yet again, I found that there was no place for me in mothering culture, no place for a mother who wanted to breastfeed but didn’t want the answer to everything to be “more boob.”  It has always been extremely important to my husband that he be an active parent, and so it was very important to us that both parents be able to soothe Little Boy.  I didn’t want to nurse every five minutes.  I can’t nurse every five minutes and keep my sanity.  And you know what?  Little Boy didn’t need to nurse every five minutes.

It turns out, though, that when you search for the answer to breastfeeding questions, the answer is always “more boob, more often.”  Even when that doesn’t make sense.  Even when it’s clear that baby isn’t hungry.  The top-listed resources, Dr. Sears and KellyMom and La Leche League, they all assume that of course mom is going to be with baby constantly, probably co-sleeping, and dad’s just there to help out.

Attachment Parents like to tell you that their parenting beliefs are all about “following your instincts.”  They’re just doing what they feel they should do!  But here’s the thing: my instincts about parenting were always on the side of “he’s fine, give him a minute.”  I never had an “instinct” to run to the baby the second he started crying.  I love snuggling with him, but my “instinct” is always to put him down so that I can do things for myself once in a while.

I made the mistake, during pregnancy, of joining my “birth month group” on BabyCenter.com.  Oh hell no—do not do that.  BabyCenter purports to be a mainstream resource, but in its fora I saw women excoriated for letting their babies cry for THREE whole minutes.  Horrors!  Apparently my instinct—that is was OK to let Little Boy fidget a bit while I set up my environment to be comfortable for nursing—made me a terrible mother.

I’ve never felt the need to stare into Little Boy’s eyes constantly while I nurse, or to be down on the floor with him every second of his playtime.  Quite the opposite, in fact: I need time to myself in order to literally stay sane enough to function.

What do you do, when the culture is telling you your “instincts” are wrong?

I was already pretty viciously anti-attachment-parenting by the time we sleep trained Little Boy, but that was the last straw.  Our baby, at the age of three months, was not interested in being nursed to sleep, nor in being rocked gently off to dreamland.  We know.  We tried those things.  As long as something worked, we were willing to do it—but nothing worked.  Little Boy resisted sleep, and woke from his naps cranky and tired.

Sleep training (we used the Ferber method) was a miracle.  It took only a few nights and surprisingly little crying.  Little Boy, it seems, wanted the space to be left alone to sleep, without rocking or singing or nipples in his face.  He was happier, we were happier, and I have never had any doubt that we did the right thing.

Sleeping training, though—from an attachment parenting perspective, that is the worst thing we could do.  Some commenters have implied that we should have waited until six months.  One woman online told me that I was lazy and clearly didn’t know how to soothe my baby!  (I do know how to soothe my baby.  It involves giving him peace and quiet.)  I have seen mothers adopt severe martyr complexes about what they endured to avoid “crying it out,” even more than the martyr complexes they take on about breastfeeding.

My baby needed to learned to sleep on his own.  Anyone who thinks otherwise can fuck off.

Much later, I checked out Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book, that bible of attachment parenting, from the library and read it, wondering if perhaps my impression of him had been wrong.  Nope.  The Baby Book is every bit what I thought it was, filled with dire warning about the “bad start” of an un-“natural” birth and a general snide message of “don’t you want to know that you did the best for your baby?”  The “best,” of course, being Dr. Sears’ tenants of attachment parenting.

I’ve noticed that Attachment Parents like to present an aura of being rebels, of going against the mainstream.  It’s one of the things that seems to appeal to them.  But are you kidding me?  I’m sure there are places where it’s some of this stuff is still unusual, but on the whole?  In the media?  Give it up, you guys, you already won!  The AAP is staunchly pro-breastfeeding.  Babywearing has been common for a quarter-century.  Bed-sharing remains controversial, but the AAP itself recommends room-sharing.  The classic baby-care guide What to Expect the First Year won’t even answer the question of how to put a three-month-old on a regular schedule.  Among the white, liberal, educated middle-class, the attachment parenting approach is already the norm.

In fact, that’s why it’s so hard to reject: because there are bits and pieces of it that are smart and good and true, or at least reasonable under some circumstances.  If it didn’t pretend to be based on science, I would laugh it off just as I laugh at the anti-vaccine crowd.  But it pretends to be The Right Answer, and it drives the guilt that underlies my approach to motherhood.

So there it is: the anger.  Little Boy is one year old, going on two; you’d think I could let all this go by this point.  But I still remember the deep black darkness of his early days, and I remember how much the feeling that I was doing something wrong contributed to that pain.  I felt alone and judged and hopeless, and the attachment parenting ethos is one reason why.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to be a DEtached parent.

