Written by: Danika Wong
If the recent cases in the news and the stories that underlie the hashtag #MeToo have taught us anything, it's that there is not enough in place to keep women safe. Women are still harassed out of their field and their industry. Women are still forced to be silent about their experiences. And women are still victims of everyday harassment, and their contributions to society, whether that be artistic or academic, are still not valued. While there is more and more attention being brought to these issues, is it enough to create change?
In 2014, Dr. Kathryn Clancy, anthropologist at the University of Illinois, and her team published a study on harassment in science fields, which revealed that women at the early stages of their research careers disproportionately experienced harassment from senior male academics. In a survey of over 600 participants, 3 out of 5 researchers stated that they had personally experienced sexual harassment. These results were particularly saddening because they were meant to be relatively conservative. Clancy explains that they had conducted the survey specifically about "harassment," rather than "insults" or "negative remarks," as previous research found that people were less likely to identify with such a harsh term. Nonetheless, their data revealed the disappointing realities of the environment in STEM.
Three years later, in the summer of 2017, Clancy published another study entitled, "Double jeopardy in astronomy and planetary science: Women of color face greater risks of gendered and racial harassment." This time, adopting an intersectional approach, it revealed not only the sexism but also racism that persisted in the academic workplace. Intersectionality is a theory that understands that different identities (race, class, sexuality, dis/ability, religion, etc.) combine and intersect to create "multiple levels of injustice." This means that women of colour, who are marginalized because they are people of colour and because they are women, experience "double jeopardy" due to the harassment and discrimination they experience on multiple fronts. In a survey of 474 astronomers, almost 90% said they had witnessed sexist, racist, or other negative remarks in their workplace, 40% of women of colour said they felt unsafe because of their gender, and 28% of women of colour said they felt unsafe because of their race. In addition, nearly 1 in 5 women of colour said they skipped professional events because they didn't feel safe attending, adding to the long list of inclusivity issues in STEM and revealing how this harassment seriously inhibits their careers and results in a loss of career opportunities.