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February 14, 2018


David Roberts

Thank you.

Anonymous woman

Thank you for sharing! I feel significantly more comfortable with my male colleagues since I'm out as gay, also their behavior changed, so even without any incidents and considerate colleagues, being a woman in a male dominated field is not easy to begin with.

Jeff Erickson

Boaz Barak's response: https://windowsontheory.org/2018/02/15/metootcs/

Atri Rudra

Thank you for sharing your story.

I will be more vigilant and keep and eye out and speak up against inappropriate behavior.

Perhaps we should have a discussion about this at the theory fest at STOC 2018? Maybe a discussion on how men can be better advocates and supporters?


Thank you for sharing. It was disgusting to read what you went through. On behalf of humanity, I am sorry.

Among all the problems that you have talked about, I think the lowest hanging fruit in regards to what the community can do to palliate some of these problems is to empower juniors to stand up to seniors. Note that if we lived in a world where people weren't scared of seniority, first, maybe the perpetrators wouldn't feel secure in doing terrible things. Second, passive spectators (read cowards pragmatists) would stand up and do the right thing when they sense something blatantly obnoxious.

While it is near impossible to live in a world with no notion of seniority, I think it is possible for people in admissions/hiring/promotion committees (let's call them gatekeepers) to be sensitive to such problems. For instance, if a gatekeeper finds a candidate with no recommendation from advisor who is a senior researcher, they could maybe just avoid judging the candidate. They could instead ask the candidate personally about this. I don't think such things are done. Normally, in TCS there are so many candidates fighting for positions, that even the lightest question mark can mean you are not in consideration anymore. If it is a prevalent thing for gatekeepers to be sensitive about things, maybe more people can stand up and do the right thing and not be worried on losing out on things.

I'd like to urge you to start going back to conferences. It is the perpetrators who should be avoiding coming to conferences due to shame, and not you.

Anonymous Coward

Thanks for sharing your story.

Some of your remarks got me (re)thinking about the issue of calling out inappropriate behavior. A bad experience some time ago led me to adopt a more quiet and passive (some would say cowardly) attitude than I would otherwise like to adopt. After reading your story I keep wondering whether I should go back to being more active in this regard.

I am a male PhD student. Some years ago, I was at a scheduled (not an spontaneous "Let's go somewhere to drink") social event during a conference. I usually don't take part on these kind of social gatherings but I went anyway because some colleagues insisted. I ended up having good, enjoyable conversations, mostly about scientific topics and politics. At some point during the night, however, a female junior colleague of mine started to be the subject of some very inappropriate and direct attention from some senior researcher we never met before. She didn't engage with him, but didn't complained either. I intervened, only to receive some pretty harsh remarks from her. I was surprised. The next day I talked to her in private about what happened since we were close. She explained that she was, in fact, felling flattered by the attention and was annoyed when I intervened. I explained my good intentions and she apologized for being too harsh. Since then I tend to mind my own business and although I encountered at least one other similar situation in which I felt tempted to say something, I ended up playing the passive spectator instead. One may say that I had simply misread the situation back then, but other people also agreed with me that the senior researcher in question was being inappropriate and joined me in calling him out (altough only I got the heat from my colleague).

In a more recent conversation about this issue, the same female colleague said that it is indeed important in those kinds of situations for people not to be passive bystanders, but the correct decision on whether or not to intervene would depend highly on the context and the persons involved. She said that it would probably be better to intervene only if the woman makes clear, either verbally or through body language, that the attention is unwanted. But even then, she continued, some woman may be annoyed to be put in the position of a damsel in distress that needs to be saved, which was part of the reason why she was so annoyed with me that night (the other part being that she actually wanted the attention despite not engaging or giving any other signs for it). Another thing to consider, she remarked, is whether it is a social context or a formal academic context and, of course, there are some gray zones between the two.

Now, reading your account of the comments about your hair, and without imagining any other details or aggravating circunstances besides what you described (for instance, you may have made it clear, through body language or otherwise, that the person was being inappropriate), I would probably remain silent if I was standing in that small group with you (and wasn't particularly familiar with you). In your case, that would be the wrong thing to do, since you made it clear that you would like people to have said something. But how would I know that? What about some random unkown woman in a similar situation?

So, sometimes the reason for seeming like a passive bystander is not merely cowardice.

I know it is tough, but it is important for woman to speak up too and I applaud you for doing just that.

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