Tim Hunt, a nobel laureate, thought it would be appropriate to tell the attendees at a meeting honouring women in science that labs should be segregated because “You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry!” Twitter has responded brilliantly to this by flocking to the hashtag #distractinglysexy with pictures of women in science doing their thing. Alas, most of my science is done behind a computer, which isn’t even slightly distractingly sexy, so I don’t have a picture of my own to share. Many people have discussed why Tim Hunt’s statement is inherently false in its sweeping generalisation. I would like to add my own account, having done all the things he says makes the workplace untenable, and show why it doesn’t matter.
Like a lot of people in all kinds of occupations, I fell in love with a co-worker. We noticed each other, took some time to realise we were on the same wavelength, and then decided to do something about it. Even when I was crushing, without any idea he felt the same way, it did not affect my work. Just like crushing on someone outside of work, or a celebrity, these human emotions do not at all inhibit my ability to perform my job. There are plenty of people, men and women, who unfortunately have to deal with relationship problems. Hell, I spent a year of my Bachelor degree taking care of my terminally ill father, which is about as distracted as you can get. Men’s problems do not miraculously go away when men enter the lab. Both men and women can be affected by personal issues, in a way that affects their work. This does not make them bad scientists, it makes them human. Besides, having a few women around the office (who are allowed by (frankly outdated) societal norms to show emotions) to talk to about your situation can be quite a boon for the males, as I’m sure many will agree!
As for unreciprocated office romances (which again are in no way unique to science), I have seen a few in my time, and if anything it made the scorned party work even harder, become even more productive, and did not at all affect working relationships. The only time one-sided love can become a problem is if the person with romantic feelings (I won’t assume male *coughTimHuntcough*) is in a position of power and tries to use that to leverage the other person into reciprocating. That is what one would call sexual harassment, and just plain wrong no matter what gender does it.
As for his last assertion, that women in science cry when you criticise them: I have cried, once at work, not because I was criticised but because I was hugely disappointed and basically screwed over by another person, who because they did not do something they promised to do unnecessarily delayed the end of my PhD (this was after a few such instances and quite near what was supposed to be the end, so the very last drop in quite a full bucket). Luckily my male primary supervisor was incredibly understanding and supportive, and generally a much better role model than Tim Hunt could ever be! I know other PhD students who have cried for similar reasons, not because they were criticised, but because they were so passionate about their research that they could not stand someone else tripping them up out of pure carelessness. It is a feeling of powerlessness that probably most PhD students experience, the only difference being that women are told from a very young age that a valid response to this is crying, while men are taught instead to punch a wall or get angry. Neither of these responses is particularly productive, and more importantly does not change anything about the quality of work (as my many publications will attest), but just shows that people are invested in the science they are doing, which is a good thing!
As for women who do respond to criticism by crying (I don’t personally know anyone that does), I’m guessing their response is more healthy than men who respond to criticism by shouting and cursing. After a woman has stopped crying, she can reflect on what the criticism meant and better herself. After a man has cursed out the person delivering criticism, he has burned a bridge and due to inherent privilege might even go on believing that he was right regardless of what the reality of the situation may be (not all men, obviously, just like not all women cry, but I know some men who do act like this, who are luckily not in science). As some others have also pointed out, maybe if women cry after you criticise them, you need to change your approach, at least if your goal is to help instead of merely hurt.
Whew, this became a bit of a longer rant than I intended. My point is that yes, not all women in science behave like Tim Hunt thinks they do, but that even if they did, that doesn’t have any effect on the quality of their work. If anything, mixed workplaces are better for everyone, no matter what field one works in, because it allows one to experience different perspectives and learn how to be a well-rounded member of society comfortable talking with everyone in a friendly and professional manner regardless of gender etc.