Mathematigal has her views on Feynman and the hero-worship of Feynman and what that hero-worship implies for women in science and mathematics.
She starts with some of the special treatment she has received, such as…
I have had men in academia disparage me to others, and dismiss both my interests and accomplishments as trivial. I regularly deal with comments like “PRO TIP: Mute the video, sit back, and admire the cute girl” regarding my outreach work. I have had jobs (multiple) where I was harassed and propositioned by my own boss.
And then she goes on to explain how Feynman and the cult of Feynman relates to that kind of thing.
Because every time I hear someone in my department or in one of my classes go on about how Feynman was so awesome I mean he was kind of a jerk to women but whatever, I file him (and it is almost always always a him) away as someone who would have sided against me in every single one of the situations I’ve mentioned. Every time I see a joking tweet or post about how Feynman’s second wife divorced him because she didn’t like that he was always doing calculus in his head, while totally ignoring the fact that the divorce papers indicate that he would fly into a rage, attack her, and break furniture whenever she interrupted said mental calculus, my world gets a little bit smaller.
Now, that may not be totally fair to every Feynman fan out there, but let me tell you, life as a woman in phenomenally male-dominated fields is pretty damned unfair. I put people into boxes about stuff like this – not because I think all of the people who hero-worship Feynman (and countless other mathematicians/scientists with similar track records) approve of how he treated women, but because there are actually some that do. As in, there are people today who think that lying to women and treating them like prizes to be won is totally fine. And some of them are researchers, professors, PhD candidates. And I know from personal experience that if I found myself once again in a situation where a prominent man was abusing his power, there would be people who would bend over backwards to protect his reputation, to the detriment of mine. That is the ugly side of hero worship. People like me get the message that great scientific achievement will totally outweigh reprehensible and hurtful behavior towards, well, people like me.
And it is exactly the same way out here outside the academy, in the secular / atheist / humanist movement, where hero worship and cults of “leaders” are also endemic. The heroes and “leaders” are all male, and people – especially women – who criticize or challenge them are treated like enemy agents in wartime.