I'm a female student, and I find physical contact with my male supervisor uncomfortable.
Are there any other female PhD student here whose male supervisor touches your body from time to time? Can you let me know how you feel about it? Do you think your supervisor is just being friendly?
When I'm having meetings with him, he tapped me on my arm, thigh, back, or hand from time to time. It's not frequent, and it doesn't happen at every meeting. But it makes me uncomfortable. Am I oversensitive? Should I tell him I'm not comfortable with that? It's so embarrassing to tell him about that. Maybe he will get angry and that will jeopardize our working relationship. I'm a bit scared.
One day I even noticed that he stared at my bum. The way he looked at my bum really scared me. But I was too embarrassed to ask him about it.
I'm not really sure if it's sexual harassment. And I don't have the courage to ask my group members. They are all male, so I don't think they will understand my feelings. I feel I'm not respected by my supervisor. But if I ask my male lab mates, I'm sure they will laugh it off and tell me I'm too sensitive. And everyone in this group, including me, knows that our supervisor is a happily married man, who has a very good-looking wife (yes she looks like a super model!). Obviously he has no motives for sexually harassing a plain-looking student.
I'm male, so can't provide you with the female perspective (and, will probably not understand as such), but;
This sounds very not-ok to me. The fact you're uncomfortable with it is enough to make it, at the least, very inappropriate. It is not normal. There are random justifications - like cultural differences - but it is just flat inappropriate to touch someone affectionately without clear consent. There is such common knowledge of this in modern society it's increasingly hard to believe a guy would do it because he believes it's normal.
The fact he's happily married, is not a reason he wouldn't behave inappropriately. Most guys that behave like this are. It's a power/sexual thing, not a romantic relationship thing for them. Absolutely do not fall for him saying anything otherwise. It might be legal for him to hit on a student, but it's certainly not moral or ethical, and that would speak volumes about his character.
It's not ok, and you'd be perfectly entitled to go to his manager and complain. But I get we also live in the real world, where the worry is that could result in a he-said she-said and a whole lot of negative feeling and stress. It may be good advice to ignore my next suggestion, since it's what I'm the least sure of, and I'd think there's a counter argument that suggesting you need to strategise or behave differently unfairly puts the responsibility on you for his behaviour. But I'll give my 2 cents:
The next time it happens, react abruptly, e.g. immediately pulling away, to send a clear message it's not ok to him. If you're worried about upsetting/embarrassing him, act startled (like it's *really* not normal to you), rather than directly offended. In principle you need to react, negatively, somehow, to send a message it's not ok.
If it continues, do something. You're not obliged to have a face to face with him about it, but I'd think that, or raising a complaint, would be the logical next-step. Bear in mind this might not be particularly acrimonious, it could be at the level you say you felt uncomfortable; he pleads ignorance/cultural difference; you reach an amicable solution, he stops because it's just been made abundantly clear to him it's wrong. Definitely if it escalates at all, you'll need to take action or it's likely to keep escalating.
I agree with abababa that being happily married has nothing to do with it. I think you are right not to talk with colleagues about it.
What he is doing is not okay-I think you need to address that with him- I wouldn't mention it to others in the lab- that has rumours start and could have a negative impact on you.
I agree with Abababa- next time pull away but also say that you are not comfortable with that- make in very clear. If he hasn't be aware of what he's doing- he would be shocked!
My other suggestion is to arrange a meeting with other around- can he come to the lab -don't be in his office with him- try a canteen etc.
Unfortunately at the end of the day, you're a student and he is your boss- if you make a formal complaint- it might not end well for you.
Well, I am male, and I find your supervisor's behavior completely unacceptable. (I also once was in the reverse situation with an inappropriately behaving female student I supervised, and it was very uncomfortable for me.) It is pointless to speculate about your supervisor's motivation. It may or may not be harmless: If it makes you uncomfortable, it makes you uncomfortable. In my view, you should simply tell him - calmly and factually - that the physical contact in a supervisor-student relationship makes you uncomfortable. He has to understand. Part of the PhD process is learning to speak up for yourself. If he doesn't respond, it's time to escalate the problem.
Yo! This is not okay. Echo what everyone else has said. It's probably irrelevant to point out that being married to someone who looks like a supermodel is no guarantee of happiness at home, but as others have said, this is usually a creepy power thing rather than a desire for an equal romantic relationship (someone who respects your mind won't show that by staring at your bum). Don't let your own low self-esteem get in the way of your understanding of what's going on. I'm also a woman and spent most of my life believing that I was so unattractive that the multiple incidents of sexual abuse I experienced couldn't have been real. I didn't think anything like that could happen to me because, I don't know, I wasn't pretty enough. Straight up: (1) abuse can happen to anyone at any time and (2) abuse isn't some weird validation of attractiveness nor an understandable response to looking a certain way. I know you're not really saying that. But sometimes I think that as women we get taught some weird things about sexual abuse that we never stop to question.
I'm worried about your situation. Do you have an equality committee, or a doctoral college, or even a postgraduate tutor you can turn to in the first instance? It will be very useful for you to have someone on your side. I agree with others saying that you should stand up for yourself, but as a woman I know that sometimes that can go badly wrong. When I tried to speak out against being assaulted by a postdoc, I did NOT get any support. In fact, what I got told was something along the lines of, "but you don't look like a supermodel, why would anyone do that to YOU?"
