Is Sexism in Science Actually Paternalism?


There’s an infection called Hand-foot-and-mouth disease, which is common among young children and is caused by a virus. Lately, there seems to be another illness, Foot-in-mouth disease, that’s been going viral, at least socially. The main difference between these diseases is that the latter seems to affect mostly adults, and more specifically, adult male scientists.

The most recent victim of this Foot-in-mouth disease is Tim Hunt, a 2001 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, for his comment about women in the lab.

His rather bizarre remark spurred a fury of backlash and some rather hilarious tweets by female scientists with the hashtag #distractinglysexy.

As mentioned in The Atlantic, Hunt’s comment is just one of a

As a female in what’s considered the brainiest field in medicine–neurology–I have personally encountered this sexism throughout my career. I’ve had male researchers call me “young lady”, rather than Dr. Akhtar, in an attempt to denigrate me, and more importantly, my opinions. One supervisor told me that I should consider pursuing a different course of study so that I would be seen as “more than just a pretty face.” And these are just a few of my own personal experiences.

While individuals like Hunt may be outliers in the sense that they actually had the audacity to publicly express their backward views in this Twitter-trigger world (seriously, don’t they know by now??!), my own experiences and these examples suggest that sexist views in the sciences are widespread.

However, as clearly sexist as these comments and behaviors are, I think that these cases represent something that goes beyond sexism. I think they are rooted in an “ism” that is far subtler and far more dangerous–paternalism.

The sciences, particularly the biological and medical sciences, have a long history of paternalism. Doctors —> Read More