Friday, November 14, 2014

The Story of The Shirt With Leather-Corseted Women

This BBC article summarizes the story, with relevant pictures.  The scientist in the quote is Matt Taylor:

One of the leading scientists on the Rosetta Project gave a string of TV interviews in a shirt emblazoned with half-dressed women. The angry reaction online spawned two hashtags, spoof images and has now led to a tearful apology as well.

The Story of the Shirt has indeed provoked lively debates online and possibly elsewhere, too.  There are two major sides to these debates, and because I happen to be bilingual in this stuff, I'm going to give you the main messages of both sides, in terms which are clear to people on the other side!  Isn't that useful and wonderful?

Let's begin:

First, the side which can be simplified into "women-in-science and women interested in those banned-word* issues":

Here we go again!  An important public interview about the fun and excitement in science, a major moment in the history of space exploration, and women are present in leather corsets sticking out their butts and tits from the shirt.  The broculture in action!  It's their world and we can only visit it if we are willing to stick our butts and tits out the same way.  If he had to wear a shirt with women on it, why not this one?

And this is what Taylor said in the interview:

During an interview about the landing, Dr Taylor had branded the comet landing 'the sexiest mission there’s ever been. 
'She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.'

Got that?  It's good to remember that Taylor's field is covered with guys, in statistical terms.  All this (and the broculture) should be kept in mind when considering the above message from one world.  It's also important to remember that this shit is drip-drip-drip, nonstop, even though consisting of tiny and essentially trivial jabs in one's eyeballs and ears.

Second, the defenders of Matt Taylor.  This group consists of people who think Taylor is just a bit of a goofball:

The guy is socially clumsy.  After all, scientists are socially clumsy.  He was trying to make the point that he's just the average guy, having fun, wearing a shirt a friend made him, showing all of us that science is fun and that nerds aren't really nerdy at all but ordinary folk:

Before the emergence of #shirtgate, Dr Taylor, a father-of-two and the son of a brick layer, praised on Twitter for being 'a proper cool scientist' and 'definitely not boring'. 
One Twitter user wrote: 'Dr Matt Taylor is what every scientist should look like - rad shirt, sleeve tattoos. Rad,' while another said: 'Matt Taylor causing thousands of people to choke on their cornflakes this morning.'
And imagine if you were given this public treatment for the way you were dressed somewhere in public (I once wore a black shoe and a blue shoe)!  
The scavengers have landed on the still-warm corpse of someone who offended the feminazis!  Poor guy.  He didn't mean anything sexist with that shirt.  He was just showing us the human side of being a scientist.  At the end of this idiotic debacle he had to apologize and he was in tears, and that's the real injustice, right there.

Got that?  Some people made a giant mountain out of a molehill and then tried to suffocate a well-meaning but socially inept scientist under that mountain.

And what do I conclude from all this, given my divine viewpoint?

That both sides are correct in some ways.  I doubt very much that Taylor tried to explicitly make women feel that they don't belong in science, and I doubt very much that he chose to see the project as a woman who must be seduced etc in order to put women in their proper place (outside science but sexually available).

At the same time, that's the message he was broadcasting, if ever so slightly.  And the reason for that is pretty obvious:  The ways we define "a normal guy" and "just having fun" do not exclude shirts like that or statements like that unless you are well-versed in gender issues and the complaints linked to the broculture in STEM fields.  Some people have the luxury of not having to be well-versed in those issues, and for that group the whole incident looks like people taking out a cannon to kill a mosquito on the poