Friday, 26 June 2015

We need to make it all about her, not all about him

I want to discuss what I think is the fundamental problem about the Tim Hunt sexist remarks situation.  

I should mention straight away that I'm now going to stop using his name, for a reason I'll come to. But also, I should perhaps mention that you may or may not know who he is, so I want to give some kind of summary of what he said, what happened to him, and what the reactions to his comments and his situation has been.  This is more or less off the cuff, so may be inaccurate and I might get some details wrong. He went to an event on raising women's profile in science in Korea (and kudos to him for getting off his backside to do that.) He made some ill-judged remarks about how the problem with women in labs is that they fall in love with men and men fall in love with them. The next day he appeared on the Today programme and gave a classic non-apology apology, where he didn't actually say he was wrong, merely that he shouldn't have said it in public. That's when his situation went viral and caused a twitter storm. He resigned from an honorary position at UCL (an unpaid position with no duties) and from a couple of committees he sat on to award funding (these may have been paid or unpaid, I don't know) although there were several other positions he didn't resign from. A few days later a backlash against the consequences of his actions began. He gave a lengthy interview to the Guardian putting his point of view. He said that he had been "hung out to dry" and that he was "finished". His wife said that he had been pressured into resigning from UCL. Many of his friends including some senior women - and indeed many people who don't know him - leapt to his defence as being a good guy who was only joking. Later, The Times discussed his situation with eight Nobel laureates and led their responses on its front page.  Later still, The Times reported that a leaked document transcribing his original remarks showed he was only joking. This led Richard Dawkins to demand an apology to him and his reinstatement. And yes, believe it or not this is just a summary! 

Why did I decide to stop using his name?  Let me show you, by quoting the para in full:
"I should mention straight away that I'm now going to stop using his name, for a reason I'll come to. But also, I should perhaps mention that you may or may not know who he is, so I want to give some kind of summary of what he said, what happened to him, and what the reactions to his comments and his situation has been. This is more or less off the cuff, so may be inaccurate and I might get some details wrong. He went to an event on raising women's profile in science in Korea (and kudos to him for getting off his backside to do that.) He made some ill-judged remarks about how the problem with women in labs is that they fall in love with men and men fall in love with them. The next day he appeared on the Today programme and gave a classic non-apology apology, where he didn't actually say he was wrong, merely that he shouldn't have said it in public. That's when his situation went viral and caused a twitter storm. He resigned from an honorary post at UCL (an unpaid position with no duties) and from a couple of important committees he (these may have been paid or unpaid, I don't know) although there were several other positions he didn't resign from. A few days later a backlash against the consequences of his actions began. He gave a lengthy interview to the Guardian putting his point of view. He said that he had been "hung out to dry" and that he was "finished". His wife said that he had been pressured into resigning from UCL. Many of his friends including some senior women - and indeed many people who don't know him - leapt to his defence as being a good guy who was only joking. Later, The Times discussed his situation with eight Nobel laureates and led their responses on its front page.  Later still, The Times reported that a leaked document transcribing his original remarks showed he was only joking. This led Richard Dawkins to demand an apology to him and his reinstatement. And yes, believe it or not this is just a summary!"
This debate has become all about him, i.e. a man. It should be all about her, a woman, well actually about them, lots of women, but English doesn't have a gender-specific plural pronoun.

Let me say some things. I don't happen to think that Tim Hunt has been badly treated, but that is not my point at all. Lots of people do think he's been badly treated, and they are quite right to stand up for him if so. 

I want Tim Hunt to be treated right. Just like I want women in science and tech to be treated right. And women in science and tech are treated badly over and over and over again and in far worse ways than what happened to Tim Hunt. And it's happening right now, not a historical problem. 

 A random example, from Julie Libarkin:
"The senior emeritus faculty who…this is a hard one to put delicately…Came up behind me at an on-campus retirement party, dropped his knees, and pushed himself up against me several times. Trust me – I had NO idea how to react, and recovering from that violation took me about 6 months. 
"That’s my reality of sexism in science. I can’t possibly be alone.."  
And that's just the last one of 9 examples that Julie bravely posted about in her post "My experiences with sexism in science". 

No, she's not alone, but most women are not brave or foolhardy enough to talk about it in public. For example, take Dorothy Donald (an alias, which is relevant as you will see) writing on Depressed Academics
"I never ever post what I have written because I do not have the energy to be a woman writing about sexism on the internet right now... I berate myself for my cowardice while despairing at the fact that their courage is still required in 2015. We are still here. Is it hopeless?"
You know what women like Julie and Dorothy have been hearing recently? They've been hearing two things. His mistreatment matters, and hers doesn't. And if she complains about his behaviour, many people will leap to his defence while knowing almost nothing about the details of the situation, meaning that he turns into the victim. Good luck encouraging a culture of condemning sexist behaviour when that's the result.  

Am I saying you shouldn't stand up for Tim Hunt or anyone else you firmly believe is being mistreated? Absolutely not, you should do so. Which is what I am doing right now.

I believe that women in science are being mistreated right now and we should do what can to fix it. But we need to make it all about her, not all about him.

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