Let’s talk about Tim Hunt and the witch-hunt of which he is a victim…according to many people.
Hunt is a Nobel laureate in his 70’s who thought it would be funny to address a room full of women, during some kind of dinner for women in science, to say that mixed labs were a bad thing because “women cry” when facing criticism and men like him cannot concentrate and do their jobs properly because of the physical attraction they feel for the said women.
Someone tweeted what he said, the storm mounted and he was forced to resign from the University College of London for being a sexist pig, to cut the story short. It’s all over the papers if you want more details.
I said “tried to be funny” but actually we don’t know because he first said that it was a joke but also that he was sticking to his comment. Then he said he was confused, nervous and did not know what to do or say exactly. Then he said he was misquoted then there was an article in the Guardian where he says that nobody had asked him for his version of events. Sorry love, but we did find it pretty self-sufficient when you said you were sticking with the idea that evil women were a bad influence on poor men.
An article where his feminist wife says she would have never married him if he were a sexist pig basically, as if it were relevant to anything. Then some people, including women (because every woman speaks in the name of the 4 billion other women, obviously) went to the media to say his dismissal was unfair and the reaction had been disproportionate.
He complains that he was in the plane when he got his notice, he says it was not the right way to do thing and now friends and family, colleagues and ex-students are coming to not criticise his medieval reading of society but to try and put the focus on how he was pushed out. To make him the victim in this story.
Now let’s take the arguments one by one.
The status of women to begin with. What I see in all condemnation and attempts to focus the debate on him as a victim is that it is still okay to use age-old, hackneyed stereotypes about women as a joke, as he pretends to have done in the first place. “Women do not have their place in the labs because they cry when people disagree with them”. Mr Hunt, whatever his intentions were, has obviously not evolved the least since his twenties in the mid-1960s. He still lives in a world where women are crying for nothing and where crying is an act of weakness, and unfair because it brings men to their emotional knees – whether it triggers anger, annoyance or pity.
Women cry because, like babies, they cannot express themselves differently when they see they are losing the argument so they are bringing on the tears hoping to put the men they are working with in a position where he feels like an awful executioner, hoping he will just give in.
For those who are still finding ground to say it was tongue in cheek, let’s consider this hackneyed , sexist cliché and replace it with a hackneyed, racist cliché that would go as such: “Mix-raced labs are not working because black people are lazy so it makes the work of white people even harder”. Or even worst: “Black people are violent when facing with criticism so mix-raced labs are a danger to white people’s lives.” Not so funny anymore, is it? He would have been fired too, had he said something like that. Would people be making him a victim? Would people try to convince the world that his employer should have acted differently?
Because racism is beyond the pale and we expect people to have moved on from 1950s views of people with a different skin colour. No company or institution would put up with such a level of bovine, racist idiocy and no one would dare try to defend him by saying that people need to lighten up and have a bit more humour. Why not with outdated views of women? Because beyond race and wealth, women are still considered as lesser than men so it is fine to be sexist, even for fun.
The daily fight to encourage women to be in science, the endless fight to make people understand that women are not lesser than men is a fight as important and crucial as the fight against racist prejudice. This is why I support the firing of Tim Hunt.
Then there is the argument, he said he would not deviate from, about women being a distraction to men. Women are pretty, attractive and it makes it very difficult for men like him (he said words for words) to concentrate and work. He said people fall in love and it changes their priorities and clouds their judgement. So we have to separate men and women…especially women that need to get out of the labs where men are…because they were there first, I presume.
First of all, it doesn’t add up to the reality of couple and marriage. Most people marry within their own profession because we do spent most of our lives working. As far as the economy is concerned, love is not the most damaging factor to productivity.
But no matter, the same way some school are still unisex, one would think: why not? Only-male labs and only-female labs could be good.
No, they would not for we still live in a world where Nobel laureate publicly said that women are irrationally and cunningly emotional so funding for female-only labs would be close to none with all the investors going for the serious, male-led labs.
And why stop at labs? What about male-only companies where men can concentrate on work at all time without the fear of being accidentally attracted to a female? I can make a huge list of stupid ideas like that…I worked in a boys school for years and there not being any girls doesn’t change anything to how the boys are performing. Countries where single-sex schools have close to disappeared are not at the bottom of the league when it comes to how their students are performing.
Apart from this, the argument Mr Hunt is giving is that he cannot control himself, he has no will power to focus on the task in hand when women are here. They distract him with their attractive femininity – when they don’t guilt-trip him with their tears. And he puts all men in the same bag as him. Is it his Nobel prize that allows him to speak for all of them?
The fact is: in his mind, the focus should not be trying to address the fact that adult men like him are still behaving like teenagers in a professional environment such as labs, we should instead remove women.
That’s the same argument the Talibans and other various religious fundamentalists of all kinds have to force women to wear the burqa or stay at home behind the opacity of its walls. When you listen to their arguments, they say women are a distraction, they are a temptation. They say it is in their nature to appeal, to attract, to seduce the men and divert him from his true goal: religion and God. Replace religion by work and God by science and you have Mr Hunt’s “funny” or “confused” exposé.
I am sure his feminist wife has something to say about the comparison but as far as I am concerned, it is quite striking. Old, sex-obsessed males who think women are the reason for their unholy or unfocussed self and should be removed.
Why do people defend such a view? Why is he the victim when he says such things? Why is the victim of a so-called ‘self-righteous witch-hunt’ when he just put 52% of the world population in the same boat labelled “To get out of sight”?
Finally, there is Mr Hunt himself. If you look carefully at all that has been said by him recently, we have a man who uses casual sexism as a mean to be funny, who then says he was confused and nervous, did not what to say, say one thing then the opposite in the same sentence, and uses his wife’s credential to justify an open and mature mind he can’t show himself.
He seems to have lost touch with the outside world and to not exactly know the ins and outs of anything, especially when he makes sexist jokes at a women in science dinner, in front of women. This is not just a error of judgement but sheer lunacy. Not a good place where you are working as a renowned teacher.
As far as I am concerned, such men are and should remain a thing of the past and his forced resignation is just the enactment of this. You can again accuse women or political correctness, like his defenders are doing right now. “It’s all because of Twitter!”. No, it isn’t. What’s to blame is casual chauvinism and the self-entitlement of old men who think their working prowesses render them forever untouchable.
University College London realised that Mr Hunt’s credentials as a Nobel laureate were not strong enough to balance his outdated behaviour so they decided to lay him off because he became a liability to their future. A future that lays in mixed labs with grown-up and professional men and women who act as such.
There is one and only person to blame for Mr Hunt’s downfall is Mr Hunt himself.