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May 20, 2024 18 mins

Even in one of the most isolated places in the world, women cannot escape sexism and harassment. Recent whistleblower accounts of women's experiences in Antarctica serve as a grim reminder of this.

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Speaker 1 (00:05):
Hey, this is Annie and Samantha. I'm welcome to stuff
one never told you a productive of iHeartRadio. And today,
before we get into this content, warning for physical and
sexual assault and harassment bullying. It's not gonna be too detailed,

(00:27):
but it is really upsetting. I will say that today
is May sixteenth, twenty twenty four. I'm saying that because
it's kind of an ongoing story. And Okay, so I've
talked about before one of the reasons I got this job,
that I was even looking into it at all, was
that I really wanted to make documentaries and I really

(00:50):
really really really really really wanted to go to Antarctica.
And I even pitched a podcast show that God A
proved to go to Antarctica. Wow, And I got funding
and then I believe it couldn't have been COVID something
some government thing happened that shut down the funding. No

(01:13):
one was going anymore, and so I never went. But
I've said before, I want to go, but I want
to go in a way that won't make me feel
like a terrible person for the environment. So I had
found a way to do it, and I was really
excited about it, and then it got canceled, and ultimately
that's that's fine. But then I saw this story and

(01:33):
it just upset me so much. And it's about the
experiences women have had, women who work in scientific fields
when they've gone to Antarctica, and so I really wanted
to talk about it. I got a lot of this
from the Wired article these women came to Antarctica for science.

(01:54):
Then the predators emerged by David Kushner. So recently there
has been a lot of whistlebowling about sexual harassment in Antarctica.
A twenty twenty two report by the National Science Foundation
found that fifty nine percent of women at US run
antarctic research centers had experienced sexual assault, and we wanted

(02:16):
to detail these recent accusations. The National Science Foundation is
the primary funder of Antarctic research, and many of these
stories are truly hearing, very disturbing. So in nineteen ninety nine,
twenty two year old Jane Willenbring began her Masters in
Earth science at Boston University. In undergrad she'd studied beetle

(02:39):
fossils that were discovered in Antarctica, and it was a
discipline that she saw as crucial and critical when it
came to understanding climate change. So she followed this passion
and attended Boston University, in part because a professor there
no one for studying things in this field, then thirty
seven year old David Marchin. He was well known for
his work and including his discovery of volcanic ash in Antarctica,

(03:03):
which changed the view of the continent's history. It was
a discovery that was so impactful that the US Board
of Geographic Names named a glacier near the McMurdo Station
the primary research facility there after him. According to will
and Bring, Market was insistent on picking her up at
the airport when she arrived, and then he proceeded to

(03:25):
make her feel guilty about it, like I think, he said,
like there's a baseball game I could have gone to,
and then started asking very personal questions, including if she
had a boyfriend, if she knew anybody in the area.
And they were scheduled to go to Antarctica together, and
they did towards the end of nineteen ninety nine, along
with grad student Adam Lewis. Willen Bring began feeling discomfort

(03:47):
on the eight hour flight to McMurdo when the planes
bathroom was just a bucket with a curtain that made
it very difficult for women to peeve without exposing themselves. Allegedly,
Market refused to order women a p funnel because he
believed it was quote gross having women stand up while
VP still willen Brang was excited to arrive at Antarctica

(04:10):
and eager to start collecting samples and get to work.
She'd done all the training on how to survive there
and the rules around the facility. She wasn't the only
one learning the rope so because Market had brought his
older brother, Jeffrey, who was not a scientist. When she
voiced her concerns to Market, he dismissed her, instead, telling
her to call Jeffrey by his quote porn star name

(04:31):
Ken Tonka, in part given to him because his penis
was like a Tonka truck. Not long after they arrived her,
the Market brothers and Lewis flew about seventy miles away
to do some research. Market expressed his belief in roughing
it for the weeks that they would be there, and
he was very harsh towards anyone who, in his mind,

(04:52):
couldn't keep up with him, and was even harsher towards women.
Other women have shared their stories to back this up.
On top of that, Markett had only brought three tenths
for the four of them, suggesting that Willian brig share
one with his brother Jeffrey, because Jeffrey liked her. Over
the next few days, he continued to try to ingratiate

(05:13):
her to his brother, going so far as to ask
if she had seen his penis, and unfortunately she had.
She had awoken to him peeting with an erection on
more than one occasion. Due to the power and balance
the isolation and the gatekeeping in terms of opportunities in
the field, Willimburing didn't feel comfortable complaining there was only
one radio that could contact Murdo, and Murcant was the

(05:37):
one that had it. The days got tougher, both in
terms of weather and Market's drill sergeant like behavior. After
discovering a piece of granite that was a great find
in terms of the historical record, Willian Bring was dismissed
by Market. She knew her find was meaningful, though, and
she had come to realize that he just liked messing
with her head. No matter what she did, she was wrong,

