A View from the Bubble

Musings from outside the mainstream.

Can we criticize women? – the over-reaction to Tim Hunt

A question I have is this, can women handle criticism?  Well, of course many can.  But can we talk about those who can’t?  Can we acknowledge a pattern, any pattern, if it’s critical of women?  I ask because it sure seems the reverse is acceptable.  We can criticize men.  We can generalize about men, even if it doesn’t hold true to all men.

In our public discourse we can say that men don’t listen, aren’t empathetic and aren’t nurturing or place individual rewards over team acknowledgment and fair compensation.  We can say that they’re prone to being pompous to the point of creating a term called mansplaining that is now acceptable to use when referring to men.

And, as a man, I’m not going to deny that men don’t display these traits or deny that they affect relationship and the work environment.

So, I’m curious, where can we talk about women using generalizations that fit?  About the only thing I’ve heard close to acknowledged and acceptable is in referring to a woman as bridezilla.  Because, well, I don’t think it needs explanation.  But women will admit that it’s accurate from time to time.

tim huntSo when Nobel prize winning scientist Sir Tim Hunt —a knight and everything!— stated off the cuff his “trouble with girls,” it’s so outrageous that he’s resigned or been booted from various official posts and continues to receive criticism for his non-apology.

One pundit refers to his comment as “oppression.”  So what did he say?

1) Female scientists fall in love with male scientists,
2) male scientists fall in love with female scientists,
3) women cry when criticized,
and this combination of problems led to the conclusion that
4) perhaps we would be better served with gender segregated laboratories.

To suggest this is oppression is ridiculous.  Hunt didn’t say women weren’t fit for the workplace or didn’t belong in science and he did not blame either gender for inter-office romance, though he did say women were “distractingly sexy.”  And while Hunt claims the gist of his comments were taken out of context and failed to include the qualifier he used quickly after, “now seriously,” I tend to think people say things they feel.  It may have burbled up at an unguarded moment but I don’t dismiss it.

Indeed, Deborah Blum, who was there relays that Hunt “said that while he meant to be ironic, he did think it was hard to collaborate with women because they are too emotional.”  Blum, like others thinks his apology is weak.  Yet he’s not apologizing it away, which suggests he feels there’s some truth to it.  And this is oppression?

That word gets thrown about so much, it’s lost it’s meaning.  Can people disagree or must we be in lockstep agreement?  Which leads me back to my original question.  Can women handle criticism?  Apparently not.

Let’s talk more about the culture of criticism though. Men are conditioned since birth through witness in the home to a constant barrage of criticism on the domestic front for not picking up the correct item at the store to not being sensitive or available for emotional processing.  Then, as women demanded and gained entrance into the workforce, feminism dissected the work environment and criticized many of the male-centric practices there.  In short, men are used to receiving criticism.

But, if you offer similar commentary to a woman on the domestic front, you are an overbearing bore at best, or speaking of gender archetypes in the workforce you are a sexist oppressor at worst. Hunt made a self-depreciating joke referencing his own real life (falling in love with a co-worker) and somehow none of the initial reporting included the complete quote, which included; “Science needs women, and you should do science, despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”  If that’s a sexist statement, it’s sexist to men, for falling for a co-worker.

Going to go back to a term that men regularly are labeled, not nurturing, it’s ironic that female scientists who have worked with Hunt have gone on record saying “He was a very enthusiastic and inspirational teacher. I’ve no indications from my experience or from colleagues that he’s in the slightest way sexist.” Another stated “He was an inspiring and supportive mentor.”

In short, Hunt helped them nurture their career and “Not once did I feel that he treated me differently because I was a woman.”

Still, the Guardian’s Anne Perkins suggested that his comments were “the educated man’s version of the argument that says rape victims who wear short skirts or drink too much have only themselves to blame.” It’s this kind of excessive over-reaction to even the slightest criticism, that keeps many issues from getting talked about openly and fairly.