“Educate yourself” & “Do your research”

If you’re a parent on the internet, you’ve likely come across the “do your research” folks.  They’re the anti-vax idiots, the über-natural nuts, the ones who are convinced that formula is toxic and that any amount of crying irreparably damages your baby’s brain.  You find it a lot among fad dieters, too.  The phrase “do your research” is an immediate signal that the speaker has no idea what constitutes real research and should henceforth be ignored.

“Educate yourself” tends to come up in a very different context: diversity initiatives. “How to be a good ally” lists, that sort of thing.  Unlike the anti-vaxxers, the writers of these equity-related missives generally have the facts on their side.  Their motivation is also different: they just want the people who interact with them to stop being ignorant trolls.

However, these phrases share a common fallacy: that more information will necessarily convert the reader/listener to the side of the writer/speaker.  That’s laughably wrong in the case of the anti-vaxxers and “natural” nuts.  Such people seem to believe that they’re the bearers of a secret truth, breathlessly informing you of “facts” from Dr. Google.  It doesn’t seem to enter their worldview that we have already heard all that stuff and have considered and rejected it.

Things are much more complicated when you’re telling us how to be good allies to the underprivileged.  Reading other perspectives is absolutely a plus when it comes to being more tolerant.  But… one must always remember that not everyone is going to interpret the same information in the same way.  I’ve lurked in quite a few diversity-related conversations where disagreement was incorrectly blamed on ignorance, and people who genuinely wanted to help decided not to bother.

The moral of the story is: be careful when you say things like this.  Don’t assume that the reason someone has different opinions is because they don’t know as much as you.

We need to banish the phrase “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent”

If you’re spent any time on the “mommy internet” (forums, blogs, etc.), you’re bound to have come across the self-righteous mother.  You know, the one who made all the “best” choices in pregnancy and birth and parenting and can’t imagine that—gasp!—other people’s lives might be different.  One of Ms. Self-Righteous’s favorite things to say is this: “Well, that’s just what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Kid wakes up every 45 minutes all night long?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Bleeding nipples from trying to breastfeed?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Feeling stuck at home and missing adult interaction?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

It’s bratty, it’s common, and it needs to be banished forever.

For one, it rests on an utterly ridiculous assumption: that the person in question “signed up” to be a parent.  Some people do.  I did: the pregnancy that brought me Little Boy was very carefully planned and sought after.  But half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so chances are good, when you’re speaking to a strange woman on the internet, that she didn’t actually “sign up” to be a parent.  For some people, it just happens.

Second, do you know what this attitude reminds me of?  Hazing.  “You can’t complain about having to run around campus naked in sub-zero temperatures,” says the bro.  “It’s what you signed up for when you pledged this fraternity.”  We don’t allow that kind of excuse when it comes to college students, why should we allow it with new parents?

Third, while all parenting necessitates sacrifice, there is essentially no one specific hardship that is required by 100% of all parents.  Some women (me!) breastfeed with minimal pain.  Some babies actually do go to sleep easily, and some very lucky parents can afford a night nurse or postpartum doula to help when they don’t.  Heaps and heaps of parents balance parenthood and working, or parenthood and community service.  There’s no checklist of things you could “sign up for” to be a parent, even if you wanted to.

Fourth, it’s just plain mean.  Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment, and people need safe spaces to talk about that.  Even if someone is venting about something that seems completely shallow to you (“I can’t go out to the bar as often anymore!”), don’t be a brat.  They’re going through a major life transition and they need empathy, not self-righteousness.  If you can’t muster up any empathy, STFU.

Fifth and finally, this phrase and its variants tell us something very important about the speaker:  When you say this, what you’re really saying is that you’re insecure about your own parenting choices.  You’re angry and bitter about other people taking the “easy way out.”  That’s why one of my husband’s relatives was so insistent that formula-feeding mothers were “selfish”—she couldn’t handle the thought that it would’ve been OK if she’d switched to formula and skipped the hardships she’d faced while breastfeeding.  (For another example along the same lines, see this comment.)  It’s again very much like hazing: “I did it, so you must too, or else you’re not worthy.”

Look, sometimes you have to own your own decisions and accept that you did things the hard way.  We, for example, played a crazy game of alternating shifts to keep Little Boy out of daycare until he was eight months old.  In retrospect, that was unnecessary (except possibly for the money side of things).  We could’ve put him in daycare several months earlier and maybe been happier, without any sacrifice at all to his well-being.

