For the Uninitiated: #Distractinglysexy

#Distractinglysexy is a twitter hashtag used by female scientists to ridicule the notion that science laboratories should be segregated so that male scientists don’t fall in love with ‘girls’ when they should be concentrating on complex experiments.

The hashtag was a reaction to media reports that Sir Tim Hunt, a high profile male scientist, had been extremely dismissive of female scientists and called for single six laboratories whilst addressing a room full of science journalists.  

It was created by Guardian columnist and co-creator of the Vagenda blog Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and received widespread media coverage with the BBC reporting that it generated over 10,000 contributions in a matter of hours.

Contributions were generally considered to be a lighthearted and measured response to Hunt’s speech with participants gently mocking the stupidity of the elderly scientist’s words by posting relatively unglamorous pictures of themselves carrying out their everyday work.

The hashtag moved the Hunt Hunt affair into the realm of a full blown ‘social media storm’ and the Nobel Laureate subsequently resigned from a number of positions.  This in turn lead to some sections of the media suggesting that the incident was the latest in a disturbing trend of social media shaming by feminist bullies.


Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Cosslettt wrote a piece for the Guardian dismissing suggestions that her hashtag was to blame for Hunt’s resignation, arguing that ‘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’ and thatanyone who knows anything about [UCL’s] founding principles would have expected this result, whether justified or not’.

As more witnesses came forward it became increasingly clear that some of the initial reports had been exaggerated.  It also became clear that Hunt’s words had been presented out of context with a more detailed transcript of his speech showing that he actually spoke very positively about female scientists and the comment about single sex labs was clearly intended as a self depricating joke.

Public opinion dramatically swayed towards the perception that Hunt had been portrayed unfairly as some sort of misogynistic stereotype by ‘journalists’ jumping to conclusions without properly checking their facts.  This development received significantly less attention and consequently over a month after the incident first made headlines people were still adding pictures to the hashtag.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 13.00.19

In a disappointing but predictable display of blind spotism Coslett and the Vagenda team failed to acknowledge these later developments or bring them to the attention of their followers.

Coslett has also yet to comment on the overtly sexist behaviour of UCL’s Student Diversity Officer, the University’s links with laboratories in Saudi Arabia or the revelation that they hold science events in the ‘men only’ Garrick Club.



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