Okay, so I've been mulling over this one for awhile, but frankly I was too lazy because it's a somewhat involved post... and let's face it... scientists are lazy. If we weren't totally lazy, why would this exist?
As some of you may remember, I attended a week long scientific conference back in June. As at most scientific conferences, the talks and poster sessions ran rather late into the night (seriously, 11:00 is late for me these days... my toddler wakes up at 6:00!). And, as at most scientific conferences, a good percentage of the attendees would go socialize and talk shop at the bar after the sessions closed.
At the close of the last session, one of the conference organizers (a relatively big name in my little subfield... let's call him Giant Perv) announced that the entertainment for the evening would be a (crappy) DJ spinning (crappy) tunes at the bar.
So I get to the bar with my labmates and a couple of other girls and we get ourselves a couple of beers. After about 10 minutes, Giant Perv walks up to our table and starts trying to get us on the dance floor. I figure he's just worried that the entertainment is a flop (which, um, hello? I'm not dancing to Men At Work). So we beg off saying that we'll dance in a little bit. Giant Perv accepts this and heads over to the next table of hapless grad students.
As soon as Giant Perv leaves the table, one of the women I am with tells a horror story about the last time she came to this conference... apparently Giant Perv likes to hit on grad students and post docs, using the dance floor as his opportunity to grab a little a**. She said that last time she was at this conference, he had literally dragged her onto the dance floor.
When it was time for our second round, one of the grad students and I went up to the bar to order more beers. As we're walking past the dance floor towards the bar, Giant Perv grabs my forearm.
Time for that dance he says. I try to beg off, but he literally isn't taking no for an answer. He's grabbing my forearm for godssake and pulling me onto the dance floor.
What I didn't realize was that by "dance" Giant Perv meant "swing dance". To Shakira.
I did a lot of swing dancing in college, and I'm not half bad. I can rock a pair of three-inch heels and make it look good. Nonetheless, I was not super stoked at the idea of dancing with this guy. But rather than make a scene or yank my arm away, I danced.
As we danced, I felt that old uncomfortable feeling of dancing with a stranger. Where do you look? What do you say? As I prayed for the speakers to explode, I tried to concentrate on where to put my feet.
I'm a terrible follow I said, laughing uncomfortably.
You're not in control here he said. I'm not going to let you tell me what to do.
Um, creepy much?
When the dance was over, he complimented me on my dancing, on my dress, asked me if I wanted a drink. I said no. I was so uncomfortable that I decided to leave the bar altogether.
Why wasn't I able to say no when this guy pulled me onto the dance floor? I didn't want to make a scene, didn't want to alienate this guy. He's in my sub-field. There's a very good chance that he'll be a reviewer on my future paper (for which I have yet to collect data). So I sucked it up, danced with him though I didn't want to. And when he continued to make me uncomfortable, I had to leave.
But in fact, I did say no. He chose to interpret my refusal as coyness instead of discomfort. He chose to continue hitting on me as I was trying to leave.
In every field, there's a guy like Giant Perv. The guy with the reputation for hanging out with all the young, female grad students. Who use conferences as an excuse to flirt with or otherwise harass women who are younger than them. Guys like Giant Perv use the power differential between Established Scientist and Lowly Grad Student (or Groveling Postdoc) to get a little action.
And frankly, guys like Giant Perv can get away with it. What recourse is there, really, when a female student or postdoc is harassed at a conference (or even at their home institution)? There are rarely any consequences for bad actors.
No big take home message here, it just sucks.