You know what we don’t do?  We don’t go around trying to justify our decision by telling everyone that babies need to stay home with their parents for the first eight months.  We’re OK with the decision that we made, even if we might do it differently in retrospect.  Because here’s the thing: when it comes to parenting, if you really made the best choices for your family, then other people’s choices don’t matter.*  So take responsibility for your decisions and don’t be a smug jerk to compensate.

*Except for vaccination.  You’re putting my kid at risk if you don’t vaccinate yours.  Vaccines are awesome.  Make sure your children get them all.

What other parenting-related phrases should be banned forever?

It doesn’t take instinct to change a diaper

Recently seen on social media: a long post written by an acquaintance, praising her husband for being such a good father.  Or at least that’s what she thought it was.  What it turned out to be was a rather depressing description of how she learned to accept traditional gender roles in her marriage.  About how she was wrong to expect him to be a mother, because of course he couldn’t be a mother, he was a father.

The line that really stuck in my head was about how she had been unreasonable to expect that he would “instinctively” know when to change their kids’ diapers.  But it was OK!  Because he wasn’t overprotective and he had better insight on discipline and [insert additional stereotypically manly qualities here].

Now, in general, I don’t care all that much about how an individual couple divides the work of parenting and running a household, as long as both are contributing.  What works for you is what works for you, and there’s nothing wrong with splitting chores along your strengths.  It’s when it gets justified with explicitly gendered language that it bothers me.

“Instinct” about changing diapers?  Nobody has instinct about changing diapers, at least not in the very beginning.  There’s a reason why newborn diapers nowadays come with those lines that change color to let you know when they’re wet.  Fortunately, for new parents, there’s a simple set of rules.  You know it’s time for a diaper change when:

  1. Your kid stinks.
  2. It’s been more than 2–3 hours since the last diaper change.
  3. Your kid is crying inexplicably and you want to rule out possible causes.

And that’s it.  No instinct required.  If a dad doesn’t figure that out, it’s because he’s not trying, not because he’s male.

This kind of gendered language about instincts frustrates me for two reasons.  One, it lets men off the hook for doing the work of parenting and housekeeping—work which men are perfectly capable of doing.  (This is a good place to note that my husband changed more than 90% of Little Boy’s diapers for the first week, and continues to share that job today.)  Second, this language implies that I, as a women, am supposed to be “instinctively” skilled at this stuff.  I’m not!  And there’s nothing wrong with that!  I learned by doing it, just like anyone else can.

Tell me, readers, what are you good at?  Is it the stuff you’re “supposed” to be good at?

Let’s talk about sexual harassment in academia

[Content note: In addition to the potentially triggering nature of the topic at hand, I’m probably going to curse a lot.]

It’s been in my news feed again.  Two cases of sexual harassment by professors—one recently at Caltech, another a decade ago in Arizona—came out in the same week.  Both were in the same field—astronomy—that was shaken last fall by the news that a prominent professor at UC Berkeley had been harassing women for years.  All of this, of course, spawned a flurry of pieces about “the sexual harassment problem in astronomy,” as though it’s something that’s contained to one distasteful little community that hasn’t caught up with the 21st century.

So let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further:

Sexual harassment isn’t limited to any one field.  It isn’t just astronomy.  It’s anthropology.  It’s physics.  It’s philosophy.  It’s everywhere.  This happens all the time, people.  All the time.

It happens outside the academic world too, of course, because people suck and society isn’t nearly as enlightened as it likes to think.  But the way careers are structured in academia makes those lower on the hierarchy particularly susceptible: students and postdocs are typically supervised by a single advisor, and their careers depend on that advisor’s good word and networking connections.  While it may be hard to quit a regular job and find a new one when your boss is an asshole, it’s nigh on impossible to do so in academia.

One more preliminary note:

People of any gender can harass people of any gender.  However, I’m going to use pronouns that assume the harasser is male and the harassed is female.  Why?  Because that’s what all the recent examples have been.  And because loads and loads and loads of studies have shown that that’s the most common scenario.  And because the societal response to sexual harassment stories tends to be very gender-biased.

That response is one of the things I want to talk about, actually.  This next point is addressed to men in general, and particularly to men who want to not be assholes:

Dudes, you have to stop getting defensive.  (Or, as Hope Jahren puts it, calm the fuck down.)  When a story comes out about a male professor sexually harassing a bunch of students, that’s not an attack on you.  If you take it like it’s an attack on you, what you’re actually saying is that you would prefer to continue telling sexist jokes and hitting on your underlings and generally not having your power threatened in any way.  When you say, “Enough of talking about this, let’s get back to research,” what you’re really saying is that you’re an asshole.

