Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Careers That Weren’t

The summaries, this week, of the complicated accusations against Neil deGrasse Tyson—there are now four women, accusing the famed astrophysicist of four different kinds of sexual impropriety—have tended to distill the allegations, and Tyson’s reaction to them, down to a familiar, binary bluntness: “Neil deGrasse Tyson Denies Misconduct Accusations.” Action and reaction, equal and opposite, the negative charges offset with the positive: The women have made claims; he has denied them. A matter of simple physics, the headlines suggest.

What the summaries can miss—and what many of the write-ups of the matter, far beyond the blunt demands of the headline, can miss, as well—is the fact that the claims in question are not, actually, just about sexual misconduct. The women who have come forward to share stories about Neil deGrasse Tyson have also been talking about a related, but different, indignity: about the harm that the alleged misconduct has done to their careers. They are talking, in that, about something Americans haven’t been terribly good at talking about, even in the age of #MeToo: the radiating damage that sexual abuse can inflict on women’s professional lives. The smothered ambitions. The seeded self-doubts. The notion that careers can experience trauma, too.

Tchiya Amet, who attended graduate school with Tyson at the University of Texas in the early 1980s, has accused him of drugging her, while the two were alone in his apartment, and then raping her. “I came out of it for a moment and shook my head, and then I went out again,” she told Buzzfeed News of her memory of the experience. “The next thing I knew, I was at class the next day.”

Amet, today, talks about the ongoing effects the alleged rape has had on her body, on her mind, on her capacity to maintain relationships with other people. But her accusation extends beyond that: Amet also alleges that Tyson’s behavior led her to leave the graduate program she had worked so hard to be admitted to, and thus to stop nurturing aspirations of becoming an astrophysicist, and thus to give up her dream of becoming the first black woman astronaut. This is how Amet, addressing Tyson from the distance of diverged paths, put it in a blog post in 2014: “How does it feel to know that YOU are the reason there is one less black female galactic astronomer on this planet?

Source:: The Atlantic – Culture


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