A scientist AND hot? She’s got my vote


Rule number one: when you’re the battle-weary leader of the Opposition, and an election could be imminent, don’t introduce your new star female candidate, an esteemed scientist, by pointing out that she’s hot. It is sure to come back to haunt you.

Today, during a media scrum, a reporter took up the matter of Stéphane Dion’s earlier comment about Dr. Kirsty Duncan, the 41-year-old University of Toronto professor who will run for the Liberals in Etobicoke North in the next election.

The following transcript of the exchange was provided by Maclean’s Aaron Wherry, long-time Skirts reader, first time contributor:

Reporter: Mr. Dion, earlier during your speech, when you were introducing Dr. Kirsty Duncan, you made a remark about her. ‘I prefer the face of science today than the face of the old Einstein, that’s my own taste.’ That could be construed as a sexist remark…

Dion: Oh, come on (laughing). I’m surprised at your question.

Reporter: … and did you mean any offense?

Dion: No, I think to the contrary. I don’t understand your question, sorry.

Reporter: Well, the question is, for someone in politics to compliment someone on their looks, some people consider that to be inappropriate.

Dion: I’m pleased that a young lady is one of the eminent scientists that help us to fight climate change and decided to be part of this fight as the candidate for the Liberal party at the next election. Do you have a problem with that?

Reporter: No, I’m just asking. It’s a reasonable question.

Dion: Well, I ask you a reasonable question as well.

Reasonable questions all around. To give Dion the benefit of the doubt, his comment was surely intended as a harmless compliment. He’s been accused of choosing his words poorly before. But as a politician, he should know better. It’s pretty widely understood that when you point out how hot a lady scientist is, implicit is the assumption that her hotness comes as a surprise because, well, she understands science.

This sort of comment, as innocent as it may have been, taps into a long-standing tradition of sexism in the sciences. In 2006, Harvard president Larry Summers was forced to resign after he publicly declared that the shortage of women in the fields of math and science was a product of how much they suck at such things.

Only three weeks ago, however, the journal Science published a study proving—once and for all?—that girls in the U.S. score just as well as boys in standardized math tests. Thanks, Science! Too bad we still have to spend time and money on “girls: can they or can’t they do math?” studies.


A scientist AND hot? She’s got my vote

  1. He wasn’t being sexist, he was paying a compliment.

  2. Well, in some respects, the backlash against reporters commenting on what a particular female candidate wears is showing effects, or shall I say unintended consequences.

    Take long-time Skirts reader, first time contributor Aaron’s recent postings. I’ve learned about Pat Martin’s sandled beige ensemble; about a red panted candidate’s father-in-law; and Stephan Dion’s penchant for beige pants, brown shoes, and blue shirts and jackets.

    Is he in pc purgatory for a onetime reporting on a Belinda Stronach strapless dress or something else I missed?

  3. I agree. Both male politicians and female politicans have pointed out that Maxime Bernier was good looking (prior to the debacles), and that was intended as a compliment.

    It’s a shame that someone can’t pay a compliment to women without implying (completely unintentionally) that either they’re amazed a women could do a job or that the only reason they have a job is their looks. Could be they’re just trying to be nice.

  4. Exactly! I don’t think I’ve seen a single MB post that didn’t mention his hair. It’s not as though he introduced her by commenting on her breasts or something equally inappropriate.

  5. Why do Liberals always get the benefit of the doubt? I personally think Dion’s comment was harmless but in this day and age, we are not allowed to comment on people’s looks at all.

    And Summers never said anything like that. Summers said there was almost an equal numbers of boys and girls on each side of the ability median but you need to be more than average to have a career in engineering, math or physical sciences. As a group, the top 1% in math ability will be around 70% male. Summers said that top scientists, like einstein, will be male but they will also most likely be the village idiot. Males are outliers, females tend to cluster around the mean.

  6. Lianne, you should actually read that study in the journal “Science” before you report on it. The study supported the musings of Prof. Summers (as outlined in jwl’s posting above). Because more men’s cores were found at both ends of the curve, they tended to cancel each other out and women’s scores tended to cluster in the middle. The study did not prove “once and for all—that girls in the U.S. score just as well as boys in standardized math tests.”

  7. Hmmm, I didn’t follow Maxime’s hair stories too closely, but I did get the impression towards the end that mentioning his good looks was a code word for MIMBO (Seinfeld: male bimbo)

  8. As a non-woman, maybe I’m asking for it, but y’know what, it’s friday, I’m tired, what the hey.

    Throughout the Liberal leadership campaign we were bombarded with snippets from the Canadian punditry about the “photogenic” Michael Ignatieff (Michael Valpy, G&M, Dec 2006) and the “good-looking” Gerard Kennedy (Jeff Simpson, G&M, April 2006). We were even briefed on, you may recall, Iggy’s first sexual encounter. Where was the outrage then? Why was it perfectly acceptable to portray their alleged attractiveness as an advantage over their (by deduction) un-attractive, un-photogenic, un-sexy rivals (including Dion)? Because they’re men?

