By Pat Shipman
My first lesson in the harmful power of sexual innuendo and stereotype
was when I was a new PhD in the late 1970s. I wrote a manuscript for a
book based on my thesis, an analysis of fossil animals in Kenya. A major
academic publisher turned it down because it was “too controversial.”
Stunned that this analysis could be seen as controversial, I pressed the
editor for specifics. Eventually, he admitted that one reviewer had
said that I could only have been awarded a PhD if I had slept with my
A few years later, I discovered by accident that I was the lowest paid
associate professor in my institution—the same year I began working as
an assistant dean. My underpayment was so pronounced that the dean of
the entire institution told my chair to give me an immediate 20 percent
raise. A friend in administration, congratulating me, said she had once
overheard my chair remark that he didn’t need to give me a raise because
my husband was well paid.
The culture of discrimination is far-reaching and ongoing. This year I
learned of two public instances of overt sexual harassment directed at
junior women that took place at a professional anthropology meeting in
April. The accounts became a major topic of discussion in anthropology
circles, so much so that I was able to check the stories with both
subjects as well as with others who had witnessed the incidents. In one
case, a senior male in the field apparently believed commenting on a
junior colleague’s breasts was acceptable behavior and possibly even
flattering. In the other, a senior male researcher invited a junior
female colleague to sit on his lap.
The quick reactions to Hunt and Huang indicate progress—albeit of a
reactive nature. But as long as the leadership in science is so
overwhelmingly oblivious to discrimination, the fight to root out
conscious and unconscious bias against women will continue.
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