A few weeks ago, Nobel laureate and biochemist Sir Richard Timothy “Tim” Hunt made some pretty controversial statements regarding women in science at the World Conference of Science Journalists:

Let me tell you about the 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 criticize them they cry.

Look. I get it. I’ve worked in labs. In my life before becoming Mom, I worked in a forensic entomology laboratory as well as the entomology toxicology and molecular biology labs at a university. They were super science-y places to work, especially for a sexually charged and overly emotional woman in her early twenties such as myself. In fact, once a month, in a hormonal state of confusion, I would inevitably wind up leaving Tampax and Ben & Jerry’s all over the lab. But what can I say? Women are just trouble when it comes to doing anything outside of the home.

Alright. I’m done being sarcastic. I’m also just about done being angry at this man’s ignorance. I say “just about,” because I’m a woman, and you know how we like, hold on to stuff and just never let it go. Women and our emotions, right?!

Sorry. I couldn’t resist one last jab.

In order to backtrack and sort of apologize without actually apologizing, Hunt went on to tell BBC Radio that he “did not mean the part about having trouble with girls. I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me, and it’s very disruptive. . .” Apparently, he meant for his statement to me funny, but was shocked when the auditorium fell silent in response to his “joke.”

On June 10, one day after his statement heard ’round the world, University College London announced that Sir Tim Hunt had stepped down from his position as Honorary Professor with the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences. Honestly, it’s a damn shame. It’s a shame because the man is brilliant, and has contributed a remarkable amount to the world’s knowledge of cell biology. It’s a shame that a man with as much experience as he has still doesn’t seem to have a clear understanding of the adversity that women face in the world of science. It’s a shame that he thinks that misogyny is a joke. And it’s a shame that he made those comments, while serving as Honorary Professor at the university that boasts about being the first in England to admit women students on the same terms as men. Yikes.

Source: Getty Images

Tim Hunt’s comments first hit me the same way most of these things do: I was annoyed, and kind of sad for the guy. Something about him being a scientist really struck a cord with me, though. This story has made me think about my views of gender and my expectations for my children. This story, along with other recent events in the news have caused me to feel even more strongly about my stance on stereotypes in our society and how I want my children to learn from them. You see, I don’t have a daughter, but that’s not to say I won’t someday have one. I have a son, who is 3 [and a half] years old. Misogynistic statements like Tim Hunt’s don’t just affect our daughters, they also affect our sons. Women standing up and breaking through stereotypes are just half of the battle against gender bias. Men also need to take a stance and make it known that statements like Tim Hunt’s are not only misogynistic, but just plain wrong.

When and if I ever have a daughter, I already know some of the struggles she will face as an academic. I know I want to raise a strong daughter. A daughter who knows she’s just as important as the man standing next to her, but also doesn’t resent him for being a man. One who understands the power of knowledge and hard work. I want her to never let her gender be the reason she doesn’t accomplish whatever she wants to accomplish in life. There’s no reason for it to be. We are not living in 1950. This is 2015, and women are ruling the world!

The moment I heard the words “it’s a boy,” I knew I had a big responsibility on my hands when it came to raising a man that understood the importance of love and humility. Since the day he was born, I’ve made sure he understands that women are no less than he is. In fact, there will almost always be women in his life that are his superiors. That should never be something he feels uncomfortable about. Again, we do not live in 1950. A woman could totally be my son’s boss someday. Or he could be the boss with a number women employees under his management. Either way, he should always respect them, just as he does his male counterparts.

Here’s the problem with misogyny: it’s like a virus. It spreads like wildfire. A young impressionable woman hearing someone as well-known and well-educated as Tim Hunt could easily be discouraged from reaching her full potential. Not all women are strong enough to fight the ugly words of someone as renowned as a Nobel laureate. Not all men are that strong, either. We like to think that our youth hear remarks like this and fight to rise above them, but we forget how easy it is to mindlessly agree with someone who seems wiser than us when we are young. It’s too easy to fall back into line, and perpetuate the stereotypes that we know to be false. It’s too easy for us to internalize the one negative soundbite we hear among the hundreds of positive ones.

These are things that I’m sure not everyone stays up at night worrying about teaching their kids. It sort of seems like common sense to raise our kids this way, right? If you really think about it, the majority of us are actually striving for the same thing: respect across gender and racial lines. Whether it’s something you actively teach or not, I think we can all agree that it’s a stance that is becoming more and more widely accepted. The fact that society’s knee-jerk reaction to Tim Hunt’s statement was so widespread is a sign that we are heading in the right direction. And that is the glimmer of hope I have gotten out of all of this.

Hopefully someday our daughters can live in a world where men don’t make jokes about their abilities as productive members of society. This seems to be one of those two steps forward and one step back situations, and women are leading the dance. We took one step back, but now we’re ready to take two more steps forward. Thank goodness.


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