    Since then, I’ve been subjected to stories about the rugged Peter Mackay’s rugby prowess, Maxime Bernier’s virility, and rising star Rahim Jaffer’s courtship of Helena Guergis.

    In short, we talk about politicians’ physical appearance all the time. I would submit that it’s always at least a little bit objectionable. But if it’s not, then the default position ought to be to give people the benefit of the doubt that saying something complimentary about one’s appearance doesn’t imply an intent to objectify or sexualize. Dion did refer to her face, not her [insert alternative body part here], after all.

    Separately, and equally importantly, the era of scientists as crusty old white men in lab coats is leaving us, and there is (or should be) nothing wrong with celebrating that. The truth, for those of us too young to remember, is that in Einstein’s era Dr. Duncan likely wouldn’t have been afforded the opportunity to get to where she is today. I would submit that it was probably quite clear to everyone who was there that this iswhat Dion was actually referring to.

  9. Couldn’t the comment have been taken to mean Dion’s delight in more female scientists? I mean, that’s how I take his response to the reporter: “‘I prefer the face of science today than the face of the old Einstein, that’s my own taste.’

    Perhaps the sexism is in the eyes of the reporter, not Dion.

  10. Chrystal, funny you should say that because that is exactly how I interpreted the comment, partly because it would never occur to me that Dion would be referring to her looks.

  11. “Perhaps the sexism is in the eyes of the reporter, not Dion.”


  12. From an email I sent when this story first made the rounds:

    “… I can’t say I find it offensive. But it may be sexist against those poor, downtrodden male scientists who have had to struggle for decades to be taken seriousl– oh, right. Never mind.”

  13. I want more stories on Maxime Bernier’s hair. . .
    Anyways, I agree with the other commentators in that it was an expression of pleasure at her profession, not at her appearence.

  14. That’s Stephane’s French citizenship showing through :)

    If Sarkozy, Chirac or Mitterand had said it no-one would have blinked… oh Canada…

  15. Can anyone possibly imagine what theses forums would be full of if Harper had said it?

  16. More vitriol for sure, but I for one would have defended him (as I begrudgingly do on occasion). Just because I disagree with someone’s politics, doesn’t mean I think everything he does is evil.

  17. Yes Wayne, you would be defending him.

  18. Chrystal and Boudica, if this is the statement he made in Oakville when he introduced her, I was there and that is precisely how I took it.

    Ridiculous interpretation.

  19. Nice try Blues but you are mistaken I was pointing out an interesting point with respect to prejudice and all of it’s flavours as it is much like an addiction the first sign is denial and an inabilitiy to see the prejudice. What has always bothered me and I do not know why women put up with it but why does the issue of what a woman is wearing in public have any bearings on a public issue. Unless of course the subject is bought up by a woman?

  20. “It’s pretty widely understood that when you point out how hot a lady scientist is, implicit is the assumption that her hotness comes as a surprise because, well, she understands science.”

    Ok, really, get off it. 1. I’m a scientist. If I say a female scientist is hot, it’s because she’s good looking. There is no implicit assumption that her hotness is surprising. There is an observation. That’s it. You’ve got to be kidding. If you surprise at competence is implicit in complimenting someone, perhaps it’s YOUR personality that needs re-adjusting.

    Secondly, saying someone is hot, or handsome, or pretty, or good-looking, is not sexist. It’s being honest and human. It’s a compliment, and it’s a completely subjective personal opinion. That last makes it essentially irrelevant to politics. That’s the only reason that maybe a politician shouldn’t say it. But we encourage our politicians to express their personal opinions! So Dion may think she’s prettier than Einstein. So what? (And does anyone actually disagree.. male OR female??!!) Why is there something wrong with saying that?! If I were presented as a gorgeous and brilliant scientist, I would be more than a little pleased.

  21. Amen!

  22. Be interested in knowing who the “lazy” journalist was and what paper he/she worked for – that makes a huge difference.

    MSM is getting so Inquirerie these days. Get to work reporters – find out some REAL stuff.

    And they want to blame bloggers for their downfall….

  23. Apparently this is the current definition of “hot”:

    Hot Chick: A confident woman. She knows what she wants and gets it. She is aware of her flaws, but she doesn’t obsess over them and instead thinks that maybe (just maybe) they actually add to her unique beauty. She is passionate. She loves life. She is comfortable in her own skin and owns her sexuality, but uses it purely for good. She does not see other women as her enemy and competes only with herself to do her best at all times and to be her best at all times. She is forthright, honest, disarmingly herself and tries to be no one else. She is having fun and she is sexy and you just want to be around her to soak up some of those good vibes. She isn’t perfect, but she doesn’t care because she is hot.

  24. Female; scientist; sounds like my definition of hot.

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