The urge of talking about this has been itchy for at least a week. Finally, I decided to find a way to organize my thoughts and express the anger and anxiety in me, in a more rational mood.
This summer I was harassed by my former professor in graduate school.
When I was in Beijing I went to visit him. The last time we met was three years ago, and people need to show respect to professors/teachers in China, as a cultural tradition. He invited me to this dinner party that his phd student celebrating the graduation with fellows from his lab. The dinner went like any other Chinese official banquet, there is one person who has most of the power and sits in the center of the table while everyone else (12+ students) has to kiss his ass. I was never a fan of this kind of thing, but I also understand if I want to go back to china with a good job offer, it is obligate to attend.
Everything was fine until we switched venue to a karaoke bar after dinner. My former advisor was slightly drunk, in a pretty damn good mood, since this phd student landed a damn good job offer. Things started going down at the bar. At first I just feel he came too close. He sat next to me, skin to skin. Then he forced me to sing a love duet with him and staring at me and trying to hold my hand as an act for the duet. I didn’t finish the song and moved to sit to the other corner of the room because I already raised suspicion. What confirmed my suspicion is when he walked across the room and sat next to me, again, skin to skin. What made me feel worse is when he started to touch my back and waist, acting like he was too drunk to support himself of accidently touched my skin. The last straw is that he slided his hand from my knee down to my shin. I stood up and told the host, the phd student, that I need to leave because I’m still suffering from jetlag.
I was so angry that I was trembling on the taxi back to my hotel. I wasn’t sure if I was angrier at myself or at the professor, a married man, a teacher of mine, who did this to me. I am still not sure about the object of my rage even today. I called my good friend in Beijing and told him what just happened. I remember telling my friend in the phone that, (1) I told the prof I have a boyfriend, (2) I wasn’t dressed inappropriate, i was wearing a cardigan, and my dress goes down to my knees, (3) I didn’t flirt with him at all. (4) did he do this to me because he thought i am easy since my boyfriend is a foreigner? You see, Immediately I started to check if it’s me did something wrong, which may misguide him that I am interested to sleep with him.
It is not a solo instance. Now look back at my time in that institute as his student, he was trying to flirt with me from time to time. The most obvious one is that he offered to take me to some resort hotel outside of Beijing during weekend, which I said no thank you. But he didn’t dare to touch me physically back then. However, I did see him as a model or admired him as a student, and I didn’t tell anyone I had a boyfriend back then. And I am more open minded than any other fellow students in the lab. So maybe, perhaps, he is not the only one to blame? That is why I had the checklist going when I was in the taxi?
Every detail is still crystal clear. Every time I look back at this harassment and my time there as a student, I blame myself for not standing up against him at the scene and giving him a slap on the face. There were at least eight other female students at dinner, who are much younger, naïve, and innocent than me. I want to ask them if this monster being harassing them as well, and I want to tell them it is ok to fight back. But how could I? First of all, I do not know them and they know little about me. I have graduated from the lab five years ago and they only heard my name. I don’t know if he ever harassed anyone else. Secondly, which is more important, I didn’t stand up against him myself. How can they expect me as a role model? Lastly, the most important reason, is that, I have no idea where I can report him to? I am only an alumni of the institute, there is no liability issue from the school on me anymore. Moreover, I’m pretty sure even a registered student may have no place to file a complaint. People in charge may just let them shut up, or worse, give them a hard time to graduate for speaking ill of the professor who is in power. Students who report these kinds of things often end up with a slutty reputation as well (particularly if i was the only victim and my boyfriend is foreigner). So no one really wants to disclose those monsters. I’m also worried about the consequences apparently. Do I have any evidence that he harassed me? Students there in the same bar may see nothing. Since he only touched me and it’s not something worse, like many other victims suffering from penetration, people may just say, oh shut up, stop pretending to be a victim here. It is also that once I speak up, there is no possible network for me in this institute, it’ll be a bridge well burned. All these fears, these worries, stopped me from doing anything further. After that night, he texted me a few times while my time in Beijing, inviting me to dinner in private. I turned them down, politely. That’s the keyword, politely. I’m still so afraid to even confront with him.
