The Notion of the Narrative
The Narrative is a funny thing, and its supporters are those who choose to divest themselves with any notion of the Truth, choosing to pick that which they feel is a worthy means of achieving an end and using their own twisted stratagems to accomplish it. If the Narrative turns out to be wrong or misguided then the rallying cry of those who choose to believe The Narrative is "Well, THIS time was different, but don't use this as an excuse to sully others who are experiencing the very real problem of the same sort."
As I sit to write this on a Wednesday morning, I think of three distinct Narratives that bother me the most: Mattress Girl, UVA Jackie, and now the battle between Connie St. Louis and Sir Tim Hunt.
Mattress Girl and UVA Jackie are closely intertwined, so I discuss them first. In both cases, people rallied around them, making sure that we did something every person should do--give our support to victims of sexual assault. Eventually, those accused of raping these girls were not only found to be innocent, the stories behind the alleged attacks were proven to be gross exaggerations or outright fabulism. As the stories began to fall apart through simple investigation, the rallying cry from their supporters became "Well, just because THEIR stories were false doesn't mean we should immediately discredit all rape victims or withdraw our support." In fact, one journalist in the wake of UVA Jackie's account falling apart even published the headline "We should always believe the stories of rape victims" on the website of a major news outlet. Within hours, the headline was changed to read "We should generally believe the stories of rape victims." When the dust finally settled, "Jackie" was proven to be a fraud who had the ear of a reporter at Rolling Stone, and Mattress Girl propagated a sex tape on the Web making her rape fantasy a reality as art. Rolling Stone and Columbia University find themselves at the center of defamation lawsuits thanks to their slipshod handling of the accused's lives.
But the Narrative is important, and must live on, regardless.
Connie St. Louis and Sir Tim Hunt involve the current Narrative, and I move next to meditate on how this Narrative will play out. On June 8, Ms. St. Louis began tweeting allegations concerning Sir Tim Hunt--a Nobel Laureate--allegedly making misogynistic remarks at a conference in Seoul, South Korea. According to Ms. St. Louis, Sir Hunt boasted of being a "male chauvinist," stated that he had issues with women working alongside men in laboratories, and called for a return to single sex workplaces for those in science. Those who picked up on Ms. St. Louis's Narrative blasted Sir Hunt for the remarks, who initially acquiesced and said he had in fact made those statements and apologized for any offense that may have been caused. This wasn't enough for the supporters of The Narrative, though, and within hours Sir Hunt's career was in tatters. He was forced to resign, as his detractors lambasted him as an "out of touch asshole...who should have no place in modern academia."
As people began to investigate the story, and more came forward to discuss what really happened during the conference, a different story came out. Sir Hunt, as the new story suggests, did not boast of being a "male chauvinist." Rather, his remarks were an attempt at dry, self-deprecating humor during the conference when he was asked to speak and were followed by an extensive discussion on the importance of women in science. Ms. St. Louis had taken the remarks completely out of context and decided to destroy the career of a man whose work had left a footprint on the world of science, for reasons we have yet to determine.
With further investigation, it was revealed that Ms. St. Louis had apparently not only fabricated her story of the remarks made by Sir Hunt--she had fabricated most of her career. The Daily Mail recently published a report on Connie St. Louis that reveals some serious flaws in her C.V. She claims she “presents and produces a range of programmes for BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service” and “writes for numerous outlets, including the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Guardian and the Sunday Times.” On further examination, she had nothing in the Mail, the Independent, or the Sunday Times, and had only one work published by the Guardian in 2003.
The Narrative in this matter is "women are treated terribly in the science world" and it is one with some merit. I have family that work in the STEM field, and I know of the inequality that exists between men and women in the science world. The amount of hysteria from the outrage mob that occurs when certain issues arise (i.e. "ShirtGate") has reached such a ridiculous level in furthering this narrative to where now people that make valuable contributions to understanding the way our world works. Unless something is done to stop this madness the world of science will be destroyed and more people like Matt Taylor and Sir Tim Hunt will find themselves bereft of a career.
I wonder how Connie St. Louis's Narrative will continue. There's two sides to this story--what she insists happened, and what numerous other attendees are claiming is the truth. Without passing judgment, I suspect the truth lies farther from Connie St. Louis's Narrative than she would have us believe. I also wonder how quickly people will jump to Ms. St. Louis's defense if more of her story is revealed to be a falsity, and I wonder what the tag line will be. I suspect it will be something like "Well, yes, she may have lied, but that doesn't excuse the fact that women are treated terribly in the STEM fields!"
Those who remain slaves to the ideology of the Narrative do so at the risk of their own credibility, and jettisoning the facts in favor of the Narrative does no side true justice. If you buy into a Narrative, do yourself a favor and pause before jumping to the defense of the Narrative.
Otherwise, you may find yourself defending the actions of a Connie St. Louis.