In my experience, inappropriate touching can be from one of two reasons. One, it's an abuse of power. Two, the person is desperate for validation and has no idea how uncomfortable they're making you. The second person might be embarrassed if you put up boundaries; the first might get angry. Neither is comfortable to deal with. But your supervisor's feelings are not as important as your safety. I have come across many men who are so afraid of being rejected by women that they never see just how much danger some women are in, and just how much we put up with to avoid hurting anyone's feelings.
His feelings aren't important here. He's breaking the law.
You don't need to be a woman to understand how a sexual predator acts and this man is definitely crossing a line. He's also doing it in a way that you doubt yourself that it's actually happening. That's classic predator behaviour. Right now he's looking to see how you will react before he commits himself.
You need to establish some distance at this point. Keep things professional rather than friendly and try to avoid being in his presence alone.
I would approach the university support services for some confidential advice.
Be assured though that you are being wronged here.
I'm sorry for taking so long to respond to this. I was so horrified by what your colleague said that I had to think about it quite carefully.
As a rule, I try not to assume the worst in people. If I assumed every obstacle was because of my gender or sexuality I would never get out of bed. I have seen abusive situations develop across all sorts of power gradients and in all sorts of situations. You'll never catch me assuming that any male professor in a position of power is automatically abusive, or that nobody else is capable of doing harm. At the same time, abuse of power can absolutely exist and sexual harassment of female students is depressingly common.
The paternal love comment made me feel quite ill, for many reasons. It's worth breaking it down for anyone who thinks that might be okay:
(1) He's not your father, he's your PhD supervisor. You aren't his daughter, you're his student. He isn't a parent, he's an unrelated adult. You aren't a child, you're an adult. You're there to do a job and get training for your professional career that you chose yourself. You went through a selection procedure and were hired for a job. His DNA was not involved in the making of your project.
(2) If he wouldn't show "parental love" to a male student, he shouldn't be showing it to a female one.
(3) Content warning, but the comment kind of implies that "paternal love" is always pure and no father in the history of the human race has ever done anything weird or creepy with respect to his daughter. Sadly, that's not even close to being true.
(4) Just... what? If it's obvious to your colleague that your supervisor is in any way being affectionate towards you, it should be equally obvious that that isn't okay. How could it possibly be okay?
For context, my mentor is the same age as my mom and I'm the same age as her eldest daughter. We joke that she's my science mom. But there's never anything weird or creepy and it does NOT cross boundaries. Even though she talks about her children and I like hearing what they're up to, it is still absolutely a work relationship and I don't remotely think of her as a mom. Nobody would watch our conversation and say that she was being maternal towards me. We'd both know that that kind of dynamic is unprofessional and potentially quite destructive. So even *if* that's all it was between you and your supervisor, it would *still* be inappropriate for a work environment. But I think if someone was just being weirdly paternal towards you, you'd know it. It would be a different kind of frustration. I've been treated like a child at work and it's a very different kind of annoyance.
How have things been recently? Do you think there might be someone in your institute -- a postgraduate tutor or an equality officer -- who you might be able to have a chat to?
I am a mature age woman, and your supervisor is sexually harassing you. Looks and marital status has nothing to do with this. One of my fellow candidates is drop dead gorgeous, and yet no male staff members have tried to sexually harass her.
His behaviour is based on the inherent power imbalance between the two of you, and he is behaving like this because he can. He is relying on your fear and his control over your thesis. It would seem that your only recourse would be to insist that his office door remain open during meetings, or arrange to meet in the cafe. If his behaviour continues, report him to the Dean or HR. You're unlikely to be the first woman he has sexually harassed.
I just wanted to tell you that I have been through exactly what you have been through, I did a double take to make sure that we are not talking about the same person! When my supervisor used to touch me here and there I never thought it was of sexual nature, he was double my age, had an exceptionally stunning wife and since he was from my culture, I saw he acted very ‘paternal’ towards me. It never dawned on me that he could be a covert predator, until one day he grabbed my hand, kissed it and kept going while I froze. All the benefit of the doubt went out of the window but I was utterly confused. I was in such distress and all he said was don’t be sad, I love you.
I left the office and then raised a complaint, I must say, although I was hesitant it was dealt with really well. In the end he was sanctioned with 2 years on his record and if anyone else was to complain he would be dismissed. He is a world renowned doctor, I thought it would be a career suicide for me but then I thought of all the other people he can be doing this to and wanted justice. I knew if I was to remain silent it would eat me up later.
If I were you I would show it atleast in your actions that you’re not comfortable. If he carried on, write a record of when he touched you and how you felt.
Don’t ever be alone with him, my mistake was I never left the door open. He’s confident because he would have done this hundred of times before and it was left unreported. You’re not the first and won’t be the last, but you’re safety and respect as a human should come first. In this day and age, we shouldn’t have to put up with predatory behaviour. If there is a support system or union in place seek their input, if worst comes to worst then have your supervisor changed.
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