So you’ve completed years of schooling, spent years of your life practicing your speciality, trained and supported pupils, helped advance global understanding in academia, won a Nobel Prize for your work, and then you make a few comments on gender and have your career and credibility destroyed. Sound fair? I don’t think so, either.
Dr. Tim Hunt’s comments have created a storm of social media outrage: “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.”
While I can see how Hunt’s comments have been interpreted as demeaning to women in science, and may even discourage women from entering the discipline, I believe that it’s absurd that Hunt has had to resign from his position at the University College London and the European Research Council for his statements.
There is still some controversy over whether Dr. Hunt’s statements were truthful or, as he claims, meant to be “ironic” and “jocular.” Since he says his statements were not meant to be taken the way they have been, and because he has received a lot of support from his colleagues who attest to his good character, I believe that being forced to resign from UCL and the European Research Council is extremely inappropriate.
The media unfairly cherry-picks which high-profile individuals they want to call out for their behavior. Hunt, who has dedicated his life to helping us better understand the world, and who has done a damn good job doing it, gets sacked from his career for a few crude, naive comments.
Meanwhile, Michael Tebbutt, a former horse jockey who works with the British Racing School as a coach, made national headlines early June with a completely sexist remark on female riders, but he has gotten off without so much as a slap on the wrist. Tebbutt claims that men make better jockeys than women because of men’s superior physical and mental strength.
I’m sure it’s a demanding task to maintain a proper stance while the horse is running at full speed, but male jockeys don’t exactly strike me as possessing more strength than a female one could acquire through enough strength training.
Tebbutt has received media attention, but unlike Dr. Hunt, he hasn’t been fired or even condemned by his colleagues and the British Racing School. Some of his colleagues even came to his defense for his unmistakable sexism, claiming that it was just a silly comment.
Hunt may endorse gender segregated laboratories and believe that relationships get in the way of science, but these are only his opinions, and no one is seriously considering implementing these ideas. Other celebrities, with a much higher profile than Hunt, have made much worse comments yet received no negative media attention — never mind lost their career.