Monday, April 10, 2017

The Colleague Rape Crisis

"Microsoft, where’s your ad campaign telling adult male scientists not to rape their colleagues in the field?" (Monica Byrne, HT Christina Richey RTing Karen James)

This is one of those nits that I happen to be qualified to pick. I agree with Monica Byrne that there's something odd about Microsoft's attempt to brand itself as a supporter of women in STEM by telling girls that the odds are against them.* But I must say that the ad she imagines might be more on point would hardly be more encouraging: telling young women that the odds are they'll get raped by a colleague. Neither message is especially well-suited to getting them to "stay in STEM".

Her sources for that claim are worth examining more closely. The first is an op-ed in the New York Times by A. Hope Jahren that brings her personal story of being raped while doing fieldwork together with Kate Clancy's Survey of Academic Field Experiences. The second is a Mother Jones interview with Clancy herself about the same study. Jahren's piece is compellingly written but makes what I believe is a baseless connection between her own story and Clancy's research.

If I understand Jahren correctly, she was attacked and violently raped by a local stranger in an Aegean resort town. Her story, she tells us, "is not unique," and she cites Clancy's study to support the assertion that "26 percent of the female scientists surveyed had been sexually assaulted during fieldwork." And she goes even further: "I know several women with stories like mine, but more often it is the men of one’s own field team, one’s co-workers, who violate their female colleagues." Again she cites Clancy, quoting: "perpetrators were predominantly senior to them professionally within the research team."

Here's the problem with this way of putting it: Although its definition of sexual assault did cover rape, and the paper said that respondents reported "sexual assault including rape", Clancy's study did not ask specifically about rape. We simply don't know how many people in Clancy's survey were reporting "stories like" Jahren's, which sounds truly awful but did not have a colleague as a perpetrator. It is likely that most of the bad behavior Clancy's survey registered was unwanted groping and stolen kisses. Connecting the problem of being raped by a stranger in a stairwell with the problem of unwanted touches by a colleague at a party in this vague way is highly problematic from my point of view.

I don't doubt Jahren's story. But I do find her claim that she knows "several women" who have stories similar to hers, i.e., stories of violent forcible rape with "blood under [her] fingernails", except that the perpetrator was not a stranger but a fellow scientist, a bit hard to believe. In any case, it's almost certainly not true that this is the experience of 1 in 4 women in STEM. While I don't doubt that doing field work exposes women to a higher risk of sexual assault, I do not believe that "staying in STEM" in general increases a woman's odds of being raped. Contra Byrne, I do not believe that male scientists are especially in need of being told not to rape their female colleagues.

If anything is going to keep women out of STEM I think this idea that it's a favored career path for rapists is probably going to do it. Fortunately, it appears to be baseless. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to stop ideologues from pushing it.

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*UPDATE: As Jonathan Mayhew points out in the comments (and at his blog) the way these odds are presented in the ad is misleading too. It tells the girls that they have a 6.7% chance of graduating with a STEM degree (indeed, it tells them "odds are you won't solve [the] problems [you are interested in]") because they are female. But the same ad for boys would not (as some viewers might have assumed) tell them their odds are 93.3%. Rather, 17% of men graduate with STEM degrees. Assuming a roughly equal male/female population that means that the chance that anyone gets a STEM degree is 11.8%. Moreover, as Jonathan points out, there are fields (including those relevant to the interests of the girls in the ad) that graduate more women than men. The point should be that science is hard. Boys, too, should in principle be told that the odds are against them solving the world's problems through science. But there is a time for that hard truth and 12 years old isn't, in my opinion, it. Telling girls of any age that science is harder for them than it is for boys, meanwhile, is a lie that reinforces the inequality it attempts to address. I agree with Jonathan when he says that we "want a basic statistical literacy among those debating these issues. The M of STEM after all is Math."

4 comments:

Jonathan said...

That 6.7% number is way off: http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem

Jonathan said...

United States
Few Women Are Earning Degrees in STEM, Except in the Life Sciences46

In 2013–2014, women in the United States earned more than half of degrees in the biological and biomedical sciences, but a smaller share of other STEM fields:47

Bachelor's Master's PhD
Percentage (%) of Degrees Earned by Women in Postsecondary Institutions
Biological and biomedical sciences 58.5 56.5 53.2
Math and Statistics 43.0 41.5 28.9
Engineering 18.4 24.4 22.7
Computer and information sciences 18.0 28.7 21.0











United States
Few Women Are Earning Degrees in STEM, Except in the Life Sciences46

In 2013–2014, women in the United States earned more than half of degrees in the biological and biomedical sciences, but a smaller share of other STEM fields:47

Bachelor's Master's PhD
Percentage (%) of Degrees Earned by Women in Postsecondary Institutions
Biological and biomedical sciences 58.5 56.5 53.2
Math and Statistics 43.0 41.5 28.9
Engineering 18.4 24.4 22.7
Computer and information sciences 18.0 28.7 21.0












United States
Few Women Are Earning Degrees in STEM, Except in the Life Sciences46

In 2013–2014, women in the United States earned more than half of degrees in the biological and biomedical sciences, but a smaller share of other STEM fields:47

Bachelor's Master's PhD
Percentage (%) of Degrees Earned by Women in Postsecondary Institutions
Biological and biomedical sciences 58.5 56.5 53.2
Math and Statistics 43.0 41.5 28.9
Engineering 18.4 24.4 22.7
Computer and information sciences 18.0 28.7 21.0












United States
Few Women Are Earning Degrees in STEM, Except in the Life Sciences46

In 2013–2014, women in the United States earned more than half of degrees in the biological and biomedical sciences, but a smaller share of other STEM fields:47

Bachelor's Master's PhD
Percentage (%) of Degrees Earned by Women in Postsecondary Institutions
Biological and biomedical sciences 58.5 56.5 53.2
Math and Statistics 43.0 41.5 28.9
Engineering 18.4 24.4 22.7
Computer and information sciences 18.0 28.7 21.0



Women earn more degrees than men in life sciences, at the undergraduate level.

It is also true that most men do not earn STEM degrees, since most men do not even graduate from college. The numbers for math and physics degrees are very low for both genders.








Jonathan said...

You would also want a basic statistical literacy among those debating these issues. The M of STEM after all is Math.

Anonymous said...

You guys! You have misinterpreted the Microsoft ad. It doesn't say "you won't solve these problems because you're female." It doesn't. Usually you guys are on point and analytical and read carefully. On this one you have misinterpreted it very badly. Why?

It shows some examples of young women reacting to preposterous (to them if not to us) claims that they won't achieve their dreams. In their own ways, they are expressing what Thomas has written: you don't tell this stuff to 12 year olds. It's not age appropriate. Inspire them. (That's what the ad does). Arm them to resist dummies with stereotypes of what they can achieve (that's what the ad tried to do also). Show adults how these young women react (stunned silence and disbelief) when presented with a preposterous claim.

It's a typical ad in many respects, but that's the medium of an ad. We can criticize it for suggesting that Microsoft VR will help them solve climate change (yeah, right).