An Open Letter to Neil deGrasse Tyson

Several reports have surfaced of sexual misconduct by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson towards three separate women. While the allegations have been floating around for years, they’ve resurfaced in the last few weeks, and recently Tyson released a formal statement about it to Facebook. The statement opens and closes with Tyson lamenting the woes of men accused of sexual harassment, and the middle section is filled with belittling comments made about the claims.

 

Tyson acknowledges and confirms many of the incidents he is accused of, however his sentiments lack a genuine sense of remorse. With each claim, Tyson either denies the action or writes it off as not knowing any better. He blatantly shirks the responsibility associated with any discomfort he may have induced, and instead puts the responsibility on the women; that she should have said something, that she should have acted differently. Each retort is riddled with condescending superiority, and it is irresponsible and naive to have the accusations handled as such. The disregard for the feelings of the women at hand, Tyson essentially calling the last woman mentioned stupid because of her connection to spirituality, as well as the disregard for the context of the situation, is unforgivable.

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a powerhouse not only in the scientific community but also in the rest of the world. His impact on people is undeniable, and the presence he has in society is tremendous. It is foolish to ignore this kind of power, the influence and sway that Tyson has, as well as the mere fact that he is a successful man in a male-dominated field of work. Tyson narrates this statement on his accusation as though he is just a quirky and socially awkward nerdy guy, just here for a fun time to learn about space. However, he is a grown man who sidesteps all blame for not appropriately handling situations that most socially-adjusted adults are aware of how to navigate. Turns out that saying “if I hug you I might just want more,” (not just once but “on a few occasions”) is not an appropriate way to turn down a hug from a young woman working under your authority. Shocking.

 

I don’t say any of this lightly. In fact, I say it mostly because Neil deGrasse Tyson was a hero of mine for as long as I can remember. This is the man that inspired me to come to school and study physics, who inspired a passion I didn’t know I had for space. I was captivated with how he spoke about the universe, by how he could convey such complicated and abstract thoughts in such an engaging and exciting way. I’ve been going to the Museum of Natural History since before I could walk, and the Hayden Planetarium has been my favorite place in the world for most of my life- a place I dreamed of working at, a place I have a tradition of visiting every single year on my birthday. I am not alone in the respect I once held for this man; he is a figure who brings representation and accessibility to the table of what he does, he’s someone whose intelligence and ability to teach bridges a gap between some of the most important and abstract concepts of the universe and people who otherwise wouldn’t care or wouldn’t be interested.

 

This, however, is inexcusable.

 

There is absolutely no way that this is an appropriate response. The lack of maturity and respect, the complete absence of tact or grace in handling the situation, the way that Tyson undermines the legitimacy of the claims and women behind them, and responsibility he refuses to accept as well as the lack of awareness of the power he yields, is disheartening.

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson, you must do better. And we all, as a society, must stop allowing this kind of attitude and response. The general acceptance we all have for this sort of behavior in the first place is absurd. As a society, we cannot continue to accept these kinds of actions, and we cannot continue to accept the half-hearted apologies that come from them. This statement shows little to no remorse, focused mainly on the feelings of Tyson rather than reconciling the feelings of the women stepping forward.

 

Ask anyone who knows me, this man was once my hero. But there are lots of other really amazing scientists doing really amazing things, and those really amazing things exclude predatory behavior. So, Neil deGrasse Tyson, to quote woman of the year (Ariana Grande), “thank u, next.”