Friday, 26 June 2015

There Once Was A Sexist Called Hunt, by Dorothy Donald

Note: This is Dorothy Donald's third post for Depressed Academics. This one is about the ongoing controversy surrounding remarks made by Tim Hunt. I thought about trying to explain this situation briefly for those from other countries or from the future, but decided it was too complicated to do so. So if you want to know more about it and don't, google around. Dorothy provides some links at the end.

The night of his comments: “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

The morning of the ‘apology’: “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

After that: I’m somewhat indignant, but mostly laughing at the situation because what else can you do? UCL has got it in hand, as has Twitter with the glorious #DistractinglySexy. I read thoughtful blogs posts on how this is, in itself, not the problem. It’s a tiny drop in a very big ocean, a symptom, a sign that much more important work is still to be done (check out Dorothy Bishop, Hilda Bastian, Jennifer Rohn). I observe with a smirk as Boris Johnson is thanked cordially for his input and invited to sit back down, sir.

During the backlash: I’m really quite angry now. It seems that the anti-feminists will never tire of telling us to shut up, to go away, to ‘take a joke’ and, while we’re at it, stop trying to take space that could be occupied by someone more deserving. The arguments are summarised here for anyone who’s been living under a rock:
  1.  Don’t we know that Tim Hunt is A Very Important Man and entitled to say whatever he likes? (And no, this entitlement does not extend to his critics)
  2.  Don’t we know that he’s been hounded out of his job, that he’s finished, that our shaming of him has criminally deprived science of who knows what great contribution? (And no, the fact that he has not actually lost what you could call a job is neither here nor there. And no, women who are actually hounded out of science clearly weren’t committed enough to it in the first place – that’s completely different, shut up, do you hear? And women, in case you haven’t been listening, can’t really do science so it can’t possibly matter if they do leave)
  3. Don’t we feel ashamed of ourselves for engaging in this hate mob? (Count up the threats of violence issued towards Tim Hunt, and then those towards Emily Grossman. Go on. I warmly invite you.)
I read some more. I hoover it all up in a semi-masochistic frenzy. I promise myself that this will be the last thing I read. No, this will be the last thing I read. No, this will definitely be the last thing I read about Tim fucking Hunt.

Then, of course, I write. I sketch out what I see to be the important points, some of which I’ve seen covered, some of which I think have been missed. I read some more things. I make references to the useful sources I’ve read, add just enough snark to make it cathartic, and then I never ever post what I have written because I do not have the energy to be a woman writing about sexism on the internet right now. I have used all my energy up laughing good-naturedly at the well-intentioned colleague mocking Tim Hunt’s remarks by jokingly warning me not to fall in love with him. I have used it all up saying “He didn’t lose a research position – he lost an honorary title” five times yesterday, six times the day before, I don’t know how many times today. I have used it all up saying “Yes, actually, I really do think sexism in science is a problem.”

I’m tired.

I read some more. I see all the points I was going to make being made by other people with more guts, more clout, and - sometimes but not always - with more eloquence. I see what they get for sticking their heads above the parapet. I see brave women sticking up for each other in the face of misogyny that’s been crafted over years from misplaced fear and impotent fury. I berate myself for my cowardice while despairing at the fact that their courage is still required in 2015. We are still here. Is it hopeless?

But I’m sorry. I’m hi-jacking the blog. What could the whole Tim Hunt thing possibly have to do with being a depressed academic?



  1. This resonates with me so much. Especially "I read some more. I hoover it all up in a semi-masochistic frenzy. I promise myself that this will be the last thing I read." And since it does affect my depression and I am an academic, it seems a perfectly reasonable post for this blog.

    1. Thank you, Anon. It's helpful to hear that there's someone else who feels a similar way..


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