There’s still a great deal of sexism in science, and a vigorous discussion has been catalysed by the Tim Hunt affair. Despite some evidence that the environment has become more favourable for women, there’s a long way to go. I was inclined to summarise my views on Hunt’s absurd speech, but there is no need. Chris Chambers has absolutely nailed it. Tim Hunt’s friends have nobly rallied round, but they were rather cut down to size by Dorothy Bishop. I reproduce here her comment on Athene Donald’s blog in full in case it goes missing later.
I found this very odd. You recommend that we call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever we see it. Yet most women have learned that calling out casual sexism is likely to leave them in a worse position than ignoring it. People who complain get a variety of responses: he didn’t mean it, it was just a bit of fun, you shouldn’t interfere with his freedom of speech, nobody else was offended, it was taken out of context, he’s never done it before, he’s a very nice person, do you really want to make a fuss over such a trivial thing?
Many women were dismayed to see that, despite having been Cambridge University’s gender champion, you responded in exactly this manner to the comments by Tim Hunt. The message to women seems to be that if you are going to complain you had better have a chain of evidence documenting that the man in question is a serial offender who has engaged in actions, not just words, that harm women. Otherwise, the woman who complains will become the person complained about.
As I hope is clear from previous comments I have made about this affair, I don’t see this as being about ‘punishing’ Tim Hunt – though no doubt he has had a terrible time. I see the responses from UCL, from the Royal Society and from ERC as indicating that these organisations do not see it as appropriate to have someone representing them, and indeed making key decisions about funding etc, who has these dismissive and stereotypical attitudes to women. I regard it as something of a landmark that they have done this, as it does indicate that, at last, there are figures in the Establishment who are prepared to take gender equality seriously.
Well said. Let’s take it seriously and call it out whenever we hear it.
Chris Chambers piece came via Jon Butterworth’s Twitter, which led me to IC Physics alumnus Alok Jha’s Facebook.