Last month my first response was outrage when I read Sir Tim Hunt’s remarks about “girls” disrupting science in mixed gender labs by making men fall in love with them and crying when they are criticized. No wonder female undergraduates feel out-of-place and even unwanted in the STEM disciplines, I thought. As a woman who has worked in labs over the course of two pregnancies without crying, or even vomiting, I was fuming. Fortunately, his remarks were not simply dismissed, and Hunt has suffered negative consequences for his offensive comments.
The institutional responses from the University College London and the Royal Society were important for young women to witness. But I hope what will make a lasting impression is all the women scientists who took to Twitter to cleverly defend their dedication and professionalism at #distractinglysexy. The outpouring of scientists being “distractingly sexy” on the job has introduced followers to women of all ages and races practicing science in all its forms – engineering, chemistry, ecology, genetics, biochemistry, wildlife management, lab work, field work and more. Many of the scientists suited up in their alluring masks and hazard suits they use on a daily basis, giving young women a glimpse of real scientific practice.
So, what started out as a potential disaster for STEM ended up being a fantastic promotional event for reaching out to young women through social media. Would anyone else like to make some inane comments about women in science?