(05:59):
and one instant he asked her to look at a
sediment sample and then blew it into her eye. He
pushed her down a path she was struggling with climbing,
he'd throw rocks at her while she was peeing. She
started to limit her water intake so she wouldn't have
to pee as much, and it's eventually led to her
getting a bladder infection and peeing blood. And in response

(06:21):
to that, he told her to drink cranberry juice and
she still deals with that to this day in terms
of bladder issues. Once the trip was over and they
were back in Boston, Willenbring was asked to write a
tenure recommendation for Merchant, which she did because she was
afraid not doing so would hurt her opportunities. Eventually, she

(06:43):
left Boston to pursue a PhD in Canada and then
got a job in Pennsylvania as an assistant professor in
the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University
of Pennsylvania. However, sexism followed her there, and she encountered
comments about her weight when she was pregnant, her nipples,
and her clothes. One day, she had to take her

(07:03):
three year old daughter to the lab, and after seeing
her mom in action. Her daughter declared like she wanted
to be a scientist too, and this made will and
Bring cry thinking of what she had endured and what
her daughter might endure if she pursued a career in science,
and so that experience prompted her to speak out about
what happened. She wrote up a letter of complaint, but

(07:25):
then kept herself from sending it because she was still
afraid for her career. After moving once again and getting tenure,
willen Bring filed a Title nine complaint against Merkamp. The
first response from Boston University left her hopeful, and two
other women soon followed suit. And this was when the
me too movement was really in full swing, and the
story even reached full frontal with Samantha Bee quote, you

(07:49):
can't even go to the most remote part of the
planet without some dude swinging his cold, shriveled dick your way.
Boston University determined that Market had sexually her ass will
and Bring, but ultimately put him on unpaid three year suspension,
though he was eventually fired two years later. In twenty eighteen,

(08:11):
five women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and
coercion and bullying on the inaugural voyage for women in
stem To Antarctica, and it was all about developing leadership.
One of the women alleged that she woke up next
to a naked man with no memory of what happened, which,
by the way, this trip, ostensibly about research, cost seventy

(08:32):
six women fifteen thousand dollars and had the slogan mother
Nature needs her daughters. One of the women attendees, Meredith Nash,
documented the trip and collected a lot of disturbing information,
like when she was looking back over what she'd collected,
she found footage of a woman crying because a man

(08:53):
had tried to force his way into her room without permission.
After following up, the woman relaid she'd reported this two officials.
She later said this was a voyage for women to
go to Antarctica and break boundaries, and instead the few
men on board made this experience feel like a microcosm
of the real world. I felt unsafe and what happened

(09:14):
to me brought me back to reality. Allegedly, two crew
members were fired after this incident, and the company released
a set of rules to improve future voyages. A lot
of them were the rules you'd read and'd be like, Wow,
we had to write this out, okay cool. Nash was
so disturbed by all of this that she surveyed one

(09:36):
hundred and fifty women who had done research in Antarctica.
Over sixty three percent reported being harassed, and half reported
that they had never come forward about it. The numbers
and stories were so sobering that in twenty twenty, the
Australian Antarctic Division brought Nash in to do a government
funded study of their programs in terms of diversity, inclusion

(09:57):
and equity. Very soon after she started, as she says,
it was one of the first stories she got someone
pointed out a man and said that he had raped
a woman that was working right next to him. Still,
over the next two years, Nash collected a plethora of
stories about harassment and assault, all made worse by the

(10:17):
fact of the region's remote remoteness, because even if you
wanted to leave, you can't. Like literally often, you literally can't.
In twenty twenty one, Antarctic Division offices started offering menstrual products.
Twenty twenty one, they hired three women in hire up
positions and quote improved training around sexual misconduct. A lot

(10:39):
of women have shared stories of reporting men harassing them,
are assaulting them and being told that, oh, he'll be disciplined,
only to have to work with him later. And after
being raped, one woman was told we have concluded that
a sexual incident took place that resulted in feelings of
humiliation and extreme discomfort for you. After these stories and
numbers started coming out, one of the main players claimed

(11:00):
there have been zero allegations of sexual assault over the
previous five years, despite numerous testimonies to the contrary. At
twenty twenty three, survey found that the situation isn't much better,
with one third of women reporting witnessing or experiencing bullying
or harassment over the past two months. Nash has said, quote,

(11:20):
the reason why women don't want to talk is because
they've been gaslt this whole time, where everyone's saying it
didn't happen. I don't want to hear it. I don't
believe you. And to be clear, this impacts the study
of climate change. This is a huge deal for it
to just be like a men's club and let them

(11:44):
harass and bully with like our planet is on the line.
This one silver lining as Smiles it is Market's name
was stripped from the glacier that was once named after him.

(12:07):
But it's such a small silver line.

Speaker 2 (12:09):
Oh right. I mean probably for him though, it was
humiliating because that was probably his big thing and he
was like, I was the line and then to be
stripped of that that probably the hardest pride, more than anything,
probably worse than jail for him.

Speaker 1 (12:21):
It's true. I believe Will em Brings said he used
it as a pickup line almost. He's like, I have
a glacier named after me.

