Apparently It's Okay To Be Smart thinks it's okay to be sexist. The science-themed YouTube show is taking a ton of flak after releasing a video portraying Albert Einstein as a lecherous old man who can't keep his hands off Marie Curie during Thanksgiving dinner.
The video, which was produced by Joe Hanson of IOTBS and PBS Digital Studios, shows bobbleheaded versions of several famous scientists including Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla (who's actually quite funny), Charles Darwin, and as noted, Albert Einstein and Marie Curie.
At one point in the video, Einstein (who in real life admired Curie's work), asks her to "wear him like a parka." When Einstein tells her "I find myself gravitating toward you," Hanson congratulates him with "That's a good one." Meanwhile, as the other scientists speak of their accomplishments, Curie, as the only female present at the dinner, says she's simply happy to be included. By the end of the video Einstein can be seen lying on top of a prone Curie. Hilarious stuff.
Writing in Forbes, Emily Willinghan says the video is far from okay, despite the fact that PBS has apologized for a "comedic error":
Not that the content is offensive, you see, but that some people are offended. And, of course, it's "comedic."
I teach college-level science, and I find this troubling. Vetting videos for use in a classroom takes considerable time, and it's always been comforting to know that vetting a PBS video would probably cut down on that time because they typically have been a good bet for good content. But knowing that this video, which degrades two famous scientists and reduces the double-Nobel-prize-winning Curie to nothing but a sex object, is sitting there under the PBS aegis now removes my trust in that brand. Were you surprised to read that Einstein and Curie were friends? Wouldn't it have been more educational and interesting and revelatory and scientific to have brought this aspect of their interactions into this video? But that's not what happened.
And PBS doesn't seem to think that's a problem. Ignoring the fact that women in science have been engaged for decades in these battles great and small, individually and collectively, they say, in their statement on this issue, that: "With this video, Joe has opened up an important, though difficult, debate. We believe we are meeting our public service mission by providing an open forum where this and other conversations about complex subjects can take place."
Writing in Medium, Dr. Isis had this to say:
I've written before about a very Marie Curie-like interaction I had at a scientific meeting in 2010. I was at a social event after the scientific sessions and an older male scientist approached me, wrapped his arms around me, firmly grabbed my rear end, and kissed me. I'd like to tell you that this is the only time something like this has happened and I'd like to tell you that I am the only victim of such treatment. That would be untrue. Since I began writing my blog in 2008, I have collected a volume of stories from women who have been harassed, groped, and propositioned by their male scientific colleagues. This isn't something that used to happen. This is what is happening right now.
Hanson's video isn't funny. It's painful. It's painful because 1) it's such an accurate portrayal of exactly what so many of us have faced, and 2) the fact that Hanson thinks it's "outrageous" demonstrates how many of our male colleagues don't realize the fullness of the hostility that women scientists are still facing in the workplace. Furthermore, Hanson's continued clinging to "can't you take a joke" and the fact that he was "trying to be comedic" reflects the deeper issue. Not only does he not get it, his statement implies that he has no intention of trying to get it. That makes me question the sincerity of his motives.
I still think there is an opportunity to make this right. As a professional scientist for the last 15 years, I have so frequently been the Marie Curie at the table, although not nearly as accomplished. I've been the only woman. Sometimes I've been at the table, harboring the secret that the man next to me had made an inappropriate pass at me. Sometimes I've known that the other men at the table had seen it happen. That doesn't need to continue to happen.
She simply asks that the video be taken down, which as you can see above, is still up.
Here's Hanson's response to all the criticism he's getting:
One of the many points I was thinking about when I made this piece was that woman are under-represented and don't receive the respect they deserve in science today, well after Marie Curie's time. I say this directly in the video and had intended the outrageous behavior of the Einstein doll to speak to this idea, as well. It doesn't seem to have come through the way I had hoped and I apologize for that.
In producing this video, we guided improv voice actors to create caricatures of dead scientists so we could lampoon the most extreme aspects of their personalities. Then we made dolls act out those extremes, flaws and all. We tried to present the way in which these characters might actually act, in their own time. Galileo doesn't get evolution. Tesla is obsessed with Edison. And Einstein reflects the dark reality that many men in his time acted inappropriately toward women.
It's a response that Dr. Isis refers to as a "non-pology."