It has been such a long time since I last wrote that one might have thought I simply disappeared off the face of the blogosphere. Or perhaps I just hid in the corner all this time – presumably crying – as would be believed by a certain self-confessed “chauvinistic pig”. Oh, you have no doubt heard Tim Hunt’s sexist remarks about women in labs this week; social media has gone mad over the Nobel Prize laureate’s female-shaming at a science journalism conference in South Korea.
And rightly so.
“Three things happen when [women] are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry”
Isn’t he such a fantastic candidate to represent The Royal Society, UCL and British science? One might forgive you for thinking “Oh, he’s 72; he meant this as a joke and probably wasn’t aware of the harm it could have done”. Oh but he said much more than only this. Being a leader in his field of Biochemistry, one would expect Hunt to be very aware of the harm that the voicing of his 19th century misogynistic ideologies could cause to young female scientists in particular. Or anybody who had been held back by sexism from progressing forward in their careers, both scientific and outside the field of science. You’d think that in an age where – although the road to reaching gender equality is long and winding, the gender ratio of candidates in STEM fields is gradually becoming more equal – such backward opinions would have no place to exist in the public eye.
Yet sadly, they do.
Post-conference, Connie St Louis reflected on the receipt of the “joke”: “Nobody was laughing, everybody was stony-faced. It was just really shocking. It was culturally insensitive and it was very sexist. I just thought, ‘Where in the world do you think you are that you can be making these kind of comments in 2015?'” I think this is absolutely correct. There is no room for this kind of misogynistic humour in the 21st century, no matter what your age or position of honour is.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4, female cell biologist Dr Jennifer Rohn points out exactly that what needs to be pointed out: “A lot of men in that generation… do hold that attitude. And they do joke, and women are not helped by that attitude”. And this sort of joke is laughably ironic, coming from someone married to a leading immunologist at his own ex-institution of University College London.
So he “apologised” in an interview with the BBC, but nonetheless said that “I did mean the part about having trouble with girls”. *Sigh*… You have a chance at redeeming your comments, then blow it all up again.
It is becoming increasingly important to enhance the shift toward gender equality in not only science, but all aspects of the world – and this goes both ways, for women and men. So, are women too weak to hold back from falling in love with their male colleagues? Or are women too much of a sexual distraction in the lab? With their oh-so-revealing, oversized lab coats and safety goggles? Okay, we all know that not all scientists wear lab coats – or work in a lab for that matter – but surely you know what I’m getting at. Not to mention what this implies for the entirety of the gay community too! Hunt’s favouring of single-sex labs is not going to go down lightly, only hindering the laborious process of gender equality in the workplace. Had I been at the conference, I would be equally as appalled; although luckily, the general reaction from social media could not be any better! Some of these tweets are almost Nobel Prize worthy themselves. Check out the #DistractinglySexy tag…
He’s a human being, but he does have some sort of responsibility as a role model and as an ambassador to the profession”. – Dr Jennifer Rohn, UCL.
Forgive me for being young and naive and hoping that subconcious bias won’t happen in a few years’ time when I’m potentially applying for PhD scholarships. After centuries of treating women as inferior, seeing these kind of attitudes still drifting around simply means that kind of shift just won’t fully happen in my lifetime.
Here, I leave you with this piece of genius:
source: xkcd – Marie Curie