June 2015: The real reason why scientist Tim Hunt—and other chauvinists—want women out of their headspaces.
You’ve probably heard Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Tim Hunt’s recent call for gender-segregated labs, calling on his “trouble with girls”—“You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.” Oh wow!
Though what he’s saying has such a familiar ring, it’s unusual to hear something like coming from a man of his intelligence. I mean, smart people shouldn’t carry such dogma; or should at least be smart enough not to air their opinions, and certainly not to a collection of women scientists and journalists! And the catch-all umbrella of ‘humour’ and ‘joke’—har-har, it would be funny if it didn’t just expose the attitudes that result in the glass ceiling and women’s low numbers in the workforce, particularly in the science fields that are seen as male domains.
There’s gender segregation in most religions, in mosques and convent schools, and Aligarh Muslim University banned women from accessing a library last year. And their premises are all the same.
Women distract men. At the sight of women, able-bodied men’s bodies flood with hormones and they start thinking from the wrong head, anathema for intellectual and spiritual pursuits. Of course, it assumes a sexual-romantic interest is all that can exist between people of opposite genders, as though we’re magnetised towards to the opposite gender via our reproductive organs in the manner of animals on heat, led solely by them. It also stems from heteronormality—what about same-sex relationships and sex? And what’s wrong with sex anyway?!
Of course, this leaves the onus of men’s hormones on the woman, as though men are blubbering tantrumatic toddlers unable to control their bodies and desires. And this is unfair and dangerous to women—the belief that our mere existence inconveniences the 'primary' sex is the basis of the don’t-wear-short-clothes don’t-go-out-at-night serves-her-right attitude about sexual violence that we fight so hard against. The burka and the ghoonghat are for women’s own safety, you see?
And this assumption of female emotional weakness—really?! In fact, if anything, the principle that lays the responsibility of men’s desires on women (including Mr Hunt’s distracting romantic entanglements with female colleagues) takes the men to be the emotionally weaker sex.
Gender binaries in all cultures that exist today are based on historical mores; they come from a world where physical power was crucial and it determined the relative importance and roles of both genders. We have now evolved into a knowledge economy were brawn only goes so far and equal rights have only grown—we must now rethink the basis of gender and other prejudices.
So no. First, I’m sure most men would like to stop being thought of as weaklings who are tyrannised by their own desires, more balls than brains. Your “trouble with girls”, Mr Hunt, is the trouble with you—your inability to concentrate, your inability to prevent love-shuv and lust from “disrupting” your work and scientific thought. Ditto with the ‘I saw what she was wearing and I couldn’t help myself’ argument for sexual violence—c’mon, give yourselves some credit, why don’t you?
Once that’s done, once men are attributed with (and attribute themselves with) agency and responsibility for their thoughts and actions, everything else falls into place. There’ll be no need to protect them against women’s wily charms; and they’ll be no need to protect women (or for women to protect themselves) against the physical power of those enslaved by their hormones. It’s time for men to be considered (and consider themselves) adults.
An edited version of this article appeared on iDiva in June 2015.