Professional Society to Astronomers: Stop dating each other! It’s not worth the risk!

 

shutterstock_305017364The feminist reaction to sexual harassment has ended with this jaw-dropping statement from the American Astronomical Society’s executive officer. Effectively, he’s telling astronomers not to date each other. I’m not exaggerating much. He’s specifically and explicitly saying that the risk of sexual harassment is so great that you are not allowed to date anybody you meet at a conference, even if you scrupulously behave yourself:

Second, do not treat any AAS meeting or other event as a venue for finding a romantic partner. Yes, there are people at our events, and yes, people do make romantic connections, and yes, there may even be opportunities to make such connections at our events, but please, everyone, just shelve these inclinations for our conferences. Too much damage is being done. Just one negative interaction in the poster hall, at a session, in the bar during the meeting, or at a restaurant or offsite event may be all it takes to dissuade a bright young scientist from participating in our field. This is unacceptable, and it needs to stop.

And then,

Some of our members and other meeting attendees are likely going to be upset at this message, claiming that they act responsibly and with consent — why should they curtail their social activities at meetings just because a few bad actors are ruining things? I get that. I understand that. I enjoy the social aspects of being human, being at a conference in an interesting place, and being engaged in such an exciting field of research with people I find interesting and might even want to dance with, drink with, dine with, or whatever. But I am distraught over the damage that has been done and could be done in the future. Frankly, it is not worth the social happiness of a majority if just one of our attendees is made to feel uncomfortable, under pressure, or damaged enough to leave our profession or to attend future conferences in a fearful state.

So let’s recap: Out of the roughly 7,000 members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and out of the 2,000-3,000 who attend our major meetings, he cites six cases of “sexual harassment.” (I only put the quotes because the details aren’t public, and the term has gotten awfully broad—much broader than most of us would accept. See the “If it’s unwanted, it’s harassment” sign on the page.) That 0.09% harassment rate (or 0.2%, if you only count meeting attendees) is so unbelievably high that we’re going to go nuclear and forbid dating between astronomers at the meeting. Or who met at the meeting. Or forbid meeting at the meeting before dating, or something.

Considering the radicals’ claims (admittedly debunked) that one-fifth or so of all college women will be sexually assaulted during college, one marvels at the remarkably low rates of professional sexual harassment under even the vague terms of the AAS. A comparable response would be to forbid dating between well behaved, consenting college students, because it’s just not worth the risk!

Dr. Marvel (great name for a superhero, but he’s got the crazy scheme of a comic book villain) has no real way to enforce this besides stigmatizing dating between astronomers. He’d be sure to say that he only means it to apply at meetings (our AAS president actually suggested we go pick up women in bars instead!), but is he suggesting that it would be better to date an astronomer you work with? Like that’s playing it safe with harassment issues? I’m not against it, but there’s long been a broad wariness of dating people at work.

The fact is that meetings are where we astronomers meet. We’re a relatively small profession—just a few thousand in the United States, and we’re often in small groups scattered across the country. I met both my wife and my previous two girlfriends at astronomy meetings. In each case, we lived hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. The growing panic at the AAS doesn’t merely seek to constrain human nature in productive ways. By pretending that even well-behaved interactions between men and women are too fraught with danger to permit, it is a very denial of that nature, and this can’t end well.

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  1. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Please visit the Castration Booth on your way out of the conference center…

    • #1
  2. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    The message from the feminists is effectively:

    Don’t date intelligent, educated, professional women.  Go pick up trashy chicks in bars.

    • #2
  3. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    On the bright side, the manlier types will make a point of treating such stuff with contempt & then people who make eyes at each other might be somewhat more serious about it.

    But yes, it’s hard out there for people who are aware they’re human & human beings fall in love. I’m fairly sure there is a relation between being educated & the implicit teaching: ‘love is not worth your time, go with fear instead.’ I wonder how many of the people attending really feel that brittle–I expect it’s more than conservatives might dare suspect. But the only way to know better is if others fought back in some reasonable, organized way. I put it past educated people to organize a dating evening or what have you at the conference, but it is not of itself unthinkable.

    • #3
  4. FightinInPhilly Coolidge
    FightinInPhilly
    @FightinInPhilly

    Some people should just be kept away from a keyboard. “Dr, eyeballs back on the eyepiece.”

    • #4
  5. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Also, it should be best if married couples organized the dating evening for singles.

    • #5
  6. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    You know, the funny thing is that the really risky kind of environments around these meetings are the ones put up by the crowd that panics the most.  I haven’t seen any of this kind of behavior among the people I associate with, and I’m increasingly thinking that it’s in limited circles of people who are already kind of sketchy.

