The recent quake that hit the world was how Tim Hunt described himself as a “chauvinist pig” at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul and argued in favour of single-sex laboratories saying “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 after-quake was a reciprocative one, flooding Twitter, Facebook and every approachable social-media platform with staunch responses, be it the sarcastic tweets bearing the #distractinglysexy tag or the anguished remarks calling Hunt “a clueless sexist jerk”, “a misogynist dude scientist”, among the likes. What happened next was the absolute demand of resignation from Royal Society and University College London which has been described as “been hung out to dry” by Hunt himself.
What I wish to put under spotlight now, is the contradictory defensive system constructed to support Hunt on grounds of domesticity or personal experiences. Hunt’s wife, Mary Collins, who also has a post at UCL, as a professor of immunology comments, “When Tim is not travelling for work, he does all the shopping and the cooking…He is actually a great cook. Our daughters both prefer his meals to mine. And he is certainly not an old dinosaur. He just says silly things now and again.” She adds further in his defense, “You can see why it could be taken as offensive if you didn’t know Tim. But really it was just part of his upbringing. He went to a single-sex school in the 1960s. Nevertheless he is not sexist. I am a feminist, and I would not have put up with him if he were sexist.” Next, Hunt’s first wife, Missy Cusick, who claims herself as a strident feminist, has also defended him, saying, “I won’t say anything against him. He is a big, brilliant, sexy guy – some pretty good DNA. He is brilliant but he says things because he can. He doesn’t think first.”
Dame Athene Donald, professor of experimental physics at Cambridge also sighs at the way Hunt’s career has been crushed down. He comments, “During the time I worked with him he was always immensely supportive of the ERC’s work around gender equality. His off-the-cuff remarks in Korea are clearly inappropriate and indefensible, but … he has worked tirelessly in support of young scientists of both genders.” Adding to the supportive list, physiologist Dame Nancy Rothwell further speaks of Hunt “Many will testify to Tim’s great support and encouragement for younger scientists, both male and female. Indeed, he has trained and mentored some outstanding female scientists”.
With Hunt finally issuing a detailed apology and claiming that his “self-deprecating joke were ill-judged“, the matter doesn’t end there. Like every narrative can be deconstructed with opinions for and against, Hunt’s remarks in Seoul have suffered severe criticism on one side and also defended with “light heartedness” on another. What ultimately hits the stage is an open question to the entire mob, on the limits of “casuality”, “jokes” and “ironic and jocular statements” that can be attributed towards the female sex. The issue is no more restricted within the walls of science laboratories but has splashed away on every social platform. What fixes itself like a social lesson is, any casual tongue (even of a Nobel laureate) that hosts sexism, can’t escape from being bitten hard by the strong teeth of feminism and post-modern media.
Featured Image Credit: Telegraph.co.uk