During the phone call in the taxi, my friend tried to calm me. He is a salesman in a company. He said, yeah, it is really common that women in the workplace are often taken advantage. He has several female colleagues who have to deal with customers at dinner table from time to time. And because they need to sell products, there’s no other way but accept and suffer in silence. It’s a rule of thumb. There are other stories I heard from friends who work in China this summer. It is also true in academia, female faculty members will be invited to resort venues for meetings to “balance the gender”, which usually it’s the male professors are in charge of the meetings, and female profs are just there as dancing/dinner partners. Basically, escort. I’m sure same stories lying around and are easy to find. This makes me sad, how pathetic is the working environment for Chinese women. They already suffer significant prejudice from maternity leave and household responsibilities, which is worsen because of the second children policy. Now they are still being treated like a sex tool even they are as capable as their male colleagues?
I didn’t speak out when the #metoo went viral on facebook and twitter, because my case is cultural specific. Because of my background, I guess I’ll never be able to just blame the professor who gave me these endless self-doubt, or ever collect the courage to confront him or warn his students. Even this essay I’ll only post it on my personal website instead of share it on facebook like I usually do. But I do want to have some answers or clear thoughts on my other rage, to one of my friends’ reaction to this.
There are not many people aware of this assault. People I told are all my close friends that I trust. They are all very supportive and warm, offering me lots of assurance. However, there is this one friend, after I told him, asked me, are you sure he touched you not because he is just too awkward to show his affection to you?—The arguments with him is actually a trigger for my anger and willingness to write down these words.
To his question, I said no, it is not him being awkward, it is because this is not appropriate for him to do so. First of all, he is married, secondly, he was my professor and is still at a more powerful position than me. Then my friend raised an assumption, which is, would you still feel uncomfortable or unacceptable if he is young, attractive, unmarried? I told him that I may very likely to grow affection to this person, but I still think it’s not acceptable for him doing this. Especially you need approval before you can touch anyone! But I feel very offended by his assumption, it makes me judge myself that I only rejected him or feel disgusted because my professor who touched me against my own will is married and not attractive.
Not long ago we had a second argument, when the Hollywood harassment thing is going viral. This time this friend initiated the discussion. He said he doesn’t understand why people only feel powerless, to him, the predators’ behaviors are weird, which is not a power dynamic. This made me jump off my chair. I know this friend means no harm and we often argue about things. However, once again, I am extremely angry at what he just wondered. This sounds like the harassment victims are in a power equal position with those predators, and it is their fault to feel powerless and not fight back at the scene. You see, this is exactly what I have been blaming myself for. So, this time, instead of arguing with him, I just tell him to shut up. I told him, being a friend means you need to be supportive if anyone is going through a sexual harassment, not being judgmental.
I know this friend, as a victim himself once, has no intention to criticize me or blame me for not standing up. I still feel extremely angry at his tone. But later when I am less furious, I started to think if his argument has some merits. Maybe we do need to feel less powerless but analyze the predators’ behaviors so that we can find a solution? However, I can’t seem to be able to convince myself. Emotionally, I kind of still suffering the fact that I didn’t do anything to stop him, and this is why I am angry at my friend’s tone, because it is true that I did feel powerless and it is the reason I didn’t stand up, for myself and for others. However, that monster professor is the person who started it, it is not my fault not to feel his behavior weird, but rather disgusting, offensive, assaulting, and destructing. It is the society’s fault that women are often victims to these types of situation. Why they did it? Because they are sick. Because society gives them power to assault women at no cost. Is it weird? Should we think their behaviors as weird? I don’t care. It is WRONG for them to do so. WRONG, not weird.
Anyway, I’m still angry at myself today. For both not standing up, and for not winning the argument with my friend. This essay definitely helps to clear my thoughts and makes me less upset. I wish in the future, I can find peace with myself, and, the worst case scenario, if this type of thing ever happened again, I will pull myself together and stand up against it.