It’s been interesting to see the reaction to Tim Hunt’s widely publicised comments regarding girls (i.e. women) in a science lab: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

Despite his very clear introduction “let me tell you about my trouble with girls” (emphasis mine), it seems to me that this has almost been universally interpreted as a statement about ‘girls’ (and specifically ‘girls’ in science), whereas it seems to me it is actually a statement about Tim Hunt (and probably about ‘boys’ more generally).

It has been said before that “When a man looks in the mirror, he sees a person. When a woman looks in the mirror, she see a woman” (can’t remember who said this), and I think there’s something in this. Now please understand me – I believe that the feminist agenda is incredibly important, and there is an appalling history of sexism and suppression of women by men and society. But actually not every statement or act that involves a woman is about women. Thankfully I think we’ve moved beyond raving feminists getting cross with a man holding a door open for them – for me, at least, it was never about holding the door open for a woman, as it was holding the door open.

I’m not defending the comment for a minute (what a daft thing to say, especially in that context, and even more especially to say “girls”), and there is no doubt a lot of work in addressing sexism in our society, particularly in “hard” subjects. We desperately need a better balance in science, engineering, and computing. But I do just wonder if Sir Tim was owning up that he (probably along with a lot of men, particularly in science), finds emotion a bit difficult to deal with. Despite the hilarious twitter campaign #DistractinglySexy, it is actually very easy to fall in love in the lab, and it often has very little to do with physical attraction. A meeting of minds is a far more powerful aprodisiac than a fit body, in my experience.

So I don’t believe for one minute that Sir Tim was saying that we don’t need or want women in science, or in labs. I’m not even sure he was seriously suggesting seggregation. I think he was just saying that as a science nerd he finds the whole women and emotion thing a bit difficult to deal with, and he would prefer it if he didn’t have to deal with it at work! To be honest, I can kind of relate to that too. I think it was a sexist comment, but that the sexism was directed against men, who – let’s face it – are pretty crap at this sort of stuff!

So it seems to me – yes – he shouldn’t have said it, and it’s not going to help anything (probably the opposite)… but it’s actually less heinous than the commentators are making out?