Repost: Hard Thoughts about the Death of Old Farts

Oct 13 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I wrote this nearly three years ago, when I was blogging with Mama Isis. This post was cathartic for me. But for people who think what happened in Berkeley is unique, I am here to say, it's not (take a look at the comments from the original post). For people who think academic in particular lets people get away with this because of tenure, you are wrong. For people who think it's just about women, that's wrong too.

The world is not changing fast for many. And I hear lots of "the message of Berkeley is that it doesn't matter and you can get away with it". I see something else. If think that right now that whole department is filled with unhappy puppies. Things don't ever change fast enough. But they are changing and that makes me happy.


I had a rough time when I got my Ph.D. My degrees were not in life sciences (that came later), and in fact I was just about the only woman in my major in college, and usually the only woman in my major’s classes. One of the hard lessons I learned, and painfully at that, was that no one cares if it is someone else’s bad behavior that elicits your own stupidity. I did stupid things, things that did not help my career, frequently in response to male professor’s unpleasantness (much of which would be actionable, now). It’s the Mommy Solution writ large (“I don’t care who started the fight, you are both in time out for the rest of your life”).  For women in science,  there is a very real conflict here: it doesn’t matter what he did, you cannot use that as an excuse for your unacceptable behavior. BUT… we shouldn’t have to deal with HIS bad behavior to start with.

When I was a grad student, I was rather crudely propositioned by a senior male faculty known for tearing through the few female grad students like spoiled fish through a tender digestive tract. I went to the (only) senior female faculty member in the department. She was quite the feminist and supporter of students. She sat me down and said that I wouldn’t like her advice. I didn’t. She said “My recommendation in general  to take this up the line and fight it. This guy is a jerk and has done this to many others. However, my advice to you in particular is to forget it. If you fight it, 1) it is his word against yours and you will lose. 2) you will lose at least a year of time in your program, if you are able to graduate at all and 3) even if you do finish, you will also be known as the ‘women who filed a grievance against…’ rather than by your science”. I did nothing. It was horrible for a while, and then I finished and got over it and became successful. The senior woman ended her advice to me with “and… you will outlive him and that will be a good thing”.

The schmuck died recently. I’m not sure that it’s a good thing. But, he doesn’t, and hasn’t for a long time, really mattered to me.

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