Sunday, June 21, 2015

Who's Crying Now?

By now you are familiar with the story of Tim Hunt. The Nobel prize-winning chemist was subjected to the wrath and fury of feminists because he made remarks that disparaged women in science.

Josh Gelernter raised the salient issue in National Review:

Tim Hunt, as you’ve probably heard by now, is a Nobel Prize–winning chemist who was forced to resign his position at University College London after he said, at a lunch for female journalists and scientists, “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.”

Common sense says he was joking. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that what he said was sincere and offensive. Is a sexist remark worth ending Tim Hunt’s career? Dr. Hunt won his Nobel Prize for the discovery of cyclins, a group of proteins that control a cell’s progression through its life cycle. Because some cancers stem from errors in cells’ cyclical march toward mitosis, Dr. Hunt’s work has contributed a great deal to cancer research.

We have to ask ourselves: What’s more important, fewer insulting remarks or less cancer?

Gelernter is saying that life is a trade-off. Sometimes we are obliged to tolerate obnoxious behavior because we wish to achieve a greater good. Many people who accomplished great things were scoundrels. It’s part of life.

His question assumes that we prefer less cancer to fewer insults.

Other people see things differently. They will opt for: fewer insulting remarks. Those who believe that reality is what we think it is, what we believe it is, what we say it is… feel obligated to police thought, the better to create a new reality. They will of course add that unleashing the potential of oppressed scientists will bring about a cure for cancer and for everything else. I will leave that to your imagination.

When the controversy erupted in England, London’s mayor, Boris Johnson seemed to side with Tim Hunt. He had the temerity to assert that since the sexes were different it should not be forbidden to say so.

In particular, he said, men and women cry for different reasons. Many will say that this is just another patriarchal plot, but the evidence is compelling.

A Dutch professor by name of Ad Vingerhoets explained it all, via the Daily Mail:

When reacting to upsetting events, women cry up to four times as often as men, according to Professor Ad Vingerhoets, a leading authority on crying.

However men let the tears flow more often when they experience something positive, for example when their sports team wins an important match.

Men are more likely to cry when they win. Women are more likely to cry when something bad happens. A woman’s tears thus denote a need to be consoled. A man’s tears, something else.

When we want a man to maintain a stiff upper lift we say—or, we used to say: Be a man? But why is it that we never say: Be a woman? We might say: Be a lady or Act like a lady, but we do not say: Be a woman!

On the whole, members of both genders cry when they lose a loved one, through death or through a breakup. But, women cry when things go wrong, while men are more likely to cry when things go right:

He told the Daily Mail: ‘Overall, men and women cry over the same major things, like the death of a loved-one, romantic break-ups, and homesickness.

‘However, women also tend to cry over more mundane things like conflicts, criticism, a computer crash.’

But he went on to say: ‘Remarkably, men tend to cry more often in reaction to positive events.’ 

Why should this be so?

He said this could be because, culturally, if men cry when they feel helpless it is seen as a sign of weakness. 

It certainly sounds good. But, why do men cry when they emerge victorious? What is there about victory that causes men to shed tears?

Are they expressing relief that the contest has ended or are they expressing humility? Are they showing that they earned their victory?

Those who enter the victor’s circle do best not to be arrogant or vainglorious. If they do, no one will respect their victory. Everyone will think about the way to knock them off the precipice.

It’s not a good thing to occupy a higher rung on the status hierarchy when everyone thinks that you did not gain your position legitimately.


David Foster said...

I would imagine that male expressions of emotion differ considerably from culture to culture...that the British "stiff upper lip" versus the more emotive tendencies of, say, Italians or Spaniards (on the average, of course), is not a total myth.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

e: Why do men cry when they emerge victorious? What is there about victory that causes men to shed tears? Are they expressing relief that the contest has ended or are they expressing humility? Are they showing that they earned their victory?

This blog topic seems to be a mess, but I'm certain crying after a sports victory is about a relief of tension, of fear.

I remember in my 20's after surprising a big dog on a long runner-line lease in the winter deep snow, and retreating, but tripped and got bit in the leg, and spent the next 20 minute enraged imagining coming back with a baseball bat, but even without a bat I imagined I could use my left forearm to let him bite me while I could use my right hand to blind him, until finally I convinced myself I was completely superior in every way, and his life was in my hands, and only then was I willing to give him mercy in my mind. Anyway, when I got home I called 911 and explained the attack and only then broke down crying and had to take slow deep breaths to stop and finish explaining what happened.

So victory or not, physical mastery requires emotions to be suppressed, and if you suppress them long enough in a tense situation, crying would seem to be a way the body sometimes releases that tension. It has nothing to do with humility or pride.

Katielee4211 said...

Once upon a time, we would have either written him off as a jerk or disputed it with him. It possibly could have been a rather lively conversation over dinner.
Nowadays, we become offended and he must lose his job. Which sort of proves his point.

Katielee4211 said...

I don't think 'physical mastery' requires emotional suppression. But it does allow you to control when and where you let it rip. said...

Stunning and sad regarding the professor, but the crying differences are fascinating. "Be a man." But we don't say "Be a woman." Please unpack this more for us Dr.! I suspect it may be analogous to being a "tomboy" is ok for a girl because we really know that she is a girl, but a "sissy" is pejorative and threatens the evolving boy or the structure of the world more?

Anonymous said...

Curing cancer insults cancer cells.

priss rules said...

The NR argument isn't a good one.

Suppose there's an academic who hasn't won the Nobel Prize and isn't particularly remarkable. Should he be fired for controversial remarks because he isn't particularly useful to society?

No, it's a free speech issue. Tim Hunt's opinions are his, and they have nothing to do with his work. It was his personal views, and everyone is entitled to his personal views.

Also, whether something is 'insulting' or not depends on who is insulted or one wants to feel insulted to cry 'victimhood'.

One thing for sure, if a woman scientist had made a general statement about men, most men would have brushed it off.

This is just a lot of malarky.