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Commentary. In particular, the harshest environments for women, in terms of harassment, are the scientific fields involving fieldwork: archeology, geology, anthropology.

It’s not just Weinstein: How to overcome fear and abuse in the scientific world

Many are talking right now about the Weinstein case, which has shaken up the world of cinema, and (hopefully) not only that industry. And it’s certainly a positive development that this issue has broken through the gates, so to speak, into the public attention.

Right now only a few women are speaking out, the strongest ones, those who can afford it, who cannot be blackmailed and are not at risk of losing their jobs or anything else. It would of course be very good if all women could safely bring to light what happened to them, but it is even more important that men speak out about this.

Personally, I am not convinced that the current mechanism of punishment is working. What it would take is a new awareness and a change in mentality.

Among the women who could have fallen prey to these men, some have been able to say “no.” Many of them have then suffered the consequences of their refusal, in terms of career advancement, of having to bear indignities, if not being bullied or dismissed from their jobs.

The moment a man in power sets his eyes on you, no matter how it ends, you’ve already lost.

No person in a civil and advanced society should be able to exercise such power over another, abusing them without consequences. The first thing to do in these cases is to remove from these men the instruments they are using to abuse the power they have. The second is to make them understand why their behavior is wrong and unacceptable, in the hope this gets through to them (as they are often persons who are highly skilled and intelligent in many ways).

But, back to the women who have suffered the consequences of not submitting: How could they be compensated for their losses? Will someone pay? And it is also difficult to conclusively prove something that did not happen, which makes the situation even more complex.

Again, what is most important is that these men are removed from the positions of power in which they (virtually all of them) still find themselves. It might take years, it might take whole generations, but we will continue to work for this goal, so that the future of our daughters can be better than our own — just as our mothers did for us.

The world of cinema is not the only one in which abuses by powerful men against women who are often, but not necessarily, young, take place on a regular basis. Some denunciations are being heard from the world of sports, and it is also starting to happen in the scientific world.

In this latter case, perhaps even more than in others, the denunciations are particularly important, as the scientific environment is often perceived as a serene island, where all people (supposed to be of high intelligence and top-level education) are acting in the best way possible.

Several incidents have come to light in recent days, from every scientific field.

In particular, the harshest environments for women, in terms of harassment, are the scientific fields involving fieldwork: archeology, geology, anthropology and the like. These are fields where research takes place, at least in part, in small groups away on research missions for several days or weeks.

One case particularly struck me: a woman who suffered severe abuse as a student, and whose teacher had threatened to ruin her career if she talked. And, 20 years later, as soon as she got a permanent position at a university, she denounced him. She had to wait 20 years. And in her case just as in others, once the dam broke, many co-workers and colleagues have since come forward to confirm “what everyone knew.”

Just as scandal struck the most sacred place in the world of film, Hollywood, in the world of science it broke out in Boston, one of the “temples of research.”

Here in Italy, we have only heard Asia Argento confirming that harassment is present here as well (and likely rampant), but we are still far from feeling free to denounce the offenders.

What we would need is a system of protection that would allow women to not have to suffer further consequences (beyond those already suffered), and that would encourage them to bring the situation to light, with the goal to change it. Only then can we hope that a different attitude will take hold, in society as a whole.

Some men have begun to consider these issues and make a stand. They too are to be encouraged, because they are also able to denounce, even only as witnesses, all those times when power is abused.

Monica Zoppè is with the Associazione Donne & Scienza (The Women & Science Association).

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