Scientist’s sexist comments draw criticism

Published: September 25, 2015

Commentary by
MATTHEW REYNOLDS

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls.”

No, these words are not concerned with my love life (or lack thereof); they were the words that spelled the end of the public’s approval of 2001 Nobel Laureate, Tim Hunt. This summer, Hunt came under fire from users of social media when he voiced his “reasons” for his belief that women are not cut out for lab work. Talk of the issue dwindled after a few months, but the firestorm surrounding Hunt continues today. Hunt outlined “three things (that) happen when they (women) are in the lab,” and the fact that a colossal figure in science made such controversial statements continues to warrant discussion.

“You fall in love with them.”

courtesy of wikimedia commons TIM HUNT, pictured above, made controversial statements about the competency of women scientists. As a result of these comments, the public’s respect for him declined.  Further, he sparked a trend on Twitter from primarily female scientists who used the hashtag “DistractinglySexy” ridiculing his viewpoint.

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / 
TIM HUNT, pictured above, made controversial statements about the competency of women scientists. As a result of these comments, the public’s respect for him declined. Further, he sparked a trend on Twitter from primarily female scientists who used the hashtag “DistractinglySexy” ridiculing his viewpoint.

This phrase makes me doubt whether Hunt understands the word love or that not all women are the same. He admits that he cannot work in an environment with women, so they should not work in the field. Further, he claims to fall in love with women, but he clearly does not view these women as individuals. Hunt’s inability to work in a co-ed environment highlights his own weakness to comport himself professionally instead of his intention to detract from the validity of women.

“They fall in love with you.”

In this phrase, Hunt generalizes all of women into an amorous mass, helpless to work professionally in the presence of men. Something makes me doubt that people will be falling head over heels en masse for a self-aggrandizing sexist. Even if relationships between lab mates were to happen, Hunt assumes that these are necessarily bad. However, the work of the Okazakis and Curies, to name a few, directly contradicts this position. Further, when Hunt says that love is something one falls into, he assumes that love is a one-way street, as opposed to a mutual relationship.

“When you criticize them they cry.”

To begin with, Hunt suggests that women cry in the face of criticism, and that men do not. Firstly, any professional environment will involve criticism from superiors or co-workers. Therefore, if he is implying that women cannot perform well in a professional environment, then he is simply wrong, as the success of thousands of women in professional fields proves otherwise. Secondly, Hunt assumes that men can withstand all pressures of a work environment, which simply is not true.

In response to Hunt’s comments, hundreds of female scientists took to social media posting pictures of themselves in their personal protective equipment (which mutes nearly all features) with the hashtag “DistractinglySexy” to ridicule his already ridiculous statements. I particularly enjoyed the tweet from one of my lab mates who used the hashtag when referring to an incident when fluid from a rotten egg spilled onto her lab coat during a dissection procedure.
Although the scientific community has made great strides to regard its upright members equally, the remnants of sexism remain, and we should continue to discuss it.

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