The women who have accused the famed science educator of sexual impropriety have made claims not just about traumatized minds, but also about traumatized careers.
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: 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.