    Every year, there’s a young astronomers’ night club event put on—lots of drinking and dancing.  I’ve gone just twice, only to say I’ve been, but it’s never been my kind of scene.  But I know that some of the ones talking the most about sexual harassment are going off to these and hang around the others who go.  Well, isn’t that the kind of environment that’s going to loosen people up the wrong way?  And that attracts the wrong crowd, even of astronomers?  Don’t hang out with those people!

    Yet the “dating is wrong” rule gets pushed onto the rest of us who behave ourselves.

    • #6
  7. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Titus Techera:Also, it should be best if married couples organized the dating evening for singles.

    You know what?  That’s actually an excellent idea.  My wife and I, and some other astronomer families, ought to host well-mannered social events for young astronomers to meet each other, and to heck with AAS rules.

    I kind of like the idea of my wife and me holding hands and flirting with each other at the next meeting, just to tick the AAS officers off.

    • #7
  8. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    FightinInPhilly:Some people should just be kept away from a keyboard. “Dr, eyeballs back on the eyepiece.”

    “Hey, my eyepiece is up here!

    • #8
  9. 10 cents Member
    10 cents
    @

    But I saw stars in her eyes. 

    • #9
  10. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Tim H.:

    Titus Techera:Also, it should be best if married couples organized the dating evening for singles.

    You know what? That’s actually an excellent idea. My wife and I, and some other astronomer families, ought to host well-mannered social events for young astronomers to meet each other, and to heck with AAS rules.

    I kind of like the idea of my wife and me holding hands and flirting with each other at the next meeting, just to tick the AAS officers off.

    You certainly sound like the man for the job. Make it memorable & share the story with those of us stuck on earth! & of course, show your wife a great time!

    • #10
  11. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    10 cents:But I saw stars in her eyes.

    Wha’d’ye wanna bet the astronomers have a secret code:

    Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half-light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

    • #11
  12. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Are relationships between astronomers out of this world?

    • #12
  13. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    RushBabe49:Are relationships between astronomers out of this world?

    There’s a joke in here somewhere about looking at each other & shifting to red, but I’m not gonna presume-

    • #13
  14. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Tim H.: Just one negative interaction in the poster hall, at a session, in the bar during the meeting, or at a restaurant or offsite event may be all it takes to dissuade a bright young scientist from participating in our field.

    I think the bold text gives away the real problem.

    I understand that if a young female researcher was groped by an old respected scientist at the dimly-lit social event that she would be disinclined to return the next year.

    But if people are actually getting put off by uncomfortable interactions at a poster session, then those people don’t have what it takes to cut it in the academic world.

    The bigger underlying problem (at least in my experience) is that the academic world won’t admit that beneath its veneer of truth-seeking, idealism and meritocracy, an academic research career track is often more cutthroat and underhanded than any in the private sector. As a result, research fields attract naive dreamers who have no idea what the real culture of academic research is like, and become traumatized when they realize how corrupt it is – both on the professional and personal levels.

    • #14
  15. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Mendel:But if people are actually getting put off by uncomfortable interactions at a poster session, then those people don’t have what it takes to cut it in the academic world.

    The bigger underlying problem (at least in my experience) is that the academic world won’t admit that beneath its veneer of truth-seeking, idealism and meritocracy, an academic research career track is often more cutthroat and underhanded than any in the private sector.

    I am not quite sure exactly what Marvel is talking about in the poster sessions, but I guess that it’s still on specifically sexual harassment (however defined), rather than the usual academic disputes.

    An astronomer once wrote about how she’d had someone asking her about her research at a poster session, but eventually she realized he was interested in her, personally.  The nerve!  From what I remember, she didn’t say he acted ungentlemanly in any way.  It’s just that he was talking to her out of personal interest.  This was presented as a no-no.

    Oh, for goodness’ sake, we’ve got enough stigma about being socially inept nerds without panicking when someone takes polite interest in us.

    • #15
  16. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Tim H.: Frankly, it is not worth the social happiness of a majority if just one of our attendees is made to feel uncomfortable, under pressure, or damaged enough to leave our profession or to attend future conferences in a fearful state.

    What if the one person out of thousands who quits the profession because someone asked them out is just nuts?  Even if you have a no dating rule, someone might be triggered by a wink or an eyebrow wiggle.  We know that feminist astronomers can blow a gasket over a male astronomer wearing the wrong kind of shirt.  Obviously there ought to be separate conferences for men and women.  It’s the only way to keep women safe from predators like Tim H.

    • #16
  17. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman
    @DaveSussman

    Sounds like another casualty of the liability police. Thank you lawyers. (No offense to any on Rico).

    • #17
  18. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    I’ve got to admit that ever since I read Marvel’s screed, I’ve felt the veins in my forehead bulging painfully.  I mean that literally.  I’m actually angry about this wrongheaded nonsense, even though as a married man, it doesn’t affect me any more.

