Silber: A benefit of a scientist's sexist remarks

BY KELIN SILBER | JUNE 18, 2015 5:00 AM

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sir Tim Hunt is a scientist who co-won a Nobel Prize for his joint discovery of protein molecules that control the division of cells back in 2001. For the next 14 years, he was a very respected member of the science community, but the public seldom spoke about him.  

Recently, that changed when he caused a massive controversy in the science community for his remarks about the “girls” he works with in his field. At a lunch for a conference in South Korea, Hunt was reportedly joking, “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 criticize them, they cry.” 

Now, I don’t believe Hunt actually means this. It was probably just a funny he made with his male peers. However, this is an obviously misogynistic statement that promoted warranted uproar, but, in a profession as male-dominated as the science and engineering fields, it is honestly not that surprising. 

In an occupation as massive as science and engineering, the percentage of woman within is absurdly small at a measly 13 percent, according to the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 report. Although the U.S. Census Bureau reported women make up 47 percent of the American workforce, they seldom show similar representation within these particular fields. 

Science and engineering is such a boys’ club that even parents discourages their daughters from following these professions. Only 3 percent of young women are encouraged to chase these, as indicated by the Wellcome Trust and Aspires projects at King’s College London, compared to the 12 percent of young men pushed this way. With numbers like these, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Hunt would joke about this at lunch in a science conference. 

For him, there just happened to be reporters around this time to hear a presumably common sexist jest.

This comment, however, could very well become one of the most valuable weapons for women in the science community. His remarks, as poignant as they must be, make it almost impossible to further ignore the obvious sexism in the science fields. 

There has since been increased exposure from several different mediums, generating awareness around the issue in the way only Facebook and Twitter can. Some posts on Twitter under #distractinglysexy, such as an image of women in the laboratory clad in full equipment working with “tubes of leopard poo,” to show instances of institutionalized sexism.

Now, this is what I believe to be a capitalized opportunity for a brand new voice to emerge. Due to a simple trending on Facebook that resulted in my exploration of his comments, it is no longer rationally possible for me to think in a way I once did. 

It was always clear to me, based on my experiences living on a college campus, that there were more men than women in engineering and science. However, I could have never imagined the percentage gap to be as big as it is due to my blind observations. 

The sexism in Hunt’s comments should not be dismissed or ignored, because without them labs could likely remain quarantined, and this close of an examination — in an otherwise progressive profession — would have not occurred.

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.