It’s a few of week’s since esteemed biochemist Tim Hunt was fired from his position at University College London following his remarks about women in science.
It has subsequently transpired that his comments about how the problem with women scientists is that they fall in love with you and cry when criticised, were a joke. As jokes go, it's not the greatest. In fact, Sir Tim, if you're planning on doing a tight five minute spot at the Comedy Store, I wouldn't open with it.
Thing is, even if it was said in jest, it does point to the fact that we still have this perception that women are sometimes over-emotional in the work place and, indeed prone to the odd weep.
I have to confess, once, in a meeting with my boss while discussing a possible promotion I felt myself welling up… and he was being nice!
But my predisposition towards blubbing doesn’t invalidate my ability to do my job or be a viable candidate for a promotion.
Look, you don’t need to be a statistician to predict that women probably cry more in the work place than men but if you think we’re the only ones that get emotional, you’ re sorely mistaken.
EVERYONE is susceptible to an emotional flare up now and then. It may show up as anger, frustration, jealousy or a myriad of other emotions. We have to not see tears as a sign of weakness or failure. They’re a sign of vulnerability and if you see that as a problem, that says more about you than the person having a moment.
And furthermore, just because there are tears doesn’t mean we’re not able to comprehend, listen. Tears come out of our eyes after all, not our ears.
Even in science, emotion is permitted. Didn’t Archimedes jump out of his bath screaming when he made his discovery?
It’s a shame Tim Hunt was forced to stand down from his position because, as Professor Brian Cox points out, that response may have been disproportionate to the offence however, we must never forget the power of language. Even when comments are made in jest, they have an impact and send out an implicit message. I’m sure he meant no harm but while we’re in the midst of a difficult battle against misogyny, one must choose one's words carefully particularly those used on a public platform. By example you are demonstrating to those who look up to you, what is appropriate.
Here’s the thing, in the future, when all things are equal, comments such as Sir Hunt’s will be of no consequence and can be taken as simply a silly and mistimed quip, but let us be under no illusion that we still have a long way to go in terms of equality. Don’t be surprised if more and more, people get called out on language that undermines, be it used in humor or otherwise.
The words we use, the things we say are an indicator or our underlying intent.
As Emerson said, “People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.” I believe this also applies to the things we speak into the world. So we must choose wisely and represent our highest intentions everyday.