    If I thought that enough of us would tell him that this is blatantly stupid and to knock it off, I would relax and laugh about it.  But I’m afraid that, even if most of us did think this (and maybe we do), we’re cowed by the Social Justice Warriors who have taken public roles in the AAS.

    • #18
  19. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    What can you do? Can you organize in any way before you actually go there?

    • #19
  20. Isaac Smith Member
    Isaac Smith
    @

    Tim H. (quoting AAS EO): I enjoy the social aspects of being human

    Somehow I doubt that.

    Tim H.: I’m not against it, but there’s long been a broad wariness of dating people at work.

    Or as my cousin put it (while explaining why she was hiding her relationship with her boss from their mutual employer): “I generally don’t think you should fish from the company pier.”  (Yes, that was followed by a “but.”)

    • #20
  21. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Titus Techera:What can you do? Can you organize in any way before you actually go there?

    Oh, I don’t know.  I wonder what the point would be—astronomy social event?  It’s expensive to travel, so organizing a separate nationwide meeting would be tough.

    Or maybe we could get to the meeting place a day early for other activities.  The thing is that few would take the extra time out to socialize just for the sake of socializing.  Normally we’d do this on our own during the meeting week.  But Marvel seems to be trying to put the lid on even offsite flirting.

    Again, since I’m married, I’m not even involved in that now.  But it’s just such infuriating nonsense that I want to protect younger astronomers’ abilities to meet their own future wives and husbands—or even just boyfriends and girlfriends—within the field.

    • #21
  22. Paul Dougherty Member
    Paul Dougherty
    @PaulDougherty

    I get the sense that this is an extension of a push from leaders in the cosmic-oriented community to actively advocate for more women in the science fields. I am kind of a follower of Brian Schmidt (Australian astrophysicist, presumptive leading figure in all matters science down there, Bartlett HS class of ’85) on Twitter and this appears to be a favored cause of his. The thinking goes as such; if the atmosphere of a boys-only club were to be de-testosteroned, then more women will find the life appealing. I don’t know, worth a try?

    • #22
  23. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Isaac Smith:

    Tim H. (quoting AAS EO): I enjoy the social aspects of being human

    Somehow I doubt that.

    Oh, that’s funny!

    Some of our members and other meeting attendees are likely going to be upset at this message, claiming that they act responsibly and with consent…

    Way to put the skepticism in there, E.O.  We know they’re all really dirty old men trying to cop a feel!

    Actually, the first time I read that, I assumed he was saying that couples would be upset at this message and was skeptical that the pair of them acted responsibly and with consent.

    I honestly wonder what kind of crowd these AAS officers hang out with.

    • #23
  24. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Tim H.: honestly wonder what kind of crowd these AAS officers hang out with.

    Maybe the problem is not the type of people who become astronomers. The problem may be the type of people who become academic society and science society officers.

    Seawriter

    • #24
  25. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Paul Dougherty:I get the sense that this is an extension of a push from leaders in the cosmic-oriented community to actively advocate for more women in the science fields. I am kind of a follower of Brian Schmidt (Australian astrophysicist, presumptive leading figure in all matters science down there, Bartlett HS class of ’85) on Twitter and this appears to be a favored cause of his. The thinking goes as such; if the atmosphere of a boys-only club were to be de-testosteroned, then more women will find the life appealing. I don’t know, worth a try?

    Not at this cost.  Astronomy is actually a field of physics where women make up a substantial fraction—about 1/4 overall, and 40% within the younger cohorts.  And yet we’re the field going absolutely nuts over this.

    Then again, if we were, say, 90% male, would we be having this reaction?  I wonder.

    • #25
  26. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Tim H.: Then again, if we were, say, 90% male, would we be having this reaction? I wonder.

    In that case you would likely be dealing with LGBT issues.

    Seawriter

    • #26
  27. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Sorry, babe. It just wasn’t in the stars.

    Tim H.:The message from the feminists is effectively:

    Don’t date intelligent, educated, professional women. Go pick up trashy chicks in bars.

    For science!

    • #27
  28. Paul Dougherty Member
    Paul Dougherty
    @PaulDougherty

    Perhaps if the purpose of a “Society” is to share interest of a particular field and broaden professional contacts, then these rules would seem overreaching and unnecessary. If the purpose of a “Society” is pursue a particular profile of social justice, then these adjustments would seem about right.

    • #28
  29. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I can certainly understand the wisdom of not fishing off the company pier, just as I can understand the potential problems that arise from working with family and close friends. But half the elderly people I know married coworkers. (Many worked with relatives, too.)

    A lot of problems only become unmanageable when people collectively abandon self-discipline… and perhaps the freedom to fire jerks as well.

    • #29
  30. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    What about the gaze?

    • #30
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