First off, I do not want anything I say to be construed as a defense of Tim Hunt. He’s a giant douche who needs to stick to talking about, um, whatever his field is. Good job dude, you’re better known for your idiotic comments than whatever it is you won the Nobel Prize for.
But... well, he’s right about his “three problems.” People fall in love in the lab all the time, and women do have a greater propensity to cry when criticized. Certainly not everyone!
There’s nothing wrong with falling in love in the lab, it seems that the majority of scientists are married to other scientists, and it’s a great place to meet people who share your passions. It can be a problem if the relationship is grad student - advisor, but, well, adults can work things out in theory at least. Moving on.
[And oh god, I looked it up and his wife is a scientist. Hm, seems like all that sexy distraction worked out for him and he still managed to win a Nobel Prize, so what are you bitching about you fucking dumbass.]
Now, the crying. I’ve been really uncomfortable with the portion of #distractinglysexy where women point out that they do not cry. Partially because I’m a crier. I have no goddamn control over my crying. One the water starts to form, I can’t keep it in. This does not make me incompetent!
Also, I gotta call bullshit. I know many, many women who told me they cried in grad school, and a LOT. I know two women who dropped out of grad school, went to vet school (notorious for inducing crying), and told me they cried more in grad school than vet school. Here’s thing though - we dry our tears, pull ourselves together, put some thought into whether the criticism is legitimate, and move on to improve.
And here’s the thing - can we stop acting like there’s something wrong with shows of emotion? Like crying is an automatic sign of weak character? Can we just accept it as a thing some people do? Particularly people with mental illness? Which badly needs to be de-stigmatized, and is also not a sign of weak character or incompetence.
Tim Hunt went on to complain that you cannot criticize people properly if they burst into tears. First of all, if you’re constantly making people cry, perhaps you’re not very good at criticizing and are actually being a douche instead of a good mentor. If this happens occasionally, how about, I dunno, letting the person calm down and providing the feedback in written form so they have time to process it. A little emotional intelligence please.
But I also thought about something interesting. I’m in a very female dominated profession, and there is a lot of tolerance for crying, primarily from other women in the field. Just some examples:
- after my first overnight shift, my supervisor tore apart my handling of a case. After holding myself together all night, I burst into tears. A number of people came to give me a hug, and the supervisor said “I think everyone cries after their first overnight. You’ll be fine.” Months later I realized her criticisms were nitpicky and stupid and I actually did pretty well, but whatever.
- one of my classmates had a meltdown for what was a truly stupid reason, but she got a lot of support and the classmate who made her cry had some social issues for a while. Everything was fine with everyone after a couple weeks.
- I had a meltdown over a fairly stupid thing as well, but my professor took time out to calm me down.
- a student said to a bunch of people she was totally expecting herself to cry in a situation but didn’t so was relieved. She wasn’t particularly close to anyone there, it’s not like she was confiding.
- In general there was a fair bit of crying in the halls and it was expected and not considered a big deal.
- one of my classmates complained about another because she cried “all the time.” Guess the gender.
- I went on a job interview where I was informed that crying is not allowed. Guess the gender.
Maybe as more and more women penetrate various fields, and as we continue the de-stigmatization of mental illness, there will be more tolerance for displays of emotion. Maybe one day men will even be allowed to cry!