Having someone speak over you is never fun, so imagine how physicist Veronika Hubeny felt when her own theories were being described to her, with the moderator not letting her have more than a minute of speaking edgewise. Thankfully, one woman in the audience, Marilee Talkington, decided she had had enough for the both of them.
On June 3, the World Science Festival took place in New York City, and guest Marilee Talkington decided to attend a panel called “Pondering the Imponderable: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology.” Within the panel of six, physicist Veronika Hubeny was the only woman.
Marilee began noticing that throughout the panel, not only were the other scientists speaking over Hubeny, but once Hubeny’s area of expertise – string theory – became the topic of discussion, the moderator began asking her questions that he himself answered. In other words, Hubeny’s own theories were being described to her, rather than her being allowed the floor to explain them.
Marilee could clearly see Hubeny trying to speak up, but the moderator continued to dominate the conversation. After sitting through a frustrating hour, and now watching the physicist have to take a back seat yet again, Marilee decided to use her voice when no one else would. Although very nervous about the prospect of taking a stand, she knew she couldn’t allow this to continue.
She posted her reaction to Facebook, along with what she did next:
“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. 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.”
Thus, Marilee said very clearly from her second row seat: “Let. Her. Speak. Please!”
Marilee’s comment was met by applause, and the moderator backtracked immediately, promptly allowing Hubeny to speak. Mission accomplished, Marilee.
Marilee continued her post on Facebook, saying “God, please God let this be an opening for those that were here today and the tens of thousands that watched the live-streaming of the panel yesterday and the hundreds of thousands that will watch the video this year — to speak up when we see this happening.”
By speaking up, although alone, Marilee said what many others in the auditorium had apparently wanted to say.
In her Facebook post, Marilee mentions one woman, “… right behind me, reaches over and embraces me and says, “Oh my God. What you said was the most important thing that was said all day. Thank you. Thank you.” As Marilee made her way through the crowd, she received several other comments mirroring this one.
Hopefully, the people who thanked Marilee for speaking up will be the ones speaking up in the future, because being a spectator to a problem never solves it. As the saying goes, “when you see something, say something.” Your voice may just end up being the one that changes the conversation.
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