You’ve probably noticed that a certain Nobel Prize winning scientist has generated a lot of column inches over the past week. But have you noticed the one painfully obvious aspect of the story that all of the self-identifying equality guardians have been conveniently ignoring?
‘Three things happen when girls are in the lab — you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.’ Professor Tim Hunt
A famous former President of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge once famously noted that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I can’t help but wonder what he would have had to say about the reaction that has followed an ill judged quip from another esteemed Fellow.
It was certainly quite a ‘random’ statement to come out with in 2015, especially in front of an audience almost exclusively comprised of female journalists. That being said, as another wise fellow observed, nothing in nature is random and everything is connected.
Over the days that followed an awful lot of connections were made by an awful lot of people, beginning with an award-winning freelance broadcaster and one of the few people to witness Hunt’s speech first hand.
Connie St Louis connected Hunt’s words with the extremely ugly phenomenon of misogyny. For whatever reason she wasn’t able to potentially nip the matter in the bud by challenging Hunt’s ‘extremely sexist’ behaviour there and then. Instead, as is her right, she shared her disgust with the Royal Society and everyone else in her twitter feed.
By the next day sharp eyed journalists from around the world had begun to connect his words with the under-representation of women in STEM subjects which has been something of a high profile subject in recent years.
If I am going to cry for anything, it will be for the fact that one flippant statement made by a fool might make 51% of the population feel unwelcome in a profession which should be open to all. Sylvia McLain – The Guardian
This connection obviously wasn’t lost on the PR Departments of the Royal Society and University College London who both quickly came out with statements distancing themselves from the esteemed Nobel Laureate.
In many ways, Hunt is one of those characters familiar from every workplace, someone who has never troubled to consider the world in which he lives except from the perspective of how well it services his needs. Anne Perkins – The Guardian
Lot’s of proper actual female lady scientists started firing up their internet connections and while some opted to connect with their inner rant monster, most appeared to prefer to make a more measured comedy connection by jumping aboard the #distractinglysexy hashtag to riff on the apparent absurdity of the statement.
In fairness Sir Tim did make some attempt to improve his connection with the women of the world wide web by doing the decent thing and apologizing for any offence that he might have caused. He also shared the startling revelation that the married father of two girls had actually meant his suggestion about single sex laboratories to be ‘ironic’.
This is another high-profile example of disparaging comments about women from people supposedly smart enough to know better. But Hunt does have a good point in spite of himself; science would be better off all round if certain people were kept out of labs. And those people are old men. Dean Burnett – Guardian
A ‘senior figure’ at UCL, possibly it’s Chair Dame DeAnne Julius, quickly moved to inform his wife that Sir Tim had to resign immediately or be sacked” and so by the time he had touched back down in dear old blighty the Nobel Laurette was getting used to the new reality of reconnecting with his garden.
This week, Professor Tim Hunt shocked the scientific community, and pretty much everyone else, with his outrageous comments about his “trouble with girls” and his backwards endorsement of gender-segregated laboratories, which are apparently needed because women are impossibly attracted to him. Understandably, commenters have slammed both his sexist comments and his apology. But the most important people in the story have been drowned out: the women scientists who are living proof of just how wrong Hunt is. Helen Cahill – Guardian
Several people started to connect this entire carry on with the concept of a witch hunt, including quite a few of Sir Tim’s female colleagues and his poor wife, who incidentally is an esteemed scientist in her own right and who coincidently met her husband whilst on the job (not that she’ll likely be dining out on that story anytime soon).
Brian Cox blamed the twitter sphere, the Daily Mail blamed the Femnazis, Richard Dawkins probably more accurately blamed the Guardian and Mary Beard offered her services as some sort of nanny state Twithchfinder General and let Sir Tim off with a good spanking.
It’s days like these that I despair of my sex. Of the stupid, pampered, spoilt women who have nothing better to do with their lives than whinge and whine about utterly trivial items of entirely innocuous cack-handedness by slightly inept men who have no intention whatsoever of offending the Sisterhood, but who, entirely by accident, end up getting it in the neck. Sarah Vine – Daily Mail
Boris Johnston even dared to weigh in and suggest that Sir Tim’s observations (that men and women fall in love and on average, one sex cries more than the other) could be ‘filed as the latest stunning discovery from the University of the Bleeding Obvious’.
Predictably this immediately caused a Labour MP to try and make a connection between the Mayor of London’s intervention and his own Office’s approach to managing women. Even so Boris’s effort deserves extra credit for spectacularly managing to goad the Guardian into attempting to convince anyone that men actually cry more than women
Mind you given the Guardian’s general editorial policy and some of their columnists’ extreme fascination with male tears, this latest development probably didn’t come as a great surprise to most of their readers (not that theres anything wrong with crying obviously).
