Roast male chauvinist pigs

A file photograph taken on March 22, 2012 shows English biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate in 2011, Sir Richard Timothy Hunt at the Jozsef Attila Study and Information Centre of Szeged Sciences University in Szegede, during an international conferen
A file photograph taken on March 22, 2012 shows English biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate in 2011, Sir Richard Timothy Hunt at the Jozsef Attila Study and Information Centre of Szeged Sciences University in Szegede, during an international conference series held on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Hungarian Albert Szent-Gyorgyi’s Nobel Prize Award. -- PHOTO: AFP

It was a week of roasted pigs.

Before I met friends last week to try out a restaurant which specialised in char siew, I did some reading on pork. No, not reviews of the eatery, but reports about a male chauvinist pig putting his hoof in his mouth and then having to resign from his position in a university.

The Guardian reported that English biochemist Tim Hunt, who admitted he has a reputation for being a "chauvinist", said to the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul last week: "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 criticise them, they cry."

While my blood pressure was up, I felt strangely calm because I was confident that this pig would be thoroughly roasted by the world he moves in.

The meat did hit the pan. Men and women branded the Nobel laureate sexist, and flamed him, and it did not help when he gave a non-apology apology.

Sir Tim, who is a Royal Society fellow, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I'm really, really sorry I caused any offence, that's awful. I certainly didn't mean that. I just meant to be honest, actually."

His honesty was not appreciated by either the Royal Society, which said his comments did not reflect its own views, or University College London (UCL).

The university released a statement that said: "UCL can confirm that Sir Tim Hunt FRS has resigned from his position as honorary professor with the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences following comments he made about women in science at the World Conference of Science Journalists on 9 June. UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality."

Sir Tim also reportedly said he was in favour of single-sex labs, adding that he didn't want to "stand in the way of women". Perhaps he genuinely believed he was offering a solution to the problem of the distraction and the heat generated, not properly from Bunsen burners and chemical reactions, but improperly from scorching looks and chemistry between the sexes in labs.

Come, we clap for you.

As my blood cooled, I felt strangely less calm because the matter shoved me out of a sort of complacency. While those of us who have to deal with overt sexism have a raw deal, is it just as bad for some of us who are submerged in insidious sexism?

Sir Tim, 72, was basted and lambasted because he made himself easily identifiable as a male chauvinist pig with his "honesty". He practically trotted up to be butchered while wearing a sign that said: "Eat me."

But how about the pigs who put on lipstick - paying lip service to female empowerment while holding back on treating women fairly in the workplace? While gender gaps in Singapore arise from complex reasons, perhaps this biased posture contributes to that, too.

President of the Singapore Committee for UN Women Trina Liang-Lin wrote in The Sunday Times in March that some women are still not equally paid as their male counterparts for the same job. "In the 2014 Labour Force Statistics, women earn less than men in all occupational categories except clerical and support. In most categories, this differential is more than 10 per cent."

If it is the same job, let the woman bring home the same amount of bacon as the man.

She also noted that women are still under-represented at senior management levels here. "According to BoardAgender, in Singapore in 2013, only 8.3 per cent of SGX-listed companies have women on their boards. We are still behind our regional peers and at about half the percentages of the European Union, United States and Australia."

Then how about bosses who don't call the attention of global media to their boorishness by announcing it to journalists at a world conference, but who harass women like they are part of a personal harem at the workplace?

According to a Sunday Times report, a senior manager in a well-known Singapore company had approached the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) saying four subordinates complained about being harassed by a new employee. The man, who had arrived as her boss, would ask the women to dress sexily, compared one woman to a porn star and gave another a neck rub. All four were young, junior employees. After an investigation by the HR department, the four women were transferred to other departments, while the man remained. The company did, however, install a closed-circuit television camera in his office, even though most of the incidents the women complained about occurred outside his room.

Why are boars like these allowed to keep grunting in the office and, when confronted, laugh it off as a joke or blame it on a misunderstanding?

Sir Tim said his "trouble with girls" remarks were "intended as a light-hearted, ironic comment", but had been "interpreted deadly seriously by my audience".

Come, we cry for you.

Maybe it is time for more of us to sniff the air around us in our labs and offices, and to wake up and smell the bacon. To roast the swines ourselves.

denise@sph.com.sg