Science Columnist Offers Terrible Advice To Woman Who Was Sexually Harassed

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
On Monday, Science magazine posted a letter from "Bothered," a young researcher who loves her job but is unsure of how to deal with one major problem: Her male advisor (who's married) is always trying to look down her shirt. "Bothered" asked Alice Huang, PhD, a 76-year-old molecular biologist, what she should do. Dr. Huang, while admitting the behavior was bad, suggested the young woman "try to put up with it," as long as he didn't make any further advances.

Jezebel's Anna Merlan jumped on the story on Monday afternoon, declaring Dr. Huang's advice to be some of the worst out there. But, while it's true that Dr. Huang's advice was not reassuring or empowering (it was so bad, in fact, that Science has since removed the post and apologized for it), Merlan didn't step up to offer something better.

Sure, the obvious response is: REPORT THE ASSHOLE. But, if it were that simple, "Bothered" wouldn't have been writing to Dr. Huang in the first place. Stories of women in STEM fields being sexually harassed are rampant. While institutions have sexual harassment policies, you can understand this "Bothered" woman's concerns about reporting her boss. She wants to be successful in her field, and she most likely struggles with the feeling that her leering boss holds the keys to her success. If she reports him, she risks retaliation that could hurt her career advancement — which, in turn, might make her workplace an even more uncomfortable place to be. It seems like there's no easy answer to this shitty situation.

I've been thinking about "Bothered" ever since I read the Jezebel article yesterday morning, and I really struggled to come up with my own response to her question. So, I did what I always do when I get stuck with a problem at work: I asked my mom.

Her advice was pretty much the opposite of Dr. Huang's. My mom thought the best course of action was for "Bothered" to have a private conversation with her advisor where she explains why the offending behavior makes her uncomfortable and asks him nicely to please stop. If things don't get better, then it's time to take the next step and report the harassment.

That's got to be one of the most difficult conversations to have. It takes determination and courage to stand up for yourself like that. Yes, it's really unfair that "Bothered" is even in this situation to begin with, but there's a lot of power in communicating your feelings.

For more detailed advice on how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace, Jada A. Graves' story, "6 Things To Know About Workplace Sexual Harassment," from U.S. News & World Report offers some excellent information.

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