THE BLOG

The Trouble With Girls?

11/06/2015 11:59 BST | Updated 11/06/2016 10:59 BST

So, the trouble with girls in a lab is that they might fall in love with the men working there, or vice versa, and that would be in some unspecified way detrimental to the work done in that science department?

I welcome UCL's strong commitment to equality and diversity in accepting his resignation but Sir Tim Hunt's comments must continue to be questioned.

I am not a psychologist, but common sense and basic managerial training make me challenge the presumption that falling in love with fellow staff somehow impedes the work done in a science lab: people with a balanced social and personal life work better, are more creative, and contribute to a happier work environment for the benefit of all and the  outcomes of the research carried out in that department. But what actually disturbs me most in this absurd claim is the illogical conclusion that it is women who are to blame and to be banned!

If one were, purely for argument's sake, to accept the preposterous premise that falling in love, or more specifically heterosexual relationships, were somehow bad for the work environment in a science department, then why would this lead to the conclusion that women should not be there? If that were the case, then why could the conclusion not equally be to ban men from that lab and let the women get on with their work undisturbed" by love-struck men?

If this comment was meant as a joke, in incredibly poor taste in my view, then it still reflects a widely held and disturbingly deep-seated opinion that it is somehow up to men to do all the interesting things in life, drive discoveries and innovation, determine what is important, and take the lead in any relationships, while women are consigned to a secondary or support role deemed inferior. It is this kind of underlying attitude which is so awfully damaging, as it pushes people, men and women, into pre-cast roles, no matter what their personal preference or aptitude.

I know plenty of stellar women scientists and I think all of them have had their share in the struggle to succeed in the face of this sort of attitude. Even if they happen to have a male partner who very happily supports them and makes concessions to his own career for the sake of their joint family life, then it is this sort of attitude which puts entirely artificial barriers up and continuously questions the man's role in what could otherwise be a perfectly good and well-working family relationship.

Oh, but there was another point: girls might cry if they are criticized in the work place? I have on a few occasions seen staff cry, men as well as women, but it would never have occurred to me to see this as a sign of them somehow not being suitable scientists; I would have just been concerned to address whatever got them into such a distressed state, and I would question the suitability of any director or manager not having the same priority. If there were a science department where women being reduced to tears were not an isolated instance, then I would ask what in that work environment has led to such extreme frustration that got them into such distress. Indeed, having to face a discriminatory and belittling attitude on a daily basis over months, years and decades, as some women have had to endure purely due to their gender, would reduce anyone to tears eventually.

So, the trouble is not with girls; it is with prejudice and deep-seated "traditional" attitudes that somehow place men above women when it comes to performance in and aptitude for science. Swimming against the flow is always strenuous. The only way to calm the waters is to balance the flow in all directions and make it just as natural for women to engage in science as it is for men.

Please girls, let us all promise that we won't discriminate against men!