For those who missed it, the brief blow-by-blow is this. In his audience in South Korea was a fellow British scientist, Connie St Louis. She tweeted that Sir Tim proclaimed himself to be a male chauvinist and then proceeded to outline the trouble with girls in the lab as “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry”. When the story was picked up, his next statements did little to assure the “girls” that he meant them well. The spiraling was starting. And then something amazing happened.
The magazine Vagenda called on female scientists to post pictures of themselves with the hashtag #distractinglysexy. The hilarity ensued. The conversation changed from the outdated, offensive comments to a conversation about the wonderful, amazing, and — indeed, sexy — science being accomplished by women today and in the past. The mainstream media reported on it here, here, here, and here. A #distractinglysexy calendar has even popped up on Kickstarter.
The beauty of the response is that the scientists are showing their skill alongside their humor. Almost inevitably, when the issue of sexism is discussed, women are portrayed as being worse than wrong. They are cast as feminazis, as mean-spirited, as humorless, as Orwellian, as unable to face the truth. Indeed, many people have attempted to do so in this case as well.
This anti-feminism counter narrative falls flat in the face of all of the #distractinglysexy scientists who prove by their actions that they simply want to do science and have fun doing it.