The Great Chauvinist

Just read an article on Tim Hunt. The Nobel winner, FRS. So, I should actually give him some reverence and call him Sir Tim Hunt. Dr. Hunt won the Nobel in 2001 in Physiology and Medicine for his work on the cell cycle. And his award came as a recognition for his decade old work prior to that. Now, the important thing to note is that while he was at his work, revolutionizing science with his ideas, he was surrounded by “WOMEN”, who according to him are “disruptive to science”. So, may I ask how he managed to work through all of it? The falling in love with them, and them falling in love with him and most importantly how did he manage to swim through the pools of tears? Because apparantly, that’s what women in science do. They fall in love and they cry when criticized. And of course, that is disruptive to science. It’s probably an irony that most of the heroes in my field of research are of the wrong gender according to Dr. Hunt. The likes of Amy Wagers, Deborah Muoio, Erin Kershaw, Elizabeth Chen, Laurie Goodyear or the elusive Barbara Kahn. All women. And all brilliant scientists. So, when Dr. Hunt talked about gender based labs, ironically at a Women’s convention in Korea, I realized what is wrong with this scientific community. To the reports where women with equal or even better qualifications than men get reportedly paid a whopping 4000 dollars less than their male counterparts, to men getting more recruited than women, to the situation I face at work day in and day out- the world is one big playground for the chauvinists like Dr. Hunt. He has to bear the brunt because like he said in his non- apology apology that he did a “mistake talking about it in front of the journalists”. There are hordes of men who think alike. Considering my work place, we do have gender biased labs here. A lab full of men scholars, and not just that, women are literally barred from entering their space. Within my lab, I remember one of the very first things my advisor told me when he recruited me that I have to face a lot and prove a lot because apparently most scientists here do not prefer women scholars. That he was even advised not to take in girl scholars. While he stated me the actual picture from the ground zero, there is a colleague of mine who never misses a chance to take us down. But when I look at it, the girls in my lab are much more hard working and devoted. They are the ones (me included) who never misses a day of lab, even on holidays. And, I for one stay late into the nights, sometimes even close to midnight. So much so that the others (the men i.e) can afford to leave early and ask for their work to be done. Or the men of other labs can afford to work on their experiments in the odd hours because they know they can always come for the instrument in our lab after they wrap up their work that very night and do not have to wait for the next day. Hence, saving them a whole day of waiting.

When I thought about Dr. Hunt’s statement and applied it on me, I found too many similarities to ignore. Yes, I have fallen in love and yes I have cried. But have I been a disruption to science? At least, my advisor doesn’t think so. Infact, he believes that I am the most hard working person on board. Why is it considered to be a problem to “portray emotions”? Yes, maybe we cry. I cry a lot because I do not feel it is a shameful act to show that I am saddened by certain gestures or a situation. Constructive criticisms have never made me cry,on the other hand. If anything, it might have sparked a debate. But when a person criticizes without any boundaries, it certainly turns bitter and hurtful. Showing your emotions is not “attention seeking”, it is honesty. Honesty with self and honesty with the people the emotions are for. But that is something which will always be considered as a sign of weakness, because the male ego cannot digest the fact that women can be so open with their feelings, while they have to use several pretexts to hide it or put it on display. In this context, I love one recent poster saying “Real men cry” with the likes of Nadal, Federer, Pirlo, AB Develliers ..all sporting greats, all revered figures over the world, all MEN in tears after having lost a particular game or tournament. It’s not always the criticisms that makes one cry, it is the tone of trying to rebuke constantly that destroys one. Particularly when done by people who are important. When they try to belittle you day in and day out, tears can’t be held back. I think that’s what the human thing is, after all.

So, what Dr. Hunt said about the “criticism and crying” bit is entirely his own take and given the kind of chauvinist he is I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever regarding what he could have said to his colleague or student at work in the garb of criticism.

Women by large are considered to the weaker of the two. Physically and even on the scale of brilliance. But does one consider the extent to which they have to endure physical pain during childbirth? Does one consider the fact that the average of women who are pursuing higher studies and doing well at the board examinations are much higher statistically than men (at least the latest studies of India shows so). So, it is just a fashion statement to say that women can’t flourish in particular fields and they are just a baggage of emotions. What Dr. Hunt wanted to justify is his own limitations to concentrate on his work without harbouring romantic thoughts about his colleagues or student.

The Royal Society has come up with an apology statement and distanced itself from Dr. Hunt and he himself has resigned from his post at the UCL. But the question is that how much of it has come as an act of repentance over his sexist attitude? By the looks of his “apology” that was aired by BBC4, he seemed completely unapologetic of his previous statement. So, this particular thought process will linger for long, some will be vocal and some will make it apparent in their ways of work.

P.S. I hope you heard about last year’s Nobel laureates? May Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. Man and woman, husband and wife sharing lab space and getting awarded with the highest honour in Science. Where exactly does your logic fit in here? There are so many examples as this,I just cited the most recent one given your meagreness of thinking capability outside science. As someone put in nicely, “where is the science behind this prejudice, Dr. Hunt?”


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