Social media can be a funny thing. On a Friday evening during a break of my son's soccer practice, I decided to look at Facebook. The first post was about an open letter from a male engineering student who acknowledged the difficulties his female counterparts most likely endured. I got lots of warm fuzzies about the future of STEM and, well, humanity.
One of the many posts on Twitter regarding the letter from the male engineering student.
The next post was about the apparently groping (and potentially much worse) very famous astronomer Geoff Marcy. No more warm fuzzies.
There are many curse words that come to mind, but the underlying emotion is anger. It is never appropriate to attempt to coerce 'relationships' with women who are under your influence or eventual control via their careers. It is a terrible abuse of power, and completely unacceptable behavior.
Even earlier this week, Stephen Hawking, arguably the most famous living scientist, was quoted in a Reddit AMA as essentially saying that he could understand the Universe but that women were a “mystery.” I’m sure many people would say this was an innocent remark and probably an attempt at being funny or cute.
The problem is that when someone like Hawking makes such a remark, it immediately takes on more significance. After all, the last thing underrepresented people in STEM fields need is to be labeled as “others” by people in power. Women, for example, are not mysteries, they are just people – some of which would like to be scientists or engineers or what have you.
One can argue that what Hawking or even Tim Hunt (who earlier this year was heard to say that women in labs were a “distraction," among other things) say are not in the same ballpark as what Geoff Marcy was accused of doing. But it’s the same climate. It's the environent that exists where women in science are not an accepted part of the supposed establishment where these acts are allowed to occur.
I would bet that a vast majority of scientists would say the things that Marcy was accused of doing are inappropriate and inexcusable, but how many would say the same about what Hawking or Hunt said? Where should we draw the line?
We can draw it where this all starts. Let’s not accept the marginalization of anyone who wants to participate in science. Let’s not stand back when subtle and not-so-subtle negative comments are made. And, for all that is just, let’s not allow administrations or other institutional entities stand idly by when people in power are abusing it.
Enough is enough. No more.