Stephen Hawking versus Piers Morgan: Women’s Unprecedented Societal Empowerment


Written by  Carline Klijnman and Scott Jacobsen

Piers Morgan has often been the subject of intense scrutiny, even more than his interviewees at times. This tends to especially occur in the interviews with prominent individuals in the political, scientific, and entertainment industries. This time around, it was in the scientific arena.

Recently, Morgan interviewed one of the most respected intellectuals of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Professor Stephen Hawking. During this interview, Morgan got schooled by Hawking on a matter outside the scientific realm, namely: gender equality.

Morgan has been criticised for the recent remarks that showed an ignorance of the meaning of being a feminist, or just someone with an advocacy orientation for women’s rights, especially his reactions to several female celebrities’ wardrobe selections. This reinforces one double standard.

For example, his response to the now infamous photo shoot of Emma Watson in Vanity Fair. The actress got lots of negative publicity.  She was called a “hypocrite” because she called herself a feminist. Why? She showed the infamous ‘underboob’. Amongst the criticisers was Morgan, who stated that Watson was merely “seeking attention”. Remarkable.

It seems like belittling of [sexual]women, to us, and has also been visible through his remarks against Kim Kardashian. He referred to the robbery experienced by Kardashian in Paris as a “wake-up call”. Amongst other (some more deserved) remarks, he stated that the celebrity should stop posing nude, or else she would be ‘inviting’ people to take advantage of her.

Although, Morgan spoke against “the most sexist man in politics” during Good Morning Britain. He does not seem to know feminism’s definition, theory and practice.

With regards to five of the most powerful positions in Britain, all of which women hold (Queen Elizabeth II; Prime Minister, Theresa May; Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon; Home Secretary, Amber Rudd; and Metropolitan Police Commander, Cressida Dick), Morgan asked Hawking whether this could be seen as scientific evidence for gender equality.

Hawking responded: “It is not scientific proof of gender equality that is required, but general acceptance that women are at least the equals of men, or better. This is coming. If we factor in high-powered women in Europe as well, such as Angela Merkel, it seems we are witnessing a seismic shift for women to accede to high-level positions in politics and society.”

To the question whether Hawking considered himself a feminist, the scientist responded with an affirmation. Hawking gets gender equality. He knows the empowerment of women is crucial for societal development. If women’s rights are advocated for, enacted, pervasively implemented, and respected as part of the legal tradition and general culture (along a spectrum), then society, as a statistical trend, does well. The health and wellbeing of a nation appears almost proportionate to the health and wellbeing of its women citizens.

Years ago, Hawking called women “The biggest mystery in the universe”. Fortunately, however, he also states that the question of whether gender equality is still an issue is a no-brainer. Hawking welcomes the general acceptance of women’s liberation. It is a cause he supported throughout his academic career. On the matter Hawking said, “…I have always supported women’s rights. I moved the admission of women to my college, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. The results were wholly good.” 

Now, Morgan never opposed gender equality, on the contrary.

He claims to be a big supporter of the cause. In his blog post published on March 6th, 2017, he listed the high-list women mentioned, and noted: “With the exception of the Queen – who has turned out to be arguably the most successful monarch of all time – they all got there strictly on merit. As Oprah Winfrey put it so perfectly: ‘Excellence is the best deterrent to racism and sexism.” 

However, this seems questionable. Does he know the scope of inequality? That same inequality that women’s rights campaigners and defenders have fought for decades to reduce.

Yes, more and more women take political positions. However, as Hawking points out, the public sector is behind. Furthermore, the women at the top can be treated with less respect than their male colleagues. Therein lies the problem, not merely the statistical representation, but the inequality in treatment that renders the numbers meaningless; the fact women are visible in the political landscape does not mean women have fair treatment. The listing of these 5 women as being “scientific evidence for gender equality” seems to imply that the battle for the empowerment of women is done. If you think gender equality is achieved by five big female names, you fail to grasp the complexity of British society and its norms.

When you assume every woman who tries to spread feminism in a less conventional way, or that every woman who is not ashamed to show off her sexuality is seeking attention, you seem to embody subtle sexism, showing that there is – as the truism goes – still work to be done – even in the United Kingdom.

About Carline Klijnman 9 Articles
Dutch student in Humanistic Studies, specializing in ethics and political philosophy.

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