During a panel about how the universe operates, something else ancient and inexplicable occurred: A man interrupted a woman.
The panel — Pondering the Imponderables: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology — took place at the World Science Festival on Saturday. It featured five men and one woman and was moderated by philosopher and New Yorker contributor Jim Holt. Veronika Hubeny, the one woman on stage, is a theoretical physicist and professor in the Department of Physics at UC Davis. She is an expert in string theory and quantum gravity.
But when Holt posed a question to Hubeny — one centered on her area of expertise — he continued to speak over her as she tried to answer his question. That is, until someone shouted "Let her speak, please!" from the audience.
You can witness the event described above at just after an hour and five minutes into the YouTube video of the event.
"I talked too much," Holt said in an email to Mic. "The reproach from the audience was well-merited. I apologize to Dr. Hubeny and salute her for her stellar contribution to the discussion."
"We could clearly see that she was trying to speak up," Marilee Talkington, who identified herself as the person who shouted from the audience, wrote in a Facebook post. "But he continued to talk over her and dominate the space for several minutes."
Talkington noted that the event was sold out, and that she was told that "millions of people" watch the videos of the panels following the livestreams.
"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," Talkington continued.
After hearing "Let her speak, please" — and the cheer of the crowd that followed — Holt apologized. "That always happens to me," he joked. "Do I talk too much?"
This scenario — a theoretical physicist mansplained during a male-dominated panel — is representative of broader, systemic issues plaguing women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Not only are these academic fields predominantly male, but women that do pursue a career in science face gender bias and sexual harassment. What's more, a study showed that men aren't convinced that sexism in STEM is even a real issue. It's a shame — more women in the field is better for everyone.
In a Facebook comment responding to Talkington's post, Hubeny offered a note of optimism. "If you allow yourself to enjoy the beautiful things that really matter, if you don't let social or peer pressure dissuade you from pursuing a field which appeals to you, then no pettiness or childishness or boorishness that you encounter can harm you so much," she wrote. "Please understand that I’m not trying to say that sexism in science is a myth. It is real and we should all aspire to diminish it. But I am trying to say that it need not pose as much of an impediment as you might fear."
Watch the full video here.
June 6, 2017, 1:18 p.m.: This story has been updated.