“But I’m not an asshole!” you might say.  “I’m just worried that I’m going to say something that gets taken the wrong way!”

No.

Are you sticking your hand up grad students’ skirts?

Are you holding meetings at strip clubs?

Do you tell your underlings they would teach better without underwear?

(All of the above are real examples from the three recent cases in astronomy.)

It’s not about innocent actions being misinterpreted.

We all know that there are a fair number of people in academia who are socially awkward, and that people sometimes unintentionally say things that can be taken the wrong way.  New flash: women can be awkward and nerdy too!  We get it!  When we talk about ending sexual harassment, we don’t mean kicking you out because you complimented us on our shirt that one time.  If you read the cases linked above, these are all people who persisted in creepy, manipulative, intentional behavior for years.  They were all told—often multiple times—that their behavior was inappropriate.  They were also all found, after full investigations by their universities, to have violated campus policies.  They got due process.  They’re already swimming in the benefit of the doubt.  Nobody owes them any more.

Another thing that seems to get men all up in arms is the belief that anti-harassment policies will cramp their dating style.  Here’s a hint, dudes: if your dating strategy constitutes sexual harassment, you are doing it wrong.  I can speak from experience on this—I managed to date and marry someone in my field without anyone being creepy or anyone getting harassed.  I know quite a few grad students who’ve dated other grad students, in their own departments and elsewhere.  And heck, I think half the faculty in my department are married to each other.  So go ahead, have relationships, fall in love.  Just don’t be a fucking jerk about it.  Don’t feel like you’re entitled to women’s attention, or that you have a right to keep making flirty comments if someone asks you to stop.  And definitely don’t try to date your students.

Whew.  OK.  Moving on.

A lot of the narratives about sexual harassment in the news of late proclaim that we are making progress.  That we are going to Stop The Harassment from here on out.  “Astronomers are finally doing something about sexual harassment,” proclaimed The Atlantic in a piece that came out, rather ironically, a week before the latest two cases were revealed.  I suppose the academic world has made some progress—we’re actually talking about this stuff.  There exist offices at universities to whom one can report issues.  But…

Departments aren’t doing anywhere near enough.  In the sexual harassment cases at Berkeley and Caltech, there were great big shining fat red flags that were ignored.  Over the course of seven years at Caltech, the professor in question had graduated just two PhD students.  Which is maybe not that odd, given how long PhDs take to complete, except for the fact that nine students had started working in his group and then left.  Some report that they left because he was a jerk; others were “fired” (which isn’t a normal thing at the PhD level).  Even without any of the sexual harassment, the man was clearly a terrible advisor.  And yet he got tenure.

At Berkeley, the situation was even worse.  Students reported multiple instances of harassment to the department chair back in 2005 and were waved off; a year later, they tried complaining at the university level and were ignored.  Even when the university finally did get its act together and do an investigation, the results of that investigation were kept under wraps.  It wasn’t until BuzzFeed broke the story months later that the man was actually asked to resign.

I know of many more cases like this, some because they’ve been shared publicly, some because they’ve been spoken by people I know.  For all the hype about how prestigious it is to be a university professor, departments do an awfully shitty job of getting rid of people who don’t deserve to be there.  It often seems like the powers that be don’t give a damn about junior people.  They certainly don’t listen to us.

(Why yes, I am bitter about this.  I have thankfully not had any personal experience with sexual harassment, but I have had the lovely experience of working for an advisor who was absolute crap at their job and yet got promoted anyway.  Meritocracy, my foot.)

To wrap this up, I’d like to make a point about how this fits into the bigger picture of women in science.  Which is to say, it’s only one part of the story.

Sexual harassment isn’t the only thing driving women out of science. (And math, and tech, and various other traditionally male fields.)  Not that it isn’t a big problem.  If you think of the “leaky pipeline” metaphor for women in STEM, sexual harassment is like someone chopped off a fire hydrant and now water is just spraying everywhere into the street.  You’ve got to cap that off or all of your other efforts to fix leaks are useless.

But all the other leaks are still there.  Regular ol’ sexism is still there.  The whole structure of an academic career, which expects you to be unattached and willing to work 80 hours a week, or else have a stay-at-home spouse who doesn’t mind your long hours and is willing to move around the country (or world) with you every few years, is still there.  Imposter syndrome is still there.  If you write an article talking about how sexual harassment is The Thing keeping women out of science, then you are wrong.