Another one for the reading list: Chocolate and Vodka.
[W]hether or not Sir Tim was joking is ultimately irrelevant. He should never have spoken those words in the first place. As a Nobel Laureate, a professor and a Knight of the British Empire, Sir Tim definitely has power, influence and authority. He therefore has a responsibility to think very carefully about the words he uses in his public and professional lives.
People in Sir Tim’s position have an obligation to use their power to help, support and inspire others, not to denigrate a group of people — in this case, women — who are already at a disadvantage. Sir Tim failed in that obligation. He did not take his responsibilities seriously. Instead, he abused his position of power and has either refused to or been incapable of understanding the impact his words have had, or how he is supporting the institutional sexism rife in academia, and particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths).
That’s an interesting point. It’s a strange mentality, one that is happy using power, influence and authority to express lofty contempt for a large set of people. I have a hard time imagining being happy doing that myself, if I had that kind of power, influence and authority – not because I’m so sweet, which I’m not, but because it would just feel all wrong. Wrong like bending a joint the wrong way.
I suppose that’s what I never do get about people who do this kind of thing – people like Tim Hunt and Richard Dawkins and people like the social media harassers. I never do get why it doesn’t make them intensely uncomfortable. Maybe having power, influence and authority tends to dull people’s capacity to feel…in the wrong. They’re important, so everything they decide to say must have worth, because they’re saying it.
Even when his failure was pointed out to him, instead of reflecting on what he’d said, he doubled down and, as far as I am aware, is yet to produce a full and proper apology.
And worse, we’ve now seen a raft of people, men and women alike, in positions of significant influence and power in academia and public life have come out to defend Sir Tim and in the process belittle the concerns that women, and many men, have about sexism in science.
And we’ve seen David Colquhoun doing the other thing, which helps.
And then there are the comments of Boris Johnson, Professor Brian Cox and Professor Richard Dawkins, also in support of Sir Tim, and also failing to adequately address the serious issue of sexism in science.
What really disturbs me about this is that the British academic (and political) elite appear to be closing ranks around a man who has made sexist comments and who is refusing to deal with the repercussions of those comments. Sir Tim’s words are indefensible. Describing oneself, apparently quite comfortably, as chauvinist, making demeaning comments about women, and then refusing to properly apologise for those remarks is not a slip of the tongue and it is not acceptable. It is not something that senior scientists should be supporting.
The message this sends to women is that British academe is still sexist, still does not know how to recognise sexist behaviour, has no desire to tackle sexism, and, indeed, will even support men who make sexist comments.
Well at least the message is accurate.