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.