This Twitter Thread Shows Why Academia Is Yet Not Safe For Women

In 2019, academic institutions are still willing to turn a blind eye when it comes to sexual harassment. It doesn't matter if terrifying stats keep being published. No one is willing to take a serious stand. Reality is, women and men have complete different experiences of a career in academia. I never met any context that was tied to power dynamics like academia is. And where there's power, there's people who abuse it.

Academia is an ecosystem of its own. Your field is a small community and your reputation is global: if someone powerful puts you in the wrong light, there's no turning back. Academia has a strongly hierarchical structure and mostly "old guard" male management. It ticks all the boxes to be a favourable environment for sexual harassment to flourish.

That being said, it didn't shock me when I spotted this thread on my Twitter feed.

Now, the comments are the interesting part. While men mostly report fun or annoying incidents ("Having to sit in silence in a 'networking' lunch at Oxford because some random guy that no one knew was giving a retirement speech [...] which also ran on so long it cut all the sessions too short" or "Someone spitting taco and cheese all over me because she insists to not stop eating her lunch while talking to me at my poster."), women have a whole lot else to say. The thread is a collection of stories of sexual harassment and even multiple accounts of assault. Men stroll into academic conferences with the fear of being ridiculed at worst, but women walk into them like in a minefield, expecting inappropriate comments at best, traumatic experiences at worst.

A gallery of examples:

Harassment at conferences is a real issue. People behave at their worst when they do not feel the pressure of accountability of their usual habitat. On the other hand, imagine being a victim to something like this while you are on a work trip, far from home and your support network. Not fun. Yet little to no conference organisers even tackle the issue. Having a policy statement and appropriate instructions on the conference website and appointing a contact person to report incidents are seen as useless overhead.

You know what I'd like to see? For researchers of both genders, especially young ones, to take a strong stand.

Quit going to conferences that do not provide tools for gender inclusion.

Write to the organisers that since you cannot find any stand or guidelines on harassment on their website, you decided not to attend. Invite colleagues to do the same. Tweet about it. Conferences need you as attendants and supporters more than you need to sit half-asleep on a chair listening to content that is or soon will be public.

I cannot wait to see the day when most women will comment with fun episodes to a thread like that.

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Edit. Further readings. Universities have spent 90M pounds in the past 2 years to settle harassment claims.
Edit. 20.5.2019 13.59. Clarification in the final part.

Paola Elefante

Digital Scaling Project Manager at Plan International. Proud mother & wife. Shameless nerd&geek. Feminist. Undercover gourmet.

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