This happened: One year later.Posted: November 5, 2014
About a year ago, I named Bora Zivkovic, the blogs editor at Scientific American, as the man who’d sexually harassed me at what I set up as a business meeting. A lot of things went down in the immediate wake of that. Andrew Maynard at the University of Michigan School of Public Health wrote me privately, asking me to un-name Bora, so as to protect his reputation for the greater good. I reported so on Twitter (because wow, dude). Twitter exploded. HuffPo covered the community’s reluctance to believe me, or to take action. Then another woman came forward, Hannah Waters, with a story about Bora much worse in scope. Slate covered it. Twitter exploded again. Gawker covered it. Then Kathleen Raven‘s account went viral, too, and that was the nail in the coffin. By the end of the week, Bora had resigned from his post at both Scientific American and the ScienceOnline conference.
So what was it like on my end?
I pose that question because the “calculus of survival” prevents so many women from coming forward. There seem to be lots of high-profile horror stories from fields controlled by men; for example, that of Richard Dawkins being awful to Rebecca Watson in the skeptic community and Edward Champion harassing Porochista Khakpour in the literary community. These stories are true, and the women’s experiences of them are true. But I worry that the high visibility of these stories give the impression that it’s the only narrative in town—that speaking up is necessarily dangerous, psychologically damaging, career-threatening, or even life-threatening.
So I’d like to share my story: that the aftermath of speaking up was, on the whole, a very positive experience. I hasten to emphasize that this is my experience and no one else’s, leavened by a number of factors: first, that I was a relative outsider in the science journalism community, which granted me a kind of long-term immunity from consequence, and also a clarity free from sentimental attachment to Bora or any other figure in the field. Second, that I had a wonderful support network of family and friends. Third, that I was already financially secure from having a contract for my first novel. Fourth, that I benefit enormously from racial, class, and cisgender privilege. And fifth, that I’d been educated from years of reading about, talking about, and living through these exact situations.
I knew I’d been right to speak up. I knew my interpretation of the event was correct. Nothing would change that.
There were dozens of comments on the original post. They’re an imperfect proxy for the experience, but here are the data (n=82) in those terms.
“Supporting” means the commenter expressed gratitude, solidarity, or told a similar story. “Trolling and/or Victim-Blaming” means the commenter tried to tell me I’d somehow invited the harassment, overreacted, misinterpreted, and so on. (I deleted those because, surprise!, it’s my blog.) “Derailing” means the commenter glommed onto an irrelevant detail and tried to redirect the reader to their pet peeve. “Neutral” means the commenter made some inconsequential observation. “Hate Speech” is what it sounds like. There were only two of those. One of them was posted by “Hugs4Hitler.” I laughed and then deleted them.
On Twitter, the direct responses I got were overwhelmingly supportive. Those that weren’t? I blocked. Because life is short.
My day-to-day life was largely unchanged. I made new friends in Hannah, Kathleen, Martin, Aatish, David, and many others, and counted myself lucky. When I met people in real life who had knowledge of the situation, they greeted me with warm gratitude and appreciation. I had a happy autumn with my friends and theatre company. I looked forward to research trips to Belize and the UK, my new play going into rehearsals in April, and my novel getting published in May. There was a kerfuffle around the New Year, with Bora staging a deeply misguided “comeback” (now deleted) and his friend Anton Zuiker posting an essay that was ostensibly a meditation on the meaning of friendship, but really a plea to sympathize with Bora (also now deleted). I was delighted to see that both were shut down quickly by the same members of the scientific community who’d been hesitant to respond in October. To me, that demonstrated that true change had occurred. I can’t speak for them more than that; I was, and remain, mostly an outsider. Others can describe what changes they’ve observed if they’d like.
But as for me, when the one-year anniversary came around, I didn’t even register it, because I was happily traveling in Iran, researching my second novel. I want to say publicly that, while the horror stories are true and valid, so is this one: speaking up was a deeply constructive, positive, and affirming experience—and then I forgot about it. This is as it should be. And I’d love for my narrative to be the usual one.
If you’re in a similar situation, you’re not alone. Trust yourself. The culture is changing.