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Yet another teachable #MeToo moment

July 21, 2018

News flash from the world of turtles: If you stay in your own little world, you are going to miss out on a lot.

That might not seem like breaking news, but we humans can be ridiculously slow to learn valuable, obvious lessons — as the #MeToo movement has proven.

A couple of Thursdays ago, a distinguished expert in the field of herpetology was himself schooled in what not to do in a world that is changing for the better. Richard Vogt, a conservationist who was being recognized with an award at the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists for lifelong achievement in the study of turtles, was stripped of the award after his presentation at the conference caused a stir.

According to reports, Vogt’s presentation included images of women wearing revealing swimwear — particularly women, including his wife, wearing bikinis — working with or near turtles. The images were censored by conference staff members to keep the presentation from crossing a line, and blue boxes appeared in the photographs instead of body parts. Vogt told the New York Times that the appearance of the blue boxes left him shocked and flustered during the presentation; the Times also reported that some of the scientists at the conferences reportedly laughed nervously while others left the presentation.

Vogt reportedly defended his presentation in an email to the Times, claiming that his slides, which contained “nothing sexual or indecent” had been interfered with and that the blue boxes made “matters worse by suggesting to people that there was something wrong with the material.”

But several of his colleagues said the images were to be expected from Vogt, who reportedly has been showing such images for the past 20 years and whom peers say has a history of behaving inappropriately with young female colleagues, the New York Times reported. By Friday night, the Herpetologists’ League rescinded Vogt’s award. And as the news started to spread, women in the field started weighing in on social media that this kind of thing was nothing new in this male-dominated field.

If you’re a woman in a male-dominated field, you might have been treated to something akin to this Slideshow Sideshow. And it is a sideshow, because this kind of thing has been keeping us from getting things done for too long. How many have avoided or walked away from conferences and career opportunities because the banter and punchlines, along with the leering and the innuendo, were just too skeevy? That’s a lot of talent — and thus a lot of discovery and dollars — that have potentially walked away because of what amounts to locker-room talk.

If you’re a man in a male-dominated field — especially one in a position to change the room — the idea that the crass and coarse are costing you and those in your industry so much should not sit well. What other kind of self-sabotage is so readily tolerated?

Vogt’s presentation took place on July 12. That’s less than two weeks ago. This slideshow was put together by a man who, in light of the #MeToo movement, should have known better by this time last year. Because enough people in the herpetology room were paying attention, change is happening.

That should mean something here in Texas, where endangered turtles come to nest along the Coastal Bend and where we go to great lengths to protect them so that future generations can see them soar through the ocean, despite the mistakes of our past.

mariaanglinwrites@gmail.com

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