So, what if the truth in Hunt’s statement is that men are uncomfortable with emotion in the workplace?  If women can say that sexualized innuendo doesn’t belong in the modern workplace, can men say that emotional responses to critical academic and intellectual feedback don’t belong as well?

Nobody suggested or provided any evidence that Hunt wants to exclude women from science or the workforce, but many seem to fear that simple acknowledgement of emotion and interoffice romance would set the clock back 50 years.  And you’ve come all this way?

Maybe, just maybe, we can start talking about the modern work environment from both sides.

2 comments on “Can we criticize women? – the over-reaction to Tim Hunt

  1. M. Pedroso
    July 30, 2015

    Yeah, I agree “oppression” is a too harsh word. It’s more like just plain generalization, stupidity and sexism against women.
    Just like many would call it homophobia to say that it would be better to have segregated labs… because when feminine gay men are criticized they get hysterical, or racism that when black people get criticized they get overly aggressive. But, of course, he said something about women – so it’s never that bad, never something to be taken that serious. Women should just accept being generalized and let it go.

    The part about “the culture of criticism” is bizarre. It doesn’t say it with all letters, but seems to suggest men are more criticized and accept it a lot easier, while women aren’t that much and won’t accept that well. That is of course not true in many, if not most situations. Maybe women and men are usually criticized in different ways, expected to do different things, etc. But women are also getting criticized/”abused” at home, and perceived, labelled and called as worse, not as capable and less important for the workforce. Yes, some men have always done that to women and are still doing it enough, don’t worry about that. Maybe you should ask women.

    “Can women handle criticism? Apparently not.”
    Women were against the generalization. They were criticizing the generalization.
    Maybe you see women criticizing but believe they are just “complaining” or “not handling it well”. Women being passionate as being “too emotional”. Women fighting against generalizations and sexism (usually more than men) as being “too sensitive”.
    Maybe you would not want anyone to say that “apparently men condone domestic violence” only because we can find enough evidence and victim blaming from men whenever a new case comes to light.

    “[…]but many seem to fear that simple acknowledgement of emotion and interoffice romance would set the clock back 50 years. / So, what if the truth in Hunt’s statement is that men are uncomfortable with emotion in the workplace? If women can say that sexualized innuendo doesn’t belong in the modern workplace, can men say that emotional responses to critical academic and intellectual feedback don’t belong as well?”
    Emotions aren’t bad and we have, as humans, emotional responses to everything in all situations. Maybe some people don’t know what emotion really mean if they believe we are not operating on emotion as well as reason all the time. A fast read about emotions in our brain would explain it all. Emotional reactions aren’t just tears and screams, punches and blood.
    Interoffice romance can also happen between people of the same sex. I don’t see it setting the clock back 50 years, though.
    And yes, men can say that – but generalizing females (or males) will forever be counterproductive, and in many cases also sexist. Some females are like that? Of course. Just like some men sexually harass females coworkers or won’t accept that women face a lot of struggles. Let’s criticize the ones that do it, not generalize their sex, race, etc.

  2. A.J. Simonsen
    July 30, 2015

    But, of course, he said something about women – so it’s never that bad, never something to be taken that serious. Women should just accept being generalized and let it go.

    Tim Hunt made himself the butt of the joke. But there probably was some truth in the elements of his joke. This does not make him or the joke sexist. The way it has been interpreted by many is indeed an example of emotion outweighing logic. Plus, several people outright lied.

    And yes, I think men are conditioned to accepted criticism. From my perspective women are much more vocal about real/perceived wrongs and active in analyzing relationships. While I don’t equate browbeating with physical abuse, I do think the line blurs quickly between browbeating and verbal abuse. And, I do think these distinctions need to be part of the equation and discussion.

    Because women have pressed for change, and I generally think this is good, they have been able to identify and normalize terms for the discussions and frame the issues. In short, they have more tools than men to articulate their concerns. I don’t think the terms or how issues have been framed is complete or fair.

    This blog is a project and an attempt to create terms that help men articulate their voice and concerns. I expect disagreement. Thanks for stopping by.

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This entry was posted on July 1, 2015 by in commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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