I really feel like I need to throw in my 2p on this Tim Hunt scandal. Most of you will have heard by now that Nobel Prize laureate Tim Hunt was quoted recently as saying the following at the World Conference of Science Journalists:
“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.”
My first reaction was horror – ‘What a fecking dinosaur’ or something like that came out of my mouth after I spit my coffee all over myself. Who does this guy think he is? Unbeknownst to me, things escalated throughout the following day, but before I go on, please watch this awesome response from female scientists:
Hunt has now resigned from his position, after a social media outcry and demand for his head on a plate. My first reaction was ‘Good, he’s an effing dinosaur.’ But, on reflection, no matter how I feel about Mr Hunt or his comments, we live in a free society, and as distasteful as it is, HE HAS A RIGHT TO HIS SEXIST PIG OPINION. He’s even got the right to talk about his sexist pig opinion. Whether or not he is a sexist pig is another matter – his response was that he made the comment in a ‘jocular’ way, and did not mean any offense. Perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t. Even assuming that he did mean it, it appears that Hunt is being strung up for the sins of the father.
Brian Cox put it well, calling the media shitstorm and the (successful) calls for Hunt’s resignation to be ‘disproportionate’. Let me explain why I agree with this:
Some years ago now, I had a panic attack whilst driving to Merrions Wood. No specific trigger brought it on (that I can remember), but it was a fully-fledged I-AM-GOING-TO-DIE-ANY-MINUTE impending doom sort of deal, which resulted in two weeks of stress leave and 6 months of CBT. I’ve always found driving very stressful (though I enjoy it), largely due to the behaviour of what are, frankly, bullies on the road. People have a mystifying sense of anonymity when inside their car and act in ways that they would never do if they were not in a vehicle – cutting people off, swearing at them, calling names, etc.
I was once stuck in traffic on the Black Country Route, almost at the slip road to Bentley, but I couldn’t have exited without mounting the curb, so I sat waiting in the traffic. After a few minutes of honking and flashing, the man in the car behind me GOT OUT OF HIS CAR and walked up and BANGED ON MY WINDOW! I opened it and he said “are you getting off here?” to which I replied that I was. “Well can you just move then!!” was his response. I promptly told him that I wasn’t going to drive over the curb and that he should “Stop being a bully and f*** off!” – He was slightly startled at my response and walked, mute, back to his car and waited patiently after that.
In hindsight I should have just ignored the man, but bullying REALLY upsets me. I was bullied at school, have been bullied at work (not my current job, I hasten to add!) and It just drives me mad when people on the road think they have some intrinsic right to push other people around, intimidate them and generally not follow the rules that the rest of us adhere to because they feel they are somehow exempt. (I will get to the point shortly.)
Anyway, so whenever anyone cut me off in traffic or did something bullyish, I would become desperately upset, with feelings that all humans are inherently evil and that, given a consequence-free environment, would hurt anyone else to get their way. You might argue that this is a disproportionate reaction to what was, basically, just an incident of some tool cutting me off in traffic.
This is what my CBT therapist said – when I experience those feelings when I am cut off in traffic, they are so overwhelming because I am not just reacting to the person cutting me off – I am reacting to EVERY time anyone has EVER cut me off, every time I have been bullied, seen bullying, felt powerless – all that stuff. Its a reasonable reaction to the depth and breadth of bullying that I have experienced or witnessed, but it is an EXTREMELY DISPROPORTIONATE reaction to some moron cutting me off in traffic.
So, likewise, I feel that the media (and particularly social media) backlash to Hunt’s comment has been a disproportionate reaction to a single incident (a single sentence!), when it is clearly ACTUALLY a reaction to sexism in general. My own reaction was a reaction to every sexist dinosaur I’ve seen or heard make comments about women in science. And its hard to get out of that reaction and look at the situation objectively – but its worth doing!
More to the point, it is the relative anonymity of social media that allows this sort of consequence-free lynch-mob behaviour, much in the same way that anonymity enables bullying and road rage. I just don’t think this stuff is necessary.
At the end of the day, Hunt’s misogyny (real or imagined) has no bearing on his ability as a scientist – and from that point of view he should probably have not lost his job. As for public speaking… that depends on the company he’s speaking for I suppose, and whether they are happy with him representing them.
Do we really need yet MORE negativity in the world? Don’t you feel that the video above is enough to take the power out of him? Am I the only one who thinks that the humorous reactions to his statement have been FAR more powerful than his digital lynching resulting in his forced resignation?
I’d love to know what you think.
Anyway, I’m off to do some taxonomy. Provided nobody is humping the microscope. And I can stop crying.