London Mayor wades into #DistractinglySexy debate, saying women do cry more than men

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Deborah Cicurel

London Mayor Boris Johnson has waded into the #DistractinglySexy debate, defending Professor Tim Hunt, who quit his job as honorary professor at University College London after his comments on female scientists sparked a national outcry.

Speaking at a conference in South Korea last week, self-confessed “chauvinist” Professor Hunt first thanked female journalists for “making lunch”, and then said: “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.”

The comments were met with anger online, sparking the #DistractinglySexy campaign, in which established female scientists posted photos of themselves at work, whether in the lab or at archaeological dig sites, with comments such as “I took a break from crying and falling in love with my male colleagues to get a few samples done.”

Meanwhile, Sir Tim Hunt has declared himself “finished”, saying his career was at an end and that he has been “hung out to dry”, while his wife Professor Mary Collins, herself a distinguished scientist, said that University College London has behaved in an “utterly unacceptable” way, and reiterated that she did not consider her husband to be sexist.

“He just says silly things now and again,” she pointed out. “I am a feminist, and I would not have put up with him if he were sexist.”

Tim Hunt

Sir Tim Hunt

Writing in the Telegraph today, Johnson defended Nobel prize-winner Professor Hunt, claiming he was merely “pointing out a natural phenomenon” and that his opinion was purely scientific.

Johnson wrote: “[Hunt’s] first two observations are surely uncontentious. Men fall in love with women, women fall in love with men. It’s been going on a long time, and thank goodness, because otherwise our species would die out. It is the third point – about crying – that has earned him the wrath of the Twittersphere, and the most venomous hatred.

“Is there any foundation to this casual assertion that women cry more readily than men?” he added. “Well, yes, there is.”

Going on to name and shame famous male criers, Johnson wrote: “Some men cry at the drop of a hat: Churchill was famously lacrimose. But the world’s leading expert on crying, Professor Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University, has shown that women on average cry 30-64 times a year, while men cry only between six and 17 times a year; and the Dutchman also claims that women cry for an average of six minutes, while men cry for only two to three minutes.”

Boris Johnson

London Mayor Boris Johnson

“All sorts of biological explanations are offered,” he went on. “Men are said to have differently shaped tear ducts, for instance, and can therefore retain the tears for longer before they splash down the cheek. Women are said to have more prolactin, a hormone associated with weeping. I would have thought that all this stuff could be filed as the latest stunning discovery from the University of the Bleeding Obvious.

“Whether you say it is a function of biology or social expectation, it is a fact that – on the whole – men and women express emotion differently. There is, in other words, a gender difference, and it should not be an offence to say that,” Johnson added.

Lastly, Johnson appealed for the education system to recognise that males and females operate differently, and to cater appropriately to these differences.

“At the moment we are failing to unlock the talents of both sexes because we are failing to grasp that they are intellectually equal but in some ways emotionally different,” he wrote. “The first step is to recognise that these emotional differences do indeed exist, and to be honest about them. Sir Tim Hunt was doing what he has done all his life – pointing out a natural phenomenon he had observed. He did not deserve to be pilloried, and should be reinstated forthwith to his academic positions.”

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Deborah Cicurel

Deborah Cicurel is a freelance journalist who writes about everything from lifestyle and travel to fashion and entertainment. She loves spicy maki rolls, cosy socks and visiting far-flung destinations, and is unable to walk past a dog on the street without stopping to befriend it.

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