Yes of course, Dr Hunt, your remarks about women in labs were not sexist at all!
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields have always been ruled by men. However, there have been women like Marie Curie, Ada Byron, Rosalind Franklin, Sally Ride and Maryam Mirzakhani, who have proved that women are just as talented as the opposite gender.
Yet, the mind-set that women are not professional enough for these fields prevails even today.
A Nobel laureate, Dr Tim Hunt, recently commented at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul that,
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls; three things happen when they are in the lab; you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”
Let’s break down his statement to thoroughly understand how mistaken he is in his perception.
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls…”
I give him credit for stating that it’s his ‘trouble’ and that he is only sharing his opinion. Freedom of speech allows one to state their views, but certain questions arise; should such opinions be expressed at a science journalism conference and that too during a lunch sponsored by female scientists and engineers? Did he find the conference too distracting with numerous successful females around him? It reveals a lot about him; after decades of working in the laboratory, he still finds it difficult to deal with women working with him.
“Three things happen when they are in the lab…”
Here is an attempt to establish that only three things can happen when a woman enters a lab, and science isn’t one of those things – neither is research or success. It’s apparent that men like him cannot take their work seriously or use their logic, when they are accompanied by females.
“You fall in love with them…”
If a man falls in love with a woman at first sight, then he is incapable of professional relationships. The solution is not to segregate the labs, as Dr Hunt tacitly suggested, but to grow up. Besides that, one can fall in love with another in any workplace, and it is nobody’s fault. This seems like a personal problem, Dr Hunt; haven’t you learnt how to deal with this after your long experience in the scientific world?
“They fall in love with you…”
Again, the statement seems like a personal experience and there’s no proof that it is actually a problem in the academia. It also suggests that women are unable to look past their feelings, work as dedicated scientists while in a romantic relationship with a male colleague or if they encounter rejection. Marie Curie, physicist, shared her first Nobel award in Physics, with her husband Pierre Curie and physicist Henri Becquerel, and also won another award in Chemistry. It should serve as a reminder for Dr Hunt to not generalise individual experiences, if any, for the well-diversified scientific community.
“When you criticise them, they cry.”
Yes, women can get emotional, some more often than others, but so do men. Perhaps, selected female scientists would be emotionally upset because of criticism but so would certain men. No, we do not expect honest criticism to be held back, in fear that we would burst into tears. Women working in the lab or any other workplace are mature enough to take constructive criticism positively. If an emotional outburst takes place, then it should be taken as just that; it shouldn’t be turned into a reason to shun women from working along their male colleagues.
Dr Hunt apologised for his remarks, he mentioned,
“It was a very stupid thing to do in the presence of all those journalists.”
However, he clearly doesn’t find his statements offensive even though it was said in the presence of a female body.
In an age where women are constantly breaking gender-associated stereotypes, sexist mind-sets like Dr Hunt’s are a huge setback for professional women. Nevertheless, if women are talented and professional, degrading comments shouldn’t matter – right?
It matters when these individuals are in powerful positions, such as the leader of a research group or the head of a department amongst others, because they can take away a lot of opportunities from women.
During the early stages of one’s career, for example, as a college student or an undergraduate, encountering such prejudice can even prevent women from entering the profession. Unfortunately, many female scientists are not selected for graduate student positions and other scientific jobs mainly due to their gender, even when they fulfil the merit for the position.
While women are leaving academia in huge numbers, many of these men are excused for their sexist attitudes because they won notable accolades. It is time to challenge this patriarchal mentality.
It’s 2015 and women are here to stay with dignity, Dr Hunt. It’s time for you to accept that and mend your ways.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.