I avoided writing about Tim Hunt. I felt I didn’t have anything new to add to the conversation because there had been so many great pieces outlining why comments like that show the prevalent sexism in science. For example there was a great piece in The Guardian by Hellen Cahill about the unseen women that had helped Tim Hunt along his career.
However, now there are lots of comments about how twitter behave like a “lynch mob” and female professors coming to aid Tim Hunt. There is something that I have to add to conversation and that is what message are we sending to girls with this whole ordeal?
I study kid’s relationship with science. Whether they like it, they value it or feel competent enough to do it. I have been only one year in this project (my first one as a Ph.D student) and my ideas about what can drive ANY person away from science have changed dramatically. I have come to understand that blaming only lack of interest or lack of reasoning skills to the decreasing number of people studying science is a narrow way to look at things. The same way sexism in science is not the only thing to blame. BUT, and here comes the big BUT, there is a big difference between sexism is not the only thing to blame than saying it is not an important thing to solve.
Richard Dawkins came out in Tim Hunt´s defense claiming we over reacted over “ill-advised language”. Eight Nobel Prize scientists defended Tim Hunt claiming twitter “hounded” the poor scientist. And all of this is just sending a terrible message to any girl or young woman that is thinking about pursuing a career in science.
Let’s just unpack three things real quick:
1) Twitter behave like a “lynch mob” – So first of all I love how wording like “witch hunt” and “Lynch mob” is being used to describe when a white man is called onto his sexism and terrible comments while we are struggling to call what happened in Charleston as a terrorist attack, just saying. This is basically sending a message that calling someone’s sexism is not “good behavior” and that you are going to be seen as a “conflictive woman” if you talk about it. So better just “put up with it” *cough* Science Career’s advice *cough*
****UPDATE – Originally the aforementioned point read “Women behave like a lynch mob” several people pointed out that that was misrepresenting the situation because the comment was not gendered because lots of men also complained about this. I do agree with that (my mistake) so I changed it though I think my point on this shows that women feel they can’t raise their complaints still stands. Also I tried to look at the exact quote and on a website I found it was “feminist fanatics lynch mob on twitter” However, I am not sure that is a good source so if anyone can confirm that I would really appreciate it.****
2) Richard Dawkins calling Tim Hunt’s sexist remarks “ill-advised language”. I have already talked here about Dawkin’s sexist remarks. This is changing the conversation from calling something what it is to damage control. Calling it “ill-advised language” makes it sound suddenly as something less grave isn’t it? Like just a mishap or faux pas instead of something nobody should say. Also, Deborah Bloom was with Tim Hunt and was witness about how this one was not just a “joke”. This is just an excuse of course. I have personally suffered sexist remarks in the past from co-workers and after calling them on that everybody always says “oh it was just about don’t take it so seriously. You have a terrible sense of humor”. This creates this stigma that if you can’t take it you are a cold woman without a sense of humor and you are not fun. And who wants to work with someone like that? I mean we don’t want smart women co-workers we just want that unidimensional girl that is friend with all the boys and laid back and laughs at all their jokes. So if you are not that kind of girl better not work on science, because you are not “tough enough” to take it.
3) Finally, the eight Nobel Prize scientists defending Tim Hunt. There are 6 cateogries in the Nobel Prize. As of 2014, the ceremony had taken place about 113 times, that makes 678 minus 50 awards that had not been awarded in some years for different reasons. So of the total 628 awarded Nobel Prizes ONLY 47 have been awarded to women. But the Nobel Prize is still seen as the IT people and the ultimate goal to all scientists. Not only young women and girls now know that it is extremely difficult to be a woman and earn it (that sends the message that we are not good enough) it also now sends the message that this IT people and ROLE MODEL scientists share Tim Hunt’s ideas.
So as you can see no matter how much you are fascinated by science or how competent you feel you are, there are many things that can discourage you from studying science. Because, even with a 4.0 GPA women will still feel that no matter how smart they are they are not welcomed in this old boy’s club.