As someone dealing with an anxiety disorder, feeling that I couldn’t show emotion at the office just exacerbated my emotional and physical reaction to the situation. As an advocate for a good, cathartic sob, I say that the persisting prejudice against crying doesn’t fit in today’s work environment. Hannah Ewens – The Guardian
By the time the resignation ink had dried, one Scientist who knows more than most about the survival of the fittest seemed to sum up the general consensus:
‘Along with many others, I didn’t like Sir Tim Hunt’s joke, but ‘disproportionate’ would be a huge underestimate of the baying witch-hunt that it unleashed among our academic thought police: nothing less than a feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness.” Richard Dawkins
self-righteous self-promoting mob rulers, another Guardian regular popped up with a painfully obvious vagenda to deny any connection whatsoever between ‘my #distractinglysexy hashtag and any recent twitchunts.
A person can go viral as the result of an ill-advised remark and it can leave their real life, their career, in tatters. It is tempting to think this was the case with Hunt’s resignation. In actual fact it was clearly embarrassment on the part of the scientific community at his retrograde sexism, and that sexism being splashed across the media, which led to pressure on him to resign.
University College London, was the first university to admit women on the same terms as men, would have no truck with comments such as Hunt’s [and] anyone who knows anything about the university’s founding principles would have expected this result, whether justified or not. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett – The Guardian
If you want to be entirely accurate, UCL’s bar on female students was only lifted half a century after those founding-principle were established but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good professional feminist friendly narrative.
Most obviously, the fact that this is actually the second time in as many months that the spotlight has fallen on Goldsmiths’ working environment and that long standing commitment to equality of opportunity. Or the fact that the outcomes in the two headline generating incidents were extremely different and extremely telling.
If you missed the the whole Bahar Mustafa kerfuffle then you may very well be a Guardian reader because apart from one belated and (mostly) fence sitting report they had nothing much to say on the matter.
It seems unlikely that Hunt’s suggestion about single sex spaces was entirely serious but there was nothing remotely ambiguous about Bahar Mustafa’s attempt to exclude male and white students from events on the same campus promoting racial equality.
No Whites or Irish
Goldsmiths Diversity & Student Welfare Officer did row back from that bafoonery but still raised a few eyebrows last month when she expalined that it while was ‘unprofessional‘ to describe someone as ‘white trash‘ it wasn’t actually possible for her to be racist or sexist because she was an ethnic minority woman. Oh and her contributions to the #killallwhitemen hashtag is just the ‘ironic’ way gals like her choose to express themselves theses days.
“She (if that is her preferred gender pronoun) has made it very difficult for white cis males on campus who feel like they can’t say anything for fear of retribution. the irony that she (or they) think that they are diversifying the student community in the name of feminism and multiculturalism is laughable. Anonymous Male Student – University College London
On this occasion UCL simply passed the buck to their Student’s Union who promptly backed her to the hilt against the male / white oppressors in the student population. This the same Student’s Union that vetoed a ban on handing out of pro-ISIS recruitment material to students on the grounds that it would be ‘anti-Islamic’ not to.
One of the images used by Mustafa for her election campaign.
Both the University and the Students’ Union are committed to fighting all forms of oppression, including racism, sexism and any other form of bigotry. We are in active discussions with Goldsmiths Students’ Union over this important matter. Statement from University College London
UCL can confirm that Sir Tim Hunt FRS has today resigned from his position following comments he made about women in science. UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality. Statement from University College London
There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein suggesting that the day that technology surpasses human interaction will be the day the world starts creating generations of idiots. It may be tempting to think that this and previous online shenanigans like #twirlgate and #shirtstorm herald the dawn of such a day, maybe it does but I sincerely doubt it. Besides Einstein also famously refereed to women as ‘girls’ so we should probably ignore him, the possibly misogynistic bastard.
The internet age has created infinite possibilities for humanity and to blame the people below the line for bullying a 72 year old man into retirement is to underestimate the power of the old mainstream media and to deflect responsibility from the professional feminist (mostly arts graduate) media gatekeepers who increasingly shape the news agenda and increasingly appear to be more interested in how to get ‘equality’ to work for them than they are about helping to make it work for the majority of women (and men) in this world.
I’ll end with some sage advice from two more scientists, including a women lady person who, like Sir Tim, committed a large amount of her life to the fight against human cancers.
When we pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. When we know ourselves to be connected to everything, acting compassionately is the natural thing to do.
Then again, what the phque do EYE know, EYEisBloke. So let’s give Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett the last word:
I’m not saying that public shaming hasn’t become a problem on the internet – it absolutely has. But as these stories appear again and again, it may be time to ask ourselves who benefits. How much money have media organisations (often run by powerful men) made from social media activity regarding the sexism of other powerful men, for instance?
In voicing their genuine frustrations about sexism, women are providing media outlets with “clickbait” content, largely for free. But ask how much power it really wields, and the answer is probably much less than you think. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett – The Guardian