#LetHerSpeak: When A Female Scientist Needed An Audience Member To Stand Up For Her!

Posted: June 8, 2017

With women now leading experts in every single field you can think of, why does so much mansplaining still happen? Here’s why #LetHerSpeak is trending as we speak.

In every fields, whether it is education, science, commerce, or anything else, there’s no shortage of women who really know their stuff. One such expert is noted physicist Dr. Veronika Hubeny, who has contributed immensely to the understanding of black holes and to string theory as well.

In a panel discussion organised at the recent World Science Festival 2017, she was one of the guest speakers. Naturally, one would expect that at such a big stage, a celebrated scientist’s contributions and theories would garner much interest from the audience. However, even a stage as big as this is not free from sexism.

Here is a link to the live feed of the panel that consisted of six speakers – five being men along with the moderator, journalist Jim Holt.

As can be seen in the footage, the over-excited moderator had read up so much on Dr. Hubeny’s theories that he clearly thought he’d be able to explain everything to the audience on his own. Not until one ‘impertinent’ listener saw it fit to interrupt him – from interrupting Dr. Hubeny’s explanations!

Seriously though, the kind of mansplaining that is becoming more and more prevalent- some say, as a competitor to feminism – is rather concerning. Patronizing women, ‘arguing’ with them in a condescending tone, just to impose own (men’s) set of beliefs as against that of the woman (often an expert) is, unfortunately, a rather common practice.

The best part? There are some women who know precisely how to take what is theirs and speak when needed, as Marilee Talkington, a woman who interrupted the moderator from obstructing Dr. Hubeny’s diction showed (at around 1:05:00 in the video). This lady, an actor from New York, an activist and a science buff, also took time to address the issue on her Facebook page.

Her genuine rage and disgust over such treatment by the panel moderator of an esteemed female scientist just because she is a female can be seen in her post. She addresses the sad truth of how Holt interrupted Dr. Hubeny many times, and when she sarcastically laughed, how he patronised her:

Jim Holt, even at one point, asks Veronica [sic] a question and she laughs because he has been answering his own questions about her work…and he makes fun of her for ‘giggling’.

The worst part? He didn’t seem too apologetic about it. Instead, he just blamed his intimidating behaviour on his talkative nature saying, “That always happens to me. Do I talk too much?”

Honestly, Sir, yes, we think you do. At least you did in this case. A moderator’s role is to help proceed with the discussion and to facilitate the speakers in connecting with the audience, and if you, as a celebrated author and essayist yourself, fail to understand that and fail to even apologise for such ignorance, then there is a problem. Whether it is your superior knowledge, over-excitement, male ego, or something else, we are glad that someone had the audacity to tell you when to stop!

Luckily, it doesn’t end there. The same people who applauded Marilee Talkington’s action – to speak up – later went to her and congratulated her for her courage and for representing what the whole auditorium was thinking:

“Person after person come up to me. Both men and women… ‘Oh my god. what you said was the most important thing that was said all day. Thank you. Thank you.’… ‘Thank you so much for speaking up’…. ‘Was that you? Oh god, what he was doing was horrific. Thank you. I wanted to do something but didn’t know how’…. ‘Was that you? You said what everyone here was thinking.’… And so on. So we were all thinking this.”

She ponders over why this kind of sexism is still prevalent, for sexism it was, as can be seen from the video. No other speaker- or male speaker, so to speak- was interrupted by the moderator except Dr. Hubeny. It is however, still fortunate, that even if it took time for someone to stand up and speak, the courage displayed thusly, will go a long way in inspiring those many who wish to fight but feel intimidated. As Talkington wishes:

“God, please god let this be an opening for those that were here today and the tens of thousands that watched the live-streaming of the panel yesterday and the hundreds of thousands that will watch the video this year- to speak up when we see this happening. And please let me not be afraid to do this again and again and again Because it was scary. Please keep giving me courage.”

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