UC Davis professor had her theories 'mansplained' during science panel

The World Science Festival attracts some of the most brilliant minds on the planet, but some say this year's event also revealed the sexism women in science regularly battle. 

A UC Davis physicist and professor, Veronika Hubeny, attended this year's festival in New York City as a contributor on a cosmology panel called, "Pondering the Imponderables." She was the only woman on the topic's panel and was one of more than 200 participants tackling tough science questions at the event.

Hubeny specializes in string theory and much of her work involves developing a deeper understanding of black holes.

However, Hubeny was barely given the opportunity to speak during the first hour of the sold-out panel and when the conversation turned into her area of expertise, things got worse for the scientist.

As Hubeny began to speak, the moderator, New Yorker contributor and philosopher Jim Holt, continuously interrupted the professor, not letting her speak and instead started describing the theories for her. 

Holt continued to "mansplain", which is a term used to describe when a man interrupts someone, typically a woman, to explain something which needs no explaining, in a condescending or patronizing manner, until he was interrupted by a woman's voice in the audience.

"Let. Her. Speak. Please!"

This was the voice of Marilee Talkington, a Woodland native who is an actress and an activist for women and artists with disabilities. The audience reacted with cheers and clapping and only then did Holt sit back and let Hubeny speak.

Talkington described the incident in detail on a Facebook post.

"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 wrote in the post. "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."

The panel was being live-streamed and was taking place in a large auditorium. But when Talkington spoke up, she said "you could hear a pin drop."

Talkington said many people approached her after the panel with positive responses, thanking her for standing up for Hubeny.

However, Talkington said she was upset even after the ordeal.

"And the whole time, my hands are still shaking. And I'm felling light-headed. And I just want to scream out into the lobby 'WHY IS THIS SEXISM STILL HAPPENING? WHY, does someone like me, with No status in that room, have to be so extraordinarily bold and speak up? And why was it so frightening to do so?' "

Hubeny offered her own thoughts on the experience in a Facebook comment on Talkington's post.

"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. 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 and that you might be in more control over its influence yourself than you might think."
 
Hubeny went on to thank Talkington for standing up for her principles. Talkington's post is going viral and has been shared over 5,000 times since going online on June 4.
 
Watch the full panel conversation below. Skip to about 1:02 to see Holt's interaction with Hubeny.
 

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