Our May Newsletter article Sexism in STEM quoted the Emma Baitz comment on an April 2015 incident: “The sound of foreheads being slapped rung out across the globe. The internet was ablaze with righteous feminist fury”. Now a June 2015 incident at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Korea has received similar publicity, albeit with more ridicule than outrage. Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt sparked a mix of censure and merriment with his attempted joke about single-sex labs: “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.”
The June 12, 2015 IFL Science Editor’s Blog Hilarious Responses To Nobel Prize Winner Tim Hunt’s Sexist Comments sees the humorous side, noting that ” Unimpressed by his sexist comments, scientists snapped photos of themselves in their places of science, tech, engineering and math, and posted them on Twitter using the hashtag #distractinglysexy to show exactly how ludicrous Hunt’s claims are.”
When he returned to the UK , Sir Tim was asked to resign from University College London, where he was an honorary researcher – a non-paid position.
A June 15, 2015 article in The Conversation, #distractinglysexy: Sir Tim Hunt’s gift to feminism in science notes that “Sir Tim Hunt, a man very much of the last century, was obviously ignorant of this century’s etiquette on at least two counts: it is not acceptable today to be sexist; and, if you are publicly sexist, your comments will go viral in seconds, particularly if you are a Nobel Laureate.”
The author of the Conversation article, Janice Crerar, Lecturer in Education at Charles Darwin University describes how “Times have certainly changed since Sir Tim’s undergraduate days in Cambridge during the 1960s” The article includes a short video talk by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who was the only woman in the physics honours class at Glasgow University back in the 1950s. Dame Jocelyn recalls “A tradition of the time was to cat call, bang on desks and generally create havoc and noise when a woman entered the physics lecture hall.”
Janice is upbeat about the effects of Sir Tim’s gaffe: “Sir Tim will perhaps be remembered as a fallen Nobel Laureate. I prefer to remember him as a man who achieved international fame by innocently highlighting the subtle sexism that permeates science in the 21st Century. Women scientists thank you Sir Tim, you have validated our experiences by your ironic joke.”