June 12 2015
Initially I had mixed feelings about #distractinglysexy because it seemed to play into the tired trope of women scientists not being attractive. But then I saw how many women were using it to post pictures of themselves doing cool and interesting work in the lab and field with comments that pointed out the ridiculousness of Tim Hunt’s remarks. And I decided it was generally a good thing.
For me the point is not that women scientists can’t be sexy but that we are not distracting. If men cannot work besides us without losing focus on their own work, that is their problem not ours. I have worked in many labs and field situations with lots of different people and seen all sorts of romantic and sexual relationships occur. That is life, scientists are human and have messy human emotions. But we still manage to get the work done. Being able to work with people of other genders, races, nationalities, sexual orientations, class, economic backgrounds and combinations of the above is a prerequisite for being a decent human. Science is rife with sexism, racism, and many types of oppression, but segregation (as Tim Hunt suggested) is really not the way to make it better.
Another aspect for me is that competence in the field/ lab is really attractive. The pictures show women doing work they love where the focus is not on how they look or how conventionally attractive they are. As a cisgendered woman, it is assumed that much of what I do and how I present myself is deliberate and meant for the male gaze. For me, these pictures push back against that, showing women doing awesome things where their appearance is besides the point. One of the many reasons I like fieldwork is because it doesn’t matter how I look but how competent I am. The important things in the field are can you drive a boat, can you set up a mist net correctly and skin a bird attractively and quickly? Can you find cheetahs and watch them for 11 hours a day without falling asleep or losing track of them? Can you collect, measure, tag and get a genetic sample from a salmon in under a minute? Can you work in crappy weather without complaining? Can you dig a Landover out of the mud? These are the things I judge myself and my coworkers on and how we look while doing them is not particularly important.
I know many other women will have a variety of different opinions and experiences regarding this issue, and that is what makes it complex and fascinating. There are as many experiences being a woman in science as there are women, and I like that #distractinglysexy shows at least some of that diversity.
For mainsteam media coverage of #distractinglysexy try these links