AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of November 18, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. The Blame-the-Victim Strategy

2. Advice for an Anonymous Individual

3. Meeting with Extremely High Percentage of Women Speakers! 

4. Winterbourn Receives New Zealand's Top Science and Technology Honour 

5. "Women on Mars" Conference Speaker

6. Addressing the Shortage of Women in Silicon Valley

7. Jobs at Georgia State University

8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

10. Access to Past Issues of the AASWOMEN Newsletter

1. The Blame-the-Victim Strategy
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

I recently tried to explain to several colleagues why victims of sexual
harassment in astronomy (and academia in general) are reluctant to come forward
and file a complaint, even when the process itself appears to be
straightforward. I'm not sure I was particularly successful, but it was only
about a month or so later when allegations of sexual harassment against
presidential candidate Herman Cain appeared in Politico. We now
know the names of two of his alleged victims, and Cain and his supporters have
fallen back on an effective strategy: blame the victim. Personal finances, court
records, and employment histories become fair game in a smear campaign to
tarnish the reputation of the accusers. Add to that the threat of reporters
interviewing high school classmates, disgruntled neighbors, and former
co-workers looking for any dirt that will grab headlines. What about old
boyfriends/girlfriends or ex-husbands/ex-wives looking for their 15 minutes of
fame? There is nothing like a juicy sexual tidbit to destroy a victim's
reputation in the court of public opinion! 

Even honest, hard-working, ethical individuals would have a hard time standing
up to such scrutiny. And just in case you think that Republicans might have a
lock on the blame-the-victim strategy, remember Paula Jones; Democrats can be
just as bad.

How do these political accounts translate to the academic world? Victims of
sexual harassment almost always say that they don't want to make trouble. They
are rarely out for revenge; they just want the problem to go away. They want to
be treated like everyone else. They want a level playing field. They want their
reputation to be based on their science, period. They don't want to be known as
the "troublemaker" or the "whistleblower." Add to this the standard stresses
facing anyone in academia - writing a thesis, finding a job, bringing in money -
and the academic anxieties become just as great as the political pressures.

Speaking through her lawyer, one of the Cain accusers said that although she
wanted to restore her reputation, she did not want to become another Anita Hill
and let the controversy take over her life. She decided not to come forward.
Honestly, can you blame her?

2. Advice for an Anonymous Individual
From: Sheryl Bruff [bruff_at_stsci.edu]

[The 28 October issue of the AASWOMEN newsletter included a request for advice
from an anonymous individual who wanted to know what to do when unwanted sexual
behavior was closer to assault than to harassment. Every situation is different,
but we got some great general advice from Sheryl Bruff, Branch Chief of Human
Resources at Space Telescope - Eds.]

My heart goes out to this person who has been affected by this kind of
deplorable behavior. When Bernice Durand and I spoke at the last AAS, it was
clear from the questions that we got from the audience that the issue is
pervasive and many feel their campuses are unresponsive. The issue noted by the
person you reference raises a good point. There is a serious emotional trauma
that accompanies harassment and it lingers, much in the same manner as PTSD. It
can undermine confidence, self-esteem, self-worth and a number of other things -
like careers. Nagging questions about what you could have, should have or would
have done linger. Secrets are crippling to the human psyche and maintain
unwanted power over individuals. 

My recommendation remains as it did at the last AAS meeting. It is important to
tell SOMEONE. Whether a friend, colleague, mentor, advisor, therapist, someone
you trust. It is important to get this issue out in the light of day so it can
be examined and evaluated and the victim has an opportunity to put the
responsibility where it belongs - on the perpetrator - and not to shoulder it
her/himself. It is also important for the rest of us who work with these people
or know these people, to be intolerant - and I do mean intolerant - of
permitting these kinds of experiences to continue, whether in academia or
anywhere else. It is vital for all of us to speak up and speak out to
perpetrators, victims, administrators, colleagues, etc. We need to ensure that
unresponsive campuses understand that their lack of response is not acceptable.
One of the reasons that these kinds of things continue is that right-minded
people are often afraid to speak up. They assume others will. They rationalize
away a need to respond. We cannot assume anyone else will shoulder the burden.
We must all understand our individual responsibility to act. Without this,
nothing will change. The victims of harassment are not in position to change the
environment. It is those of us who watch on the sidelines. 

The one area where I will disagree is about not seeking the help of a therapist
because s/he may not understand academia. Although there are definitely
challenging parameters that are common to academic/research/science careers, the
experience is not as unique as you think. Concerns about reputation, future
opportunity, careers being short-cut or compromised by speaking up are actually
common in all disciplines and industries. Granted, academia/research/science is
a smaller community, so the risks may seem more grave, but they are not
dissimilar. Therefore, ways to cope or deal discovered in other industries, as
well as academia, can be valuable. 

