Her words ought to have some weight, I think, and they represent a rational response to the issue.
His remarks at first seemed to me just a drop in the bucket of millions of similar ones made every day about women in the workplace, often by decent men who would be horrified to be regarded as misogynists. For me they confirmed an age old stereotype of women as trouble, so old that it goes back to Adam and Eve. But they were the drop that finally caused the bucket to flow over. They became a catalyst for a deep-seated bitterness to pour out of people, not only women, who simply felt that enough was enough. This was an outpouring waiting to happen. It needed just that little drop.
What is the bitterness about? Injustice, plain and simple. And it coincides with my own anxieties as chair of the Diversity committee. The bitterness is sustained by the strong feeling that women have not had a fair chance to succeed in science. This is a serious problem in science in general, but it is also a problem for the Royal Society. It is a fact that only 105 out of 1569 Fellows are women (6.7%). It is a fact that only 22 out of 106 of the awards and medals given by the Society over the last 5 years were given to women and that over those five years only 22% of the successful candidates on the Royal Society’s University Research Fellows and Sir Henry Dale Fellows were women.
They have a responsibility to respond to biased remarks by their representatives.
As the case of Tim Hunt has shown, prejudice is unacceptable even if meant in jest. The Royal Society as an institution quickly dissociated itself from his remarks. It was necessary to affirm the truth of its genuine wish to do away with the obstacles that stand in the way of women’s careers in science. To do nothing would send a signal that it is acceptable to trivialise women’s achievement in science. Institutions can do things that individuals can’t. As individuals, whether we are Fellows of the Royal Society or anyone else, we are all capable of saying things that are inappropriate and foolish. Without being aware of it, we favour our ingroup, and are ready to disrespect outgroups, often in rather subtle ways. We are human and we are fallible. Institutions try to transcend this weakness, even if they don’t always succeed.
That’s the thing — I’m seeing a lot of people saying his remarks were OK, because he meant them as a joke, and there’s been an amazing amount of bizarre finger-pointing at lines remembered after the fact that indicate he wasn’t being serious. It doesn’t matter. It was a bad joke, and he flubbed it completely. The Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations thought it was tasteless and required an apology, which Hunt gave, so all this floundering about and trying to find an excuse in humor is irrelevant.
The comments at the Royal Society are just as bad. There is the perennial “witch hunt” accusation, and my favorite example of hysterical hyperbole so far:
I don’t think that institutionalising presumed guilt, of a mere thought crime (unconscious bias), sets a very enlightened example at all. We also learn that the Tim Hunt story is more complex and nuanced than many people wish to acknowledge. Nor do Maoist style re-education schemes set a very enlightened example – based on public humiliation-confession-brainwashing. “Nulls in verba” – my bottom !
Thought crime! Complex and nuanced! (No, it wasn’t: he peddled tired stereotypes for a cheap laugh). Maoist style re-education schemes! Brainwashing!
The Royal Society: a radical hotbed of Maoists. Right. It’s always so affirming when the nutters rage against you so intemperately.