Friday, Dec 02, 2022

#DistractinglySexy: Why women scientists are panning Nobel winner Tim Hunt

The #Distractinglysexy campaign highlights how sexism is rampant, no matter what field you work in

DistractinglySexy is the response to Nobel prize winner Tim Hunt's sexist remarks. Women posing in a cancer research lab. (Source: @_feeohna from Twitter) DistractinglySexy is the response to Nobel prize winner Tim Hunt’s sexist remarks. Women posing in a cancer research lab. (Source: @_feeohna from Twitter)

Unless you’re living under a rock, the #Distractinglysexy campaign is on your News Feed on Facebook or your Twitter timeline. The campaign has been started by women scientists globally after Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim Hunt said that women in the lab were distracting, because people keep falling in love and scientific research goes for a toss. Oh, and he adds that women scientists do not like being criticised once you start dating them.

Tim Hunt made the remarks at the World Conference of Journalists in Seoul on June 9, 2015 and according to the BBC his exact quote was, “Let me tell you about the trouble with girls. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry!”


Hunt later resigned from his position as an honorary professor at the University College London. He also said he was sorry about the remark but not before defending his position. He told the BBC, “I did mean the part about having trouble with girls…It is true that people – I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.”

In short, not much of an apology from Tim Hunt since he still thinks that he was just speaking the truth and cannot really see what the fuss is all about.

Tim Hunt’s apology (if you want to call it that) has not really done much for women scientists across the world and they’ve taken to posting pictures of themselves looking #DistractinglySexy while at work in science labs, oceans, archaeological fields, etc. The campaign has seen over 119,000 tweets around the trend so far, according to Topsy.

Below are some of the funniest reactions on Twitter:

Of course Tim Hunt is not the first scientist or man to express views that are sexist, when it comes to women in the workplace. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella faced considerable flak last year when he was quoted as saying as saying that women should not ask for a raise but rather wait for ‘karma’ to reward them.

Satya Nadella made the remarks at a three-day conference in Phoenix, Arizona which was held to celebrate women in computing.


He was quoted as saying, “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”. You can listen to his remark here.

Given that in the technology industry, the gender ratio is quite abysmal and there have been several instances of sexism, sexual harassment, Nadella’s remarks were criticised as ignoring the real picture. Nadella later apologised saying, “Was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise. Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias.” Again not much of an apology because it appears to imply that women demand raise because a perceived bias and not really because they deserve it.

A UN report in March 2015, this year highlighted that no country has achieved gender equality. “A girl born today will be an 81-year-old grandmother before she has the same chance as a man to be CEO of a company,” said the head of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.


Based on the UN report, it’s fair to say that irrespective of the industry, structural biases exist against women, even now.  Additionally the belief that women are ‘distracting’ in the workplace has survived in 2015. While #DistractinglySexy does a great job of mocking these beliefs, as the UN report indicates, for women in the workplace the challenges are far from over.

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First published on: 14-06-2015 at 10:00:35 am
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