Thoughts on #distractinglysexy

distractinglysexyTonight, I wanted to share with you some advice about what one should do when dining with a Nobel prize winner, but this Tim Hunt #distractinglysexy thing came up. I posted on Twitter that I had a few reservations about the #distractinglysexy hashtag, and some people seemed a bit aghast – I thought I’d explain my point of view a little more – we’ll get back to dinner parties another night:

Most of us that are living in the current millenium agree that the statements made by Dr. Hunt are just plain wrong. STEM needs insights from all types of people, everybody has important input to give, and there are too many problems left to solve for leaving anybody out. We need all the brainpower we can get.

Is the problem that Tim Hunt doesn’t respect women in STEM? Is the problem that some men don’t respect women in STEM?

If so, does posting pictures of women on Twitter change Tim Hunt’s mind? Does it change any chauvinist man’s mind? Will we all wake up tomorrow in a STEM world without sexism or racism? We’re certainly bringing a lot of attention to the problem, but does #distractinglysexy actually solve a problem?

@niais posted a downright tirade about her feelings (warning: graphic language). To me, her comments were much clearer about explaining the problem(s) than any #distractinglysexy picture.

Perhaps instead #distractinglysexy will begin an open and honest conversation. Then, we can provide some data about the status of women in STEM, what areas need the most attention, and where we’ve already succeeded. @EmicAcademic does fantastic work on this, and @AAUW took the opportunity to begin posting all sorts of statistics and articles about Women in STEM – I believe THIS is the conversation we need to be having!

@D_avidH today pointed out the importance of understanding the problem and brainstorming solutions in STEM. I think the same thing applies here.  Everyone had something different to say about #distractingly sexy:

@CatholicSara said that #distractinglysexy is meant to make women laugh

@Bailiuchan suggested that satire can be a powerful agent of change

@coralnerd suggested this was an avenue of self expression for women in STEM

@dawnbazely suggested (not to me) that #distractinglysexy moved beyond Tim Hunt, and became a movement about women empowering themselves

First, thanks to each of you for your input and conversation – I think you all have completely valid points, and I learned a lot by considering your viewpoints. This is a situation where you are all right, and for the same reasons, I support #distractinglysexy if it:

  • Empowers anybody – man or woman – to pursue STEM.
  • Shows young people the diversity and exciting avenues of STEM careers
  • Encourages women and men in STEM to feel comfortable in their personal version of self-expression
  • Celebrates the accomplishments of women and men in STEM
  • Forms a support network of people in STEM to converse and share ideas with

Those things are incredibly important, and desperately needed. But personally, I have reservations about building such an empowering, uplifting movement if its very foundation is based upon tearing someone down. Even if that someone is wrong. Isn’t marginalizing someone else’s self expression the very thing we’re trying to prevent?

Instead, why don’t we create a movement based purely on positive foundations? Empower women and men in STEM every day – not just on days when some chauvinist makes a highly publicized sexist comment. For example@StephEvz43 has a great weekly video series on STEM and @Realscientists features different scientists on their website on a weekly basis with fantastic week-long outreach by each scientist. A couple weeks ago on my blog, I wrote a post about how I use STEM in my every day job. It was full of pictures that would be perfect for #distractinglysexy (before #distractinglysexy was cool). I didn’t write it as a one-time reaction to a rude comment. I wrote it because sharing my STEM experience could positively influence someone else.

We shouldn’t just be highlighting STEM when something negative happens. We should be celebrating STEM every day – celebrating little victories like passing a test or finishing an experiment, celebrating big victories like graduating, getting jobs, paper acceptances, patents, and discoveries. Instead of reactionary hashtags like #distractinglysexy, I’d rather celebrate and empower with constant positivity, such as #thankyouSTEMwomen, #scienceFTW, #heforshe, #heforSWE and @smrtgrls. I hope that opening a positive avenue of empowerment would

  1. Provide an environment of mentorship, camaraderie, encouragement which allows everyone to feel safe in their own form of self-expression
  2. open discussion to determine the problems, brainstorm possible answers and implement solutions, and
  3. develop a workforce of successful, empowered, educated STEM professionals

What do you think about the debate? Are there any key points of the discussion I’ve left out? I’d love to hear your opinion – the conversation is started – let’s keep it going


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