By Manasi Nene
The World Science Festival which was held earlier this week at the John Jay College, in New York City, among other things had an almost-manel. One of the panel discussions was ‘Pondering the Imponderables : The Biggest Questions of Cosmology‘ moderated by Jim Holt of The New Yorker, who was talking to six panelists – five men and one woman.
The only woman on the panel was Veronica Hubeny, a theoretical physicist and professor at the University of California, Davis, and, who, as far as awards, scholarships and honours go, is not a lightweight. So it only makes sense that she’d be invited to talk at something at the World Science Festival. Except, she doesn’t speak for the first hour or so, while all the men hold court. But around the one-hour mark is when the manel really begins to manifest — the moderator interrupts her to spout garbled versions of her own theory back at her.
I’m no expert in PhD le-el theoretical physics, but it’s pretty simple logic that if she’s the expert, you should let her speak. Clearly, someone else thought so too, because immediately afterwards, audience member Marilee Talkington (can we take a moment to appreciate the perfect wordplay her surname offers?) shouted, “Let her speak, please!”, to a huge round of cheers and applause from the audience. She later wrote a long Facebook post about it, explaining her rage at Holt not letting Hubeny talk about her own research, what drove her to interrupt, and the audience’s reaction to that move.
Holt’s behaviour, before being interrupted by Talkington, is a classic example of mansplaining – men believing that they know better than women for, well, not-very-good reasons. Soft examples of sexism like this are often as dangerous as the more overt kinds. But it’s heartening that we still have people willing to stand up against it.