Nobel prizewinner Sir Tim Hunt, recently commented on the problems he sees with including women in science labs at a women's convention in science and journalism:
“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.”
His comments are particularly problematic for two reasons, according to Anne Perkins. 1) His profession requires him to 'not take the world for what it seems to be' yet he fails to question his own gender biases. 2) His comments fit within a others narratives, which claim that women interfere in manly endeavors, compromise combat, and create situations where sexual assault is highly likely. These blaming the victim narratives must end, and in their place we must question the gendered processes and conditions that create an unequal world.
Many have come to the defense of Sir Tim Hunt by pointing out his old age and his apologetic statement. First off, someone's age is not an excuse--especially someone devoted to truth seeking. Second of all, his apology expressed regret that his statements caused offense, but he did not take any personal responsibility or acknowledge in any way that women are more than merely distracting and marginal bodies in the lab.
His comments completely discount the rich history of female scientists like Dorothy Hodgkin or Rosalind Franklin among countless others. This dangerous narrative of claiming that stereotyped feminine qualities remove women's worth in a science lab only sets back women's progress further. We should be encouraging the next generation of talented, female scientists, not degrading their human worth.
How bizarre that someone so entirely unreflective about his immediate surroundings can win a Nobel prize for original work. How bizarre that when he delivers his Nobel laureate lecture he describes (with a self-deprecation that is the luxury of an unchallenged inner sense of rectitude) the way that breakthroughs in his understanding came from mistakes, like running a centrifuge for too long or attributing unexpected results to contamination, but it never occurs to him to examine his own assumptions about the people with whom he works. So here’s a hypothesis, Sir Tim. It’s not the women who are the problem. It’s you.