For context, in the event that you want or need it, read my last post, and Hannah’s, and Kathleen’s, and Erin’s. (If you want a dash of irony with your context, read this post I wrote after Bora solicited my support for Kathleen and Erin in the wake of some casual sexism in a professional context.)
Then read Karen’s #ripplesofdoubt Storify.
This post is about some of my ripples of doubt.
I am not trolling for reassurance — I recognize that these doubts are not entirely rational. But I’m presenting a peek at what’s going on inside my head right now so that you can get a sense of why sexual harassment (among other instances of treating women in the community as not fully human, not full members of the community) is harmful even to those who are not the direct targets of that harassment.
This is also going to be more stream-of-consciousness than most of my posts. Things inside my head get kind of tangled.
* * * * *
Eight years ago, people who were not my students were just starting to find this blog. A big part of this was because Bora Zivkovic (who had loads of readers, was on lots of blogrolls, and had lots of blogospheric visibility) started regularly linking to my posts.
(Would anyone have found my blog if Bora hadn’t promoted it? Did he promote it because it was actually good, or for some other reason?)
And then, I got invited to “sell out” and join ScienceBlogs at its initial launch. Which was exciting, because I was on a network with some very engaging (and very high-traffic) bloggers. I didn’t kid myself that this meant I was better than the excellent bloggers I was reading who were blogging elsewhere, but it felt a little like an independent confirmation that my blog crossed some quality threshold. It felt good.
(But the process by which those blogs were selected for the initial Sb launch was opaque to me, and I got the sense later that some of that was shaped by blogospheric tastemakers like Bora — maybe even by explicit advice from Bora. His judgment is feeling pretty suspect to me, so can I trust his judgment that my blog was quality?)
About a year later, Bora and Anton were planning the first North Carolina Science Blogging Conference, the ancestor of ScienceOnline. Bora invited me to be a keynote speaker. I had never been invited to be a keynote speaker anywhere before. I felt so validated and excited that I jumped up and down on my bed for about five minutes before emailing back to accept the invitation.
(Why was I invited to give a keynote? What real expertise did I have to share on science blogging and its larger significance? Bora and I had never met in real life at that point. I was still in my 30s, and my profile picture was more “flattering” than “accurate”. Why did Bora invite me to give a keynote?)
At ScienceBlogs, somehow I developed a reputation as a “voice of reason” kind of sensible person, able to find middle ground where there was some, able to at least grok the impulse driving opposing sides of blogwars.
(In retrospect, I wonder what role Bora played in constructing that narrative. Did people listen to me because he flagged me as reasonable? Was there some ulterior motive for positioning me this way?)
I’m resisting a strong urge to scour my curriculum vitae for workshops and panels I have been on that Bora has also been on, or that I have good reason to believe I was invited to be part of on the basis of Bora’s recommendation. Off the top of my head, I’m counting at least four.
(Was it Bora’s professional reputation and influence that got me these invitations, rather than anything I had done on my own to demonstrate my own expertise? How on earth could I tell?)
My invitation to blog at Scientific American was definitely due to Bora. There were lots of murmurs at launch (and there continue to be today — I’ve seen them on social media, posted literally today) that the way the blogs were selected was inappropriate-to-deeply-flawed.
(That’s my blog they’re judging as not belonging at Scientific American. It’s not good enough to be there, but Bora chose it anyway. What was his game here?)
Bora never hit on me. Bora never veered into inappropriate topics of conversation with me. When we talked about blog network issues, Bora treated me very professionally. When we interacted as friends, he treated me cordially and never disrespected my boundaries.
(But that’s not how he treated other women. How did I escape the inappropriate interactions that are coming to light now?)
I took Bora for a real friend — not just a real friend, but one who grokked systemic gender bias, how important it was to listen to women’s accounts of their own experiences, how people’s boundaries should be respected. He didn’t always get it right away, but he seemed committed to learning.
(While meanwhile, he was ignoring other women clearly asserting their boundaries, telling him to stop.)
He acted like he valued my friendship.
(Maybe he just valued my loyalty and that reputation I had as a reasonable voice in the blogosphere …)
(Maybe he was using me as cover, a loyal friend who would deny, on the basis of her N=1 personal experience, that he could ever harass a woman or disrespect her boundaries.)
When specifics from what he claimed was his one-and-only instance of harassment came out, he asked me to get particular other people in the community on his side, to reach out to them and get them to put down the pitchforks.
(Appealing to me as reasonable. Appealing to me as loyal. Appealing to me as a friend, who should know, from her own experience, that he couldn’t have done this more than once, one tragic moment of misunderstanding.)
(Just as he had groomed me to be. As if maybe that was the point all along.)
(Maybe I wasn’t actually a valued friend — not really, not valued for myself so much as my usefulness in a crisis.)
(And maybe my work never was that good.)
(And how can I trust my own judgment, about my own work, my own friends, my own community, if I could have been so wrong for so long about Bora?)
Edited to add:
There are also profound ripples of doubt in my head about why I didn’t see the harassment that was happening, what I did to make myself unapproachable to people in the community who who targeted — who I would have liked to help in some way if I could have. Those are far more painful to me right now, and words fail me when I try to spell them out. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you folks. You didn’t deserve to be harassed.