Hundreds of academics on Twitter responded to a light-hearted call to share their anecdotes of the worst academic conference behaviour they have ever witnessed.
Ok, what’s the most terrible behaviour you have witnessed at an academic conference? https://t.co/FUsVkL6ZBF
— Phil Baty (@Phil_Baty) May 19, 2019
But what emerged in the responses was a disturbing collection of experiences of harassment and sexual assault that female academics have endured at these events. The responses are further evidence of the gender inequality that exists in academia and how, often, it can affect women’s confidence about attending future academic conferences, no doubt limiting their opportunities to present research and meet influential academics in their fields. Worse though, it can manifest as abuse that harms women for a lifetime.
Below is just a small sample of the posts by female academics, at every phase of their career and from all over the world.
Being stuck in downstairs loo with female colleague who’d been rendered almost unconscious by spiked drink at post-conference dinner plus six men who’d assaulted her. Had to turn very nasty to get them out of there and get her/me to hotel. Didn’t cry until on plane, then bawled.
— Professor Catherine Harper PhD (@ProfCathHarper) May 19, 2019
As grad student, after conference dinner, in elevator to my room. Friends got out at lower floors, leaving me alone w a senior prof. Had to duck out of way when he tried to kiss me, telling me "you want this". Got out of there, ran back to my room and cried.
— Prof Serena Corr (@serena_chem) May 19, 2019
Someone using the Airdrop function on their phone to send me a dickpic during the icebreaker.
(Sidenote: I had accidentally left it on ‘anyone’ when swapping a contact and didn’t switch it back to ‘contacts only’).
— Indi Hodgson-Johnston (@indihj) May 19, 2019
The guy pinning me to the wall in a bar telling me how much rather he'd have sex with me than another senior woman at the conference.
— Athene Donald (@AtheneDonald) May 19, 2019
Thanks. Yup - first time I've ever spelled it out. Far enough in the past to be less painful
— Athene Donald (@AtheneDonald) May 19, 2019
Then there was the time at an international conference when the same mentor had to yet again intervene when the Dean of Studies at the host institution was holding onto my hand & staring at my breasts.
— Dr Amy Kavanagh (@BlondeHistorian) May 19, 2019
A middle-aged man in my (former) dept sending me a text asking me when I was available for sex from the audience while I was on a panel
— Dr Meryl Kenny (@merylkenny) May 19, 2019
As a PhD student at a workshop drinks thing (I don’t drink alcohol) : being told by a senior prof that if I drank alcohol I’d be more attractive. Same prof had told me this before, but this time made sure I told him it was inappropriate+avoided him for the rest of the conf.
— Rehemat (@rehemat_) May 19, 2019
A guy at the conference asked if I wanted to have lunch to talk about some of the conference content, and then proceeded to tell me he was planning to make a softcore porn film and asked me if I would be willing to be in it
— Jessica Langer, PhD (@DrJessicaLanger) May 19, 2019
Having to move hotels in the middle of the night to escape the very unwanted attention of a man who thought whistling at me meant I would swoon at his feet. It didn’t. I had to call security when he tried to break into my room. I climbed out of the window, got a taxi & left.
— Carole Caple (@carole_caple) May 20, 2019
Myself and a colleague being physically chased and groped by a senior man, and when we went to stand with a very senior and well-respected woman for protection, him starting on her.
— Dr Rachel Pope (@preshitorian) May 19, 2019
At my first ever conference, aged about 19, staying in halls of residence, having to barricade my door with a desk to keep two drunk male delegates in their 40s out
— Dr Jo Heaton (@microjology) May 19, 2019
Misconstruing what I thought was a networking/collab opportunity. He bought me drinks then told me to stop talking about viruses (why I was there), angrily said I “must get anything I want because I’m pretty,” obsessively called me the next day. I didn't answer and hid in my room
— Irene Hoxie (@IreneHoxie) May 20, 2019
Academic-industry-government conference organized by a colleague. I'm one of the speakers. Two academics grope my thigh under the table at different meals. Former Congressman puts his arm around me, pulling me close & staring at my breasts, "You don't look like a professor."
— Zoe Chance (@zoebchance) May 20, 2019
A number of responses, mostly from male academics, reported speakers going over time limits or other delegates thinking they were too important to be sitting at the same dinner table as them.
In the context of the women’s horrific experiences, however, these anecdotes are trivial. They also reveal a clear lack of awareness of the abuse that women face at these events. This post shows the contrast perfectly:
This just about sums up my last 24 hours on Twitter... pic.twitter.com/xBEUnkEMn3
— Phil Baty (@Phil_Baty) May 20, 2019
Sara Custer is digital editor at Times Higher Education
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