I recently had occasion to chat with someone in my professional circle about a well-publicized case of a member of our field who is no longer employed in our field because of being a sexual harasser. Verily, I was anticipating that the extent of the chat would be, "Hey, how about that [now-famous-for-sexually-harassing dude]?" met with an eyeroll or an "Argh! That guy! Good riddance!"
And yet ...
My interlocutor somehow started along a path of harassing emails not being so bad, at least if the proper contrast class (physical assault) is considered, and from there we were off the path and into the weeds.
My best attempt at a charitable interpretation is that my interlocutor was trying to mount one of two arguments (or maybe both simultaneously):
1. That our professional field is no worse, when it comes to sexual harassment, than is the larger human community.
2. That sexual harassment in our field is not a sufficient condition for the truly dismal gender balance in our field, especially at the highest career levels.
And, you know, I'm actually inclined to accept both of these claims as true.
However, to (1) I must respond that "no worse than the larger human community" is a pretty low bar to set for one's professional community, especially when we hold ourselves to a much higher standard than that for things like analytic reasoning. And, to (2), I reckon that even if it's not sufficient to explain the relative lack of senior women in our field, being sexually harassed within our field before we make it to senior ranks sure doesn't help us want to stay.
But I'm not sure it matters that I could find a charitable interpretation for what my interlocutor was trying to do. Later, someone else who was in close proximity to our chat said to me, "Wow, that was really something, watching [my interlocutor] defend sexual harassment."
Perhaps this is one more reason colleagues like my interlocutor just aren't aware of all the harassment that happens to people in our field -- because they come off as minimizing or defending it, which doesn't make them a great choice as far as people in your field with whom you want to share that experience.