Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not about fruitbatsex

I don't often read BoingBoing any more because the design, although modified STILL SHOUTS AT ME and I just can't bear it. However, Oclee pointed out a story about an academic who, according to the story on BoingBoing, has been accused of sexual harrassment by a colleague because he showed her a peer reviewed paper about fellatio between fruit bats.

The implication of this article, and of the blog which apparently originally publicised the story, PZMyers, was that if showing adult colleagues a peer-reviewed paper could possibly constitute sexual harassment, the end of academic freedom was nigh, and the sky was falling.

The BoingBoing article contained links to the paperwork in the case, the original statement by Dr Evans's colleague. In this, as you can see, she asserted that there had been inappropriate behaviour from Dr Evans on other occasions, and he was often at pains to engage her in unwanted conversations about a range of things, including Casanova, and fruitbatsex.

Whether these assertions are justified or not, I have no idea, but someone thought it was right to publicise the case, and the outcome, because they disagreed with it.

I have no special knowledge of the case, or of the people involved, but I know myself that even when behaviour is very intimidating and sexually aggressive, it can be hard to put together any form of evidence. I once worked with a man who took every opportunity to squeeze past female staff, making as much contact as possible. It seemed inevitable that, if one had to negotiate a tight corner, he would suddenly arrive and need to squeeze past.

He talked about the "morals of young people today" and seemed under the impression that anyone under the age of 25 (this was the 1970s) was likely to fall into bed with anyone, at the slightest encouragement. He seemed to think that talking about it might persuade young girls to throw themselves at his feet.

He frequently grabbed necklaces from inside t-shirts, and made up spurious rules for young women employees to follow.

To me, at the age of 19, he seemed slimy and objectionable, but I couldn't imagine that anyone would seriously act upon my opinion, and so I put up with his behaviour and left as soon as I could.

Some people are inclined to sing the "political correctness gone mad!" song in relation to this - or any - case of sexual harassment, but sometimes, a string of possibly unrelated incidents from one person's point of view, adds up to something much bigger. Sometimes it has seemed to me that someone is completely unaware of the effect that their constant attention has had on a woman... on other occasions it has been completely obvious that someone knows and revels in the fact that they are affecting the other person in an adverse way.

I don't know if Dr Evans did or did not sexually harass this woman, but I dislike the fact that he seems unable to accept that she may have seen his approaches to her as anything less than positive. He has commented multiple times on the comment thread on the PZMyers blog, and seems to be basking in the attention, on his own website and on twitter.

It seems that fruitbatgate is about to get attention from the New Scientist and other publications... it will be interesting to see if the reporting is any more balanced than the article in the Irish Times.

In a final note, it seems that some of the thousands of people who rushed to sign a petition in favour of Dr Evans, have reconsidered that in the light of the full story. I'm somewhat at a loss to understand how anyone felt it was right to interfere in what was a private disciplinary matter, and I have to wonder who leaked the documents originally.

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