'Let her speak, please': One woman panellist's battle to be heard sparks outrage

There wasn't a lot of chance for physicist Veronica Hubeny to get a word in when moderator Jim Holt asked her questions ...

There wasn't a lot of chance for physicist Veronica Hubeny to get a word in when moderator Jim Holt asked her questions during a World Science Festival panel session.

Sexism in science is  alive and well, and it's creating ripples right around the world after an invited woman panellist at the Word Science Festival was not given a chance to speak.

There were five men and one woman on the panel, but its male host, philosopher and New Yorker contributor Jim Holt, is getting the blame.

When Holt posed a question to physicist Veronica Hubeny, which related to her area of expertise, he continued to speak over her as she tried to answer his question. That is, until someone in the audience could no longer hold back and shouted "Let her speak, please!"

That woman was Marilee Talkington, who was sitting in the second row of the audience and simply had to do something about it. Her plea was met with uproarious applause from the rest of the audience, who were also silently seething about the constant interruptions.

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Holt apologised and then, quite hilariously, muttered "this happens to me all the time". He asked if he talked too much before finally allowing Hubeny to speak for herself. 

Talkington posted a lengthy piece on Facebook after the event:

"In the last 20-30 minutes of the 90-minute discussion Jim Holt finally pushes the conversation to Hubeny's field of expertise, string theory, and this is what ensued: He asked her to describe her two theories of string theory that seem to contradict one another.

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"And THEN, without letting her answer, proceeded to answer for her and describe HER theories in detail without letting her speak for herself.

"We could clearly see that she was trying to speak up. But he continued to talk over her and dominate the space for several minutes.

"I should say that this panel was taking place in a large auditorium as it is an extremely high-profile and always sold-out event. And the panel discussion was being live-streamed across the world and they say that millions of people watch these videos after they are made public. (Which they already are).

"So at this point, after seeing very clearly that she was not going to be given space to speak and in fact having her own theories described to the audience by the moderator, I am in full outrage. My body is actually beginning to shake. The sexism is beyond blatant. It is happening on stage and NO ONE, not a single other physicist or panelist is stepping in to say anything about it.

"And I can hear other audience members around me, both men and women becoming more and more agitated with what is happening. Jim Holt, even at one point, asks Veronica a question and she laughs because he has been answering his own questions about her work ... and he makes fun of her for 'giggling'.

"My hands are still shaking. I'm still upset by the incredible sexism that has been demonstrated this afternoon. But I also realise that I just spoke up in an auditorium full of people that are listening to people that are considered gods in the international science world. I was just overwhelmed by it all."

Talkington says numerous people came up to her after the event, both men and women. "The first woman, right behind me, reaches over and embraces me and says, 'Oh my god. what you said was the most important thing that was said all day. Thank you. Thank you.'"

You can watch the YouTube video here. Holt's interruptions start around 1:05:30.

 - Stuff


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