Yesterday I saw a number of Facebook posts displaying the responses of women scientists to some remarks a Nobel laureate made. According to the Time:
Hunt, who told a room full of high-ranking scientists and science journalists at a global conference in South Korea that working with women was troublesome because “they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry,” won a Nobel in 2001 for his work in physiology and medicine.
"Three things happen when they are in the lab," he said, "you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry."
Moreover, the issues that Sir Hunt brought up are real issues. At our Women in Science meetings we discussed similar issues of gender-related tensions in the lab. Female graduate students sometimes feel their relationship with their male adviser is very different from the relationship said adviser has with his male students. Falling in love in the lab is not unheard of, to put it mildly. That women tend to be more sensitive and brought to tears more easily is also nothing to be ashamed of. Bringing these issues up as one person's experience, in a light-hearted way, is not something that I see as an attack. And yet, somehow it turned into just that.
And this is what bugs me (sorry for the pun, I am an entomologist) as a woman scientist. That female scientists, perhaps without seeing the whole remark in context, immediately see an attack instead of a joke, or an opportunity to bring these issues up and discuss them with the seriousness they deserve.
Instead, they lash out a counter attack with the #DistractinglySexy tag. It makes me feel as if they are so insecure in their abilities as scientists, that they're afraid one man's comments will show the world "what they're really like". Now some might take my words out of context and say that I think women are lesser scientists than man. And that's what, I think, was done to the Nobel laureate.
I don't know Sir Tim Hunt personally, but he is married to a scientist and has worked and published with women scientists. Which makes me doubt he feels women scientists do not deserve respect.
It would be interesting to hear from women scientist who had worked with him. Maybe he is a dirty old man who thinks women should get out of the lab. I just don't see it in his remarks.