Tim Hunt and #distractinglysexy

Social media has been a’twitter since Sir Tim Hunt’s controversial comments about women in science- with potentially the best response possible.

On 8 June, Twitter user Connie St Louis posted, and brought attention to, comments that Hunt was making at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea:

“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.”

But who is Tim Hunt? Having resigned from his post at UCL, he is no longer emeritus professor of Life Sciences, but in his long and lauded career he was a biochemist, specialising in the molecular biology of the cell. In 2001 he was awarded a Nobel Prize alongside Paul Nurse and Leland H. Hartwell for their discoveries of protein molecules that control the division of cells. He also has a knighthood, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.

He admits that he has a reputation for being a chauvinist; in an interview given on BBC Radio 4 he apologised for his comments, intended to be humorous, but stated “did mean the part about having trouble with girls”. He said that female colleagues falling in love with him has been a problem in his research career, and “it’s very disruptive to the science”.

“I’m very sorry that what I thought were light hearted ironic remarks were taken so seriously, and I’m very sorry if people took offence. I certainly did not mean to demean women, but rather be honest about my own shortcomings.”

Not really an apology. It is reminiscent of comments made by Avengers: Age of Ultron stars about the character Black Widow and her “romantic entanglements” (read:slut shaming): the actors apologised for offending people with their humour- not for the misogynistic comments. This personal acceptance of a bit of light hearted chauvinism harbours misogyny in the workplace, and leads to women continuing to experience sexism in their careers.

In response to the situation, female scientists of the world took the high road. Bringing attention to the absurd situation through humour, #distractingsexy trended on twitter for days. Women scientists, engineers, researchers, and lab workers from across the world took pictures of themselves in their workplaces, wearing lab appropriate equipment and doing science. These ladies are awesome. Check out some posts below, and follow the trend in the widget at the bottom of the post.


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