|LETTERS FROM LONDON
|REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
3 July 2015
|Big Boys Don't Cry
Just when you think it’s all over – it isn’t. Not the Greek debt, not Wimbledon -
it's broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby who has shown his displeasure by resigning
from his honorary fellowship at University College London in protest at its action
in regards to biologist Sir Tim Hunt, who was forced to resign from his honorary
fellowship at University College London.
Oh you know about Sir Tim and his ‘joke’. Weepy women, love in the labs. OK.
If you have been ignoring the endless press coverage: during a conference in
Seoul, Sir Tim caused a furore when he accused women scientists of being
disruptive – do we really have to mention the very use of the word disruptive
here? Patronising? Oh surely not. Those silly unsettling scientists. Do we really
have to mention the very word joke? Well, it is the point isn’t it.
A joke: something, such as a funny story or trick that is said or done in order to
make people laugh…something that is of ludicrously poor quality…informal: a
person or thing that is very bad or silly. Certainly not Sir Tim himself?
Sir Tim told his audience: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three
things happen when they are in the lab…you fall in love with them, they fall in
love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”
Later he tried to ‘explain’ his jokiness and then praised the role of women in
science – as long as they “work in separate labs”? The biochemist admitted he
has a reputation for being a 'chauvinist'. Indeed. And admittedly quite proud of it.
Indeed. Hundreds of romantically distracting women scientists came to Sir Tim’s
defence. Really, what’s not to love? "Oh Sir Tim, that forest of nostril hair - so,
so attractive, so, so irresistible."
Back to 70 year old Dimbleby who said it was “disgraceful” and “the idea that
serious grown-up women thinking of pursuing a science career, and thinking of
going to UCL to do so, would be put off by an elderly professor saying
something silly then apologising for it seems bizarre.” Oh. That 72 year old
‘elderly’ Nobel prize-winner.
Among the most vociferous was Sir Andre Geim, the University of Manchester
professor who developed graphene (Oh no. Now that is disappointing – not the
developer of the revolutionising graphene!). He claimed that Sir Tim was being
“crucified” by ideological fanatics. “Crucified!” Really?
Professor Dame Valerie Beral, director of Oxford University’s Cancer
Epidemiology Unit said “I just think those comments were self-deprecatory. He
will have said it as a complete joke”. Well Valerie. Exactly how funny was it?
“They fall in love with you…” “They cry…” Convulsed with laughter are we?
Really? Will Sir Tim appear at his local comedy club soon? Wait. Why not on
Mock of the Week? Agents must be queuing up. “We’ve got to get that
hysterically funny old science guy.”
I know you must know Boris has weighed into this interminable controversy.
When doesn’t Boris have an opinion? Boris wrote in his Daily Telegraph column
that it was “an outrage” and showed a "total lack of reason". Well respected
expert on gender equality, Boris was merely "pointing out a natural phenomenon
he had observed" and that women do indeed fall in love with men, and cry more
often than men, referencing a 'crying expert' to it. Oh Boris….
Best to remember the revered position that women hold in society, science,
business, education, ad inf. Oops. Just joking.
Another, ‘do let me give you my view’, scientist Richard Dawkins has proclaimed
it a “witch hunt” and “a lynch mob”. Dawkins chose rather archaic expressions
and naturally ignored the religious ‘crucifixion’ possibility. Just saying.
Oh dear. There are still more. Serge Haroche, professor of quantum physics at
the Collège de France, described it as “a manhunt” while Professor Wolfgang
Ketterle, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, called it “an
overreaction”. France, the US? Really now. Not quite the exemplars of revered
gender equality. 21 fellows of the actual Royal Society (yes you know Sir Tim
resigned from his senior position) were critical of the decision, four were neutral
and none (none!) backed the UCL. Their ages weren’t included. Just saying
Finally. Michael Arthur, the provost of UCL, said Sir Tim’s remarks “do
contradict the basic values of UCL – even if meant to be taken lightly – and
because of that I believe we were right to accept his resignation. Our
commitment to gender equality and our support for women in science was and is
the ultimate concern. Our ambition is to create a working environment in which
women feel supported and valued at work.” Clearly jokester-Tim was unaware of
Now for a few facts. Female university science professors are paid thousands of
pounds less than their male counterparts. Surprise, surprise. Surely you didn’t
think they were paid more did you? Of course not.
They are paid £5,000 less on average but according to The Sunday Times, at
London School of Economics and Bristol University the difference can be
£21,000! The survey included 90 universities. Remarkably only Cambridge and
Oxford recognised gender equality.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Deborah Blum had previously posted a picture online of Sir
Tim laughing over breakfast as she discussed his comments with him the
following morning. She maintained he had told her that at the time he was being
“honest”. Not simply a misogynist, an idiot, but a liar as well. Nice.
Evidently Sir Tim and his professor wife held each other and cried at his sudden
situation. Poor teary Tim. “What will I do without all those lovely little women
throwing themselves at me? Oh dear me.” “You still have me, Sir Tim. I’ll put on
Roy Orbison for you. You know. ‘I’ll always be crying over you…cryyyyyying
over youuuuu.” “Perhaps Big Boys Don’t Cry would be better….”
Teachers are advising their female students that science isn’t for them.
Suggesting they take up hair dressing then? Curiously can you name one
celebrated female celebrity hairdresser? Hmmm. I thought not. Options?
Cleaner? Hmmm. Isn’t that what they will do later in life? Options? Stilettoes and
The voice of ex-band member (D:Ream) and of reason, Professor Brian Cox
has suggested “If what’s left is the very clear impression there are problems and
the positive hashtag (#DistractinglySexy). If that’s what’s left that is good.”
Now for some silly unrelated good bits. A twitter Q&A with Fifty Shades’ EL
James: “What do you dislike more, independent strong woman or the English
language?” “I’ve thrown some alphabetti spaghetti on a blank piece of paper,
could I have your publisher’s email address?” “After the success of Grey have
you considered retelling the story from the perspective of someone who can
write?” Who doesn’t love a joke then? Brilliant.