herald

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Antonia Senior: No modern professional should be bothered by a fruity fruit bat

Must we protect lady scientists and defend their pretty little ears?

Bats are one of the few non-human species to engage in fellatio. Fruit bats indulge in oral sex.

Sorry, are you offended? Is it the existence of fruity bat behaviour that offends you, or that I chose to break the news in a family newspaper?

Animals, apparently, copulate often, and enthusiastically. Some do it with the same sex. Some are monogamous, but most are shameless harlots.

Teenage olive baboons resemble Premiership footballers let loose in a dodgy nightclub; one distracts the alpha male while the others team up for a group session with the missus.

Sometimes, these facts are a little too bald for the more sensitive among us. Dylan Evans, a British scientist at an Irish university, has been disciplined for sexual harassment after he showed a female colleague a peer-reviewed article entitled: "Fellatio by fruit bats prolongs copulation time".

After an investigation by the university, Dr Evans was cleared of engaging in a pattern of sexually inappropriate behaviour, but rebuked for the bat incident. His punishment was a two-year period of monitoring and appraising, and special training.

What was in the special training, I wonder?

Rule one: Do not discuss the sexual habits of animals with any lady colleagues in case they faint.

Rule two: If your work involves researching sexual behaviour, please ensure that you obtain disclaimers from all colleagues before using any of these words: sex, penis, bottom.

Rule three: Try to find euphemisms that will not offend. "Lady garden" is nice, if you must refer to female down-below regions. "Making love" is a pretty phrase.

Rule four: If you fear that scientific debate is being stifled by fear of harassment accusations, tough. We must protect lady scientists, and their pretty little ears must be defended.

The investigation into Dr Evans concluded that he showed his colleague the paper in the spirit of "sexual innuendo". He claims that it was part of a continuing debate about non-human sexual activity and what that tells us about our own behaviour.

Why does it matter? What is wrong with modern womanhood that we insist on parity in all things, yet retain the right to behave like heroines in 19th-century novels who accidentally stumble across some copulating horses?

It is bad enough that the modern office environment makes us pretend that humans do not have sex; now we must all collude in the myth that animals are built like Barbie and Ken, all smoothed over genitalia and wholesome innocence.

There are doubtless genuine cases of sexual harassment out there. But all are betrayed by women who whinge about trivia -- up to and including fellating bats.

hnews@herald.ie

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