#DistractinglySexy: Female scientists have the perfect response to workplace sexism

“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 criticize them, they cry.” That’s what 2001 Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt said at the 2015 World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul earlier this week. Those remarks were so off-color, so damaging and disturbing, they’ve already prompted Hunt to resign from his prestigious University College London position. But his resignation hasn’t quieted the understandable backlash.

Now, female scientists across social media are responding to Hunt’s outrageous remarks by tweeting photos on the job with the hashtag #distractinglysexy. The movement is as clever as it is poignant. The images serve to remind Hunt and others that women in STEM fields are not sex objects, but integral members of the scientific community who are tired of being oppressively stereotyped because of their gender.

With this hashtag, women playfully mocked the idea that women can’t control their emotions at work (or avoid inadvertently attracting all of their male colleagues).

From face-masked selfies to shots of sarcastic signs, these images show lots of perspectives that all say one thing: women belong in labs. They’re doing fantastic, inspiring work and they’re not to be degraded—especially by powerful leaders in their own field. Just the sheer numbers of women in STEM responding to Hunt’s comments on social media should serve to remind their sexist colleagues that times have changed—women will not stand to be misrepresented, and that the solidarity within their growing community is a powerful force.

In addition to making a point, these photos provide an eye-opening glimpse into the work of today’s scientists.

But the best part? They’re totally positive, even while ironic. Most Twitter storms devolve into negativity. However, these scientists responded in a way that was both smart and funny. The majority that we saw didn’t even directly call out or ridicule Hunt, they just highlighted the ridiculousness of his statements.

We don’t want to skewer anyone for a bad joke or call into question anyone’s ability to say what they like – no matter how tasteless as we might find it.

That said, there are some things to note. In STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), there’s a pretty big difference between the number of male versus female professionals. It’s been suggested there are a couple of reasons for that; one of them is a lack of perceived acceptance and a lack of female role models in the field. So that’s why it’s particularly hurtful when male experts in male-dominated fields diminish the work of female colleagues.

Regardless of what happens next, we’re glad to see that these amazing lady scientists got the last word — and that we got a glimpse into their world.