Jim Watson

Janet Mertz mertz at ONCOLOGY.WISC.EDU
Tue Sep 30 16:23:25 EST 1997

"I find it a little insulting that dressing badly is put in the same
category as telling women that they can't/shoudln't do science and that
our basic worth is predicated not on our intellectual acheivements, but
our physical appearance and whether or not we wear adequate amounts of
makeup, which, from what I have read here and in his writings is Watson's
basic outlook on the whole matter. That is not just basic "political
incorrectness" (a term with which I personally have some problems with
anyhow, it is out and out damaging sexism. "

	In reality, Jim Watson's "bark" is quite different from his "bite". 
His sexist statements seems quite inappropriate to 1990s-era feminist 
ears. However, he did much more than most biochemists in the 1960s 
and 1970s to help women become trained and established in the
field. In the 1960s, the top-ranked biochemistry departments in the 
U.S. had zero tenure-track women on their faculties and very few 
female graduate students. (In the 1940s, female graduate 
students majored in "home economics" since they were barred from 
most biochemistry departments!) When I applied to top-ranked 
biochemistry departments in 1970, Watson was one of the few 
biochemistry professors with female graduate students in his lab. He 
claimed he liked to have "pretty faces" around the lab. In 1970 I 
became the first female graduate student admitted to Stanford 
University's biochemistry department in 8 years! However, Watson not 
only accepted women into his lab as graduate students at a time when 
most others did not, he also helped them to do outstanding work, 
obtain top fellowships and jobs,  and become leaders in their field 
(e.g., Joan Steitz). Thanks in significant part to Watson, I was 
offered tenure-track faculty positions at top-ranked universities, 
including his department at Harvard, in 1974 while still a graduate 
student! And I don't even own a dress or makeup! Despite his sexist 
comments, Watson was one of the leaders in opening up the field of 
biochemistry and molecular biology to women. Although we still have 
some way to go to reach true equality, women have come a long way in 
the past 30 years from the days when there were essentially no women 
professors at places such as Harvard, M.I.T., and Caltech, and few 
even as graduate students.
	Janet Mertz
	Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

More information about the Womenbio mailing list