I don't know about a hotline, because it is difficult to set up and staff. There
may be other social media models (blogs) that might be able to permit discussion
about the impacts of these situations, as long as identities (both perpetrators
and victims) were protected. There may be some professionals in the field
interested in monitoring discussions with the hope of trying to share insights,
best practices, past experience, etc. I would be willing to do my share. 

I offer to you that if this person feels a need to talk to someone, you can
offer my name to contact. I can assure them discretion and confidentiality, but
a willing and empathetic ear.

3. Meeting with Extremely High Percentage of Women Speakers! 
From: L. Trouille_at_Women_in_Astronomy_Blog, Nov 8, 2011

As you've probably seen from previous posts and mailings, the CSWA (with input
from all of you) has been keeping track of the percentage of conference invited
speakers who are women (see percent.html).

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Jorge Moreno, who is organizing a
conference on "Interacting Galaxies and Binary Quasars: A Cosmic Rendezvous"
(see announcement below). I wanted to highlight here that 76% of the invited
speakers for this conference are women (13 women and 4 men).

Jorge explained to me that he is delighted to see so many female astronomers in
the list, as well as a few speakers from developing countries. He worries that
we are still a long way from gender equality in science, especially in places
like his country of origin (Mexico), but he is glad to know that many people are
taking steps in the right direction. He feels very lucky to be in this position.
He also mentions that he wants to make sure nobody can tell his daughter Camila
that she can't pursue a career in science (or in any field she desires). 

To read more:


4. Winterbourn Receives New Zealand's Top Science and Technology Honour 
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Paul Gorman wrote this article for the Stuff New Zealand news site:

Christchurch biochemist and ground-breaking free radical researcher Professor
Christine Winterbourn is the first woman scientist to be awarded New Zealand's
top science and technology honour in its 20-year history. 

Winterbourn, who is director of the free radical research group in the pathology
department at the University of Otago, Christchurch, received the 2011
Rutherford Medal and $100,000 from the Government at last night's Royal Society
of New Zealand research honours event in Wellington. 

Winterbourn told The Press she had never experienced any real
discrimination in the science lab, but had seen huge changes since the early

"We were very much in the minority - when I did my masters [degree] in chemistry
in Auckland there were four women and 30 in total, so you were always working in
a minority group. 

"But it was just a matter for me of knowing what I wanted to do and just doing
it, not being hung up by thinking, `I'm a woman in a man's world'." 

To read more:


5. "Women on Mars" Conference Speaker
From: Philip Massey [massey_at_lowell.edu]

On November 9-10, 2011, Explore Mars, Inc. presented the Women and Mars
Conference in Washington, D.C. Topics discussed at the conference included, "Why
are so many women involved in Mars exploration?" and "How can 'Mars women' help
to advance STEM education for young women and reach non-traditional audiences?"
The conference also featured policy discussions, an astronaut panel, and
numerous other topics.

Dr. Penelope Boston is the Associate Director of the National Cave and Karst
Research Institute in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and founder and director of the Cave
and Karst Studies Program at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in
Socorro. She gave the summary talk at a conference. What she had to say has a
lot of bearing on many women-in-science issues:


6. Addressing the Shortage of Women in Silicon Valley
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]

Wendy Kaufman wrote this story for NPR:

This week thousands of women gathered in Portland, Ore., for the Grace Hopper
Celebration, the world's largest technical conference for women and computing.
High-tech companies are hiring, but there aren't nearly enough women to meet the

Kate Schmalzried, a graduate student at Stanford, recalls one of her very first
classes at the university - Computer Science 106A.

"That was really a good introduction to women in tech - there weren't many women
in the class," she says, chuckling. "I distinctly remember being the only girl
in my section."

It's no secret that beginning in middle school, young women often lose interest
in math and science. So it's not surprising that relatively few women sign up
for computer courses in college. When they do, they are often at a disadvantage.

"I remember on the first day, the guy sitting next to me telling me how he had
coded a search engine - are you kidding me?" she says. "I'd never coded

Schmalzried was able to catch up, but says by the second semester fewer than
half the original women were still in the course.

Indeed, nationwide only about 20 percent of the bachelor's degrees in computer
science go to women.

Mark Bregman, the former chief technology officer at Symantec, says it's not
nearly enough.

"One of the things that's a barrier to our ability to grow is our ability to
hire the best talent," he says. "If we could get more women to go into computer
science, we would have more talent to hire from."

To read more:


7. Jobs at Georgia State University

Three Faculty Positions in Stellar Astrophysics at Georgia State University:


8. How to Submit

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10. Access to Past Issues


Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.


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End of AASWList Digest, Vol 57, Issue 3