Unwelcome Distractions

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These are welcome distractions.

They are cross stitch pictures you hang on your wall, and they are rather rustic, but very pretty.  This store has some other lovely distractions, such as scented candles and floral strands with which to decorate your home.  These are distractions in life.  They take your eyes away from what you were doing for a moment, and then you get back to whatever you were doing.

 

Tim Hunt, a Nobel prize winning scientist, is under a lot of pressure these days, and it isn’t from lab cultures that just won’t work out…

It is from antiquated cultures in the lab that just won’t die.

 

English biochemist, the Nobel-prize winner Sir Richard Timothy 'Tim' Hunt meets with the press at the Jozsef Attila Study and Information Centre of Szeged Sciences University in Szegede on March 22, 2012, during an international conference series held on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Hungarian Albert Szent-Gyorgyi?s Nobel Prize Award. The event be attended by nine Nobel Laureates and nearly 1000 scientific researchers from all over the world.  Albert Szent-Gyorgyi received the nobel prize in Phisiology or Medecine in 1937 for discovering, among other things, vitamin C and the compontents and reactions of the citric acid cycle.  AFP PHOTO / CSABA SEGESVARI (Photo credit should read CSABA SEGESVARI/AFP/Getty Images)
English biochemist, the Nobel-prize winner Sir Richard Timothy ‘Tim’ Hunt meets with the press at the Jozsef Attila Study and Information Centre of Szeged Sciences University in Szegede on March 22, 2012, during an international conference series held on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Hungarian Albert Szent-Gyorgyi?s Nobel Prize Award. The event be attended by nine Nobel Laureates and nearly 1000 scientific researchers from all over the world. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi received the nobel prize in Phisiology or Medecine in 1937 for discovering, among other things, vitamin C and the compontents and reactions of the citric acid cycle. AFP PHOTO / CSABA SEGESVARI (Photo credit should read CSABA SEGESVARI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

I feel bad for the guy, because I don’t think he was being malicious at all with his recent comments about women being “distractions” in the lab:

 

Three things happen when [women] are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry,” said Hunt.”

 

The problem is, even if he wasn’t being malicious…he was being pretty stupid.

The problem is not women.

They aren’t “women in the lab.”  They are fellow scientists. Fellow scientists who are working on the study of cyclin proteins and their role in cell division, perhaps. The problem isn’t that they are distractions…the problem is that some men blame their fellow women peers for the problems they, themselves, are facing.

 

Perhaps the 3 things that happen when men are in the lab is that they have problems with interpersonal relationships in the workplace and difficulties with facilitating and responding to different responses to situations in the lab, as well as problems developing and maintaining relationship boundaries in the lab.

Could be that, right Tim?

 

And yet, that cannot be it, either.  It is just as absurd to see men as the problem, any more than to see women as the problem.  Men and women are working side by side in workplaces everyday, and creating and innovating incredible things on teams together; and although we are always learning how to work together in better, more sensitive and beneficial ways…we are all learning together.

Sometimes it takes some dumb statements to advance the conversation of what is appropriate and what is not.

 

Problems with work relationships isn’t a new topic, though. A few years ago, CNBC’s Van Moody said,

Success in the workplace depends on your ability to relate effectively to people. Research shows that 60 to 80 percent of all difficulties in organizations stem from strained relationships between employees, not from deficits in an individual employee’s skill or motivation…Your success at work depends on your ability to set the kinds of boundaries that encourage mutual respect and keep the focus on productivity.

 

The problem is when people cannot set healthy boundaries at work, or just in life.

 

I’ve seen it before…honestly, I’m sure we all have.

There was a bbq I was attending a while back, and I struck up conversation with a woman who was visiting.  I thought her hair looked darker than the last time I had seen her, and asked if it was indeed a different shade, or if I just remembered her hair differently.  Actually, she had dyed it recently, and she liked it much better darker.  She and I talked about the problems we found with dying dark hair, and which colors do better in the sun, etc.  It was a nice conversation, and I enjoyed talking with her.

Unfortunately, there was a man there who decided it was his responsibility to warn us about how distracting women’s hair can be for men.  We got this lurid story about a woman he worked with once who had dyed her hair darker, and went on to tell us in great detail how she made it impossible for any of the men to work because of her radiant beauty.  Apparently, all the men were distracted by their need to have sex with this woman.

“So, you really should be careful when you go out. You could be distracting all the men around you, and you could be a problem.”

I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing from this man.  This man who had a wife and 5 daughters.  This man who was warning other adult women that it was our fault when men become distracted by their own, possibly inappropriate, sexual urges.  This man had the gall to warn me about the dangers of women being distractions.

It was absolutely unreal, and I honestly didn’t know what to say.  It was not my house and I didn’t want to pound this man into the ground at someone else’s bbq…but on the other hand, this cannot go on.  This man was notorious for making completely inappropriate advances to younger women, and I was sick of it. Has anyone told this guy that this kind of discussion with women is inappropriate?  Ever?

I took it up with the pastor of our church, and also the owner of the home; I discussed it with the wife, the adult daughter who was there and we talked with the sister of the pastor, with whom I was having the conversation with. I most certainly discussed it with Ben, and we both were surprised and disgusted by the behavior of this man we thought we knew.

The women agreed that this man was, indeed, notorious for making inappropriate comments to younger women, and they admitted to feeling very uncomfortable around him because of his unwelcoming behavior towards them.  They said it had been happening for years, and I recalled the year before when he pulled similar behavior with a friend I had invited.  I had hoped that was just an isolated incident; but apparently, it was an ongoing event.

What was most surprising was not the man’s behavior, nor even the outrage and disgust we and the women felt because of this man, but the other men’s response to his behavior.

The official reply was, “Oh, that’s just Don*.”

Oh, that’s just Don.

Don is not a problem?  Really? Don is allowed to make inappropriate sexual comments to the younger women in our families?  Don has no reproach from anyone when he leers over younger women?  This is the first time anyone has spoken up about Don? Nothing has been done before?

 

There wasn’t much more we could do except to communicate to the younger women: “This is not appropriate behavior, and you do not have to listen to men tell you that you are a distraction.  You are not a distraction, you are a woman. It is their problem. You are not the problem.  If this happens again, you can speak up with your voice and tell him, or any person, that they have no right to tell you that you are a distraction or a problem.  This is their problem, and you have the ability to tell them that this is their problem. Not yours. And we have your back any time this happens. You have our full support in saying ‘no.'”

To say I was disappointed in the men is putting it lightly.  I can have no respect for a man who refuses to stand up for the women in his life.  They are cowards and they don’t deserve to be called men of integrity.  On the other hand, I was enormously proud of the young women for not believing what Don was telling them, and acknowledging that what he said was inappropriate.  That is a big step, and I was relieved that they made the first step for themselves.

 

So, I do feel badly for Tim Hunt.

I think that maybe he never had a woman tell him his behavior was inappropriate, and maybe he simply didn’t understand how demeaning and objectifying, and stupid, his comments are to the women with whom he works.

Until now.

 

 

 

 

*not his actual name.

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