Did a shirt just eclipse a comet?
For a brief moment I was excited when the European Space Agency’s Philae lander touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko 311 million miles from home. The first ever soft landing on a comet is huge news! But when British physicist Matt Taylor stepped in front of cameras to comment on the happening all some people noticed was that he was wearing a politically incorrect colorful bowling shirt with cartoon images of scantily clad women.
Twitter and PC Police exploded. “Yesterday saw many tweets about a shirt, couldn’t find pic, figured ‘It can’t be that bad.’ Just found a pic…IT IS THAT BAD.”
“His shirt says to women in STEM: I have no respect for you as a professional. When I look at you, I see a sex object.”
“Because women are your goddamn punchline. And demeaning women is a fun way to show how casual you are!”
“ESA can land their robot on a comet. But they still can’t see misogyny under their noses,” a blog in the Guardian newspaper ranted.
After the #Shirtstorm picked up steam (but before Gloria Allred could trample someone on the way to a microphone to exploit the situation), Taylor offered a tearful apology, “I made a big mistake and I offended many people. And I’m very sorry about this.”
This went from a feel-good story to making me want to hurl. A robot landed on a speeding comet and all some people can see is a damn shirt? It’s a shirt. The women on the shirt aren’t naked. They’re not having sex. One is holding a gun. It’s just a gaudy shirt. When I first saw it I chuckled thinking that the shirt and his tats were so different than what we’ve come to expect from a scientist. It was sort of like “Mohawk Guy,” scientist Bobak Ferdowski who briefly became a sensation when his Mohawk ‘do was captured on camera at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the Curiosity Mars landing.
Of course, what do I know? I’m just a guy who happens to like scantily clad women. So I showed the photo of the shirt to my girlfriend and she thought the outrage was ridiculous. I asked a few more female friends what they thought and they couldn’t believe the outrage.
But it’s clear many were offended. But I mean, misogyny? The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of girls and has sold them to be married and raped. Earlier this year in Lahore, Pakistan, male family members stoned 25-year-old Farzana Parzeen to death because she dared to marry for love. In many Islamic countries a female rape victim can be jailed for her rape. Sexual assault in our military is shameful and disgusting. Assaults on college campuses are a big problem in schools from coast to coast. There’s a whole lot of misogyny in our world today.
And I just don’t think Matt Taylor’s shirt is in the ballpark. Or solar system.
Should Taylor had worn a shirt and tie instead? Probably. I mean, yes, if he didn’t want to become the poster boy for why there aren’t more women in STEM. He should’ve known there were tons of people perched on their cell phones just waiting for the latest outrage to start them playing the umbrage game and tweeting away.
Misogynist… I mean, scientist Matt Taylor’s friend, Elly Prizeman, designed the shirt and gave it to him as a birthday gift. After the fuss, she tweeted, “I make offensive shirts apparently.” Then she added, “I am heartbroken to see my friend getting upset for the world to see just because he was himself. What he achieved was lost in negativity.”
Of course more women should pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I just have a hard time believing a shirt is going to somehow scare women away from STEM jobs. If anything, the outrage, real and imagined, would motivate women to excel in these disciplines.
I’m pretty sure many of the serial umbrage takers would say, “Oh no. It’s not the shirt. (Of course it’s the shirt!) It’s the fact that he wore it.” Okay. Well Matt’s been properly chastened. This tempest rocked the hell out of that teapot. So, I hope more female students look at making a career in science.
Now can we get back to the probe that drilled into a comet and transmitted the information back to earth before it shut down? Because that’s a hell of a lot more interesting to me than what one of the scientists was wearing.