Speaker 2 (12:28):
Oh gross, well that's taken away from him.

Speaker 3 (12:31):
That's just the most like the fact that something basic,
just human decency is not even thought of in a
world where you know what you're.

Speaker 2 (12:46):
Doing is significant like that. It's how do you grasp
that knowing that these are things to save things and
you are we're gonna have a significant impact. Maybe that's
not how God likes status, yes, and like territorial thing
that you want to discover something, so you're going to
take that however whatever means possible, and that means the

(13:08):
meaning those who you think is a lesser sex, which
essentially is what they're saying in these like But I just.

Speaker 1 (13:16):
Why I think there's a there's a good quote. I
can't remember who said it, but it was a reporter
who did a story about Elon Musk, and he said,
Elon Musk wants to save the world only if he
can save it, yea. And I think that's like kind
of what is happening here, right. I think you're right

(13:38):
that he he doesn't unless it's him getting the credit
and the attention. He does not want it.

Speaker 2 (13:45):
He's like, if it's not and if you don't fall
to your knees worshiping me, then you're not of worth.

Speaker 1 (13:59):
It's just I didn't talk about it in here too much.
But there was also a his high school teacher. I
believe she came forward because he asked her to go,
and she went and he was horrible to her, right,
And it's so like the things I was reading sounded

(14:19):
like I cannot believe people do this that are not
like widely like in jail or labeled like he's a
tenured professor, right.

Speaker 2 (14:33):
I mean, they've been getting away with it, and unfortunately
that the people in power have remained in power, and
people are scared to bring people of power down.

Speaker 1 (14:43):
And I was thinking about it, just the idea of
being like he had the radio what are you gonna
do right that he would control your one way to
get out? That's ah, he's terrifying.

Speaker 2 (14:59):
That's a horror movie. Yeah, we've seen these scenarios.

Speaker 1 (15:03):
It's horrible and it makes me so sad because listeners know,
I love this stuff. I love right when we do
episodes about scientific often kind of obscure scientific things, but
so many times when we've done that, like the Shark
episode comes to mind too, women in Shark science, it's
men doing this truly horrific things and really controlling who

(15:29):
like gatekeeping whether or not you're going to move forward
in your career. There are some wonderful examples of people
fighting against that right and making these organizations that are
lovely and beautiful, but it's just.

Speaker 2 (15:41):
So sack there has organizations to fight something that just
should be human decency. Once again, like the time that
we have to put that much energy, yes, in order
to walk them to the door. Like that's not only
do we have to be educated and trained, and then
most likely we're going to be more educated and trained
the most to prove our worth. Yeah, but then we
also have to have a plan to protect ourselves and

(16:03):
to be able to do it. Equally or equitably like
and able to do something that you love and that
is a contribution to society.

Speaker 1 (16:12):
Mm hm.

Speaker 2 (16:13):
But you have to use your other power with willpower
and strength and intelligence to start an organization that protects
you to just be there.

Speaker 1 (16:24):
And it's so much energy, like to think about like
if I was at a job where I had to
think about how much I was going to drink and
how much I might have to peean. Right, that takes
up like brain power and energy. That's ridiculous.

Speaker 2 (16:38):
And then protecting yourself can get you ostracized.

Speaker 1 (16:41):
Yes, absolutely it can. Women are so often especially women,
but a lot people are so often labeled as though
you're being you're being weak, you're being emotional, you can't
handle it, you can't tough it. In his mind.

Speaker 2 (16:53):
You're not networking, you don't play it, you're not a
team player.

Speaker 1 (16:56):
Which, oh, you just want to blow like crystallized sedimented
to my eye. Wow, I can't believe I wasn't on
board with.

Speaker 2 (17:04):
That writ until damage. What are you talking about?

Speaker 1 (17:09):
It's just a joke, Like not that she ever would
have done it, but she had done that to him,
she would have been fired to meet.

Speaker 2 (17:14):
Right immediately and it honestly is like an assault.

Speaker 1 (17:17):
Yes, Oh, it infuriates me, and it really makes me
angry that she felt like she started crying when her
daughter said she wanted to be a scientist. And it
makes me angry that when I read this, I was like,
I wonder what would have happened if I had gone.
I wonder what would have happened to me? And it
was like something I wanted so desperately, And I'm like, oh, okay,

(17:40):
it sounds like I would not be welcome there. I
should not go. So it's infuriating listeners. If any of
you have thoughts about this, if you have been to Antarctica,
let us know. You can email us at Stephanie mom
Stuff at iHeartMedia dot com. You can find us on

(18:02):
Twitter at mom Stuff Podcast, or on Instagram and TikTok
at stuff I Never Told You. We're also on YouTube.
We have a tea public store, and we have a
book you can get wherever you get your books. Thanks
as always too, our super producer Christina, our executive producer Maya,
and our contributor Joey. Thank you, yes, and thanks to
you for listening. Stuff I Never Told You is production
of iHeartRadio. For more podcasts from my Heart Radio, you
can check out the art Radio app, Apple podcast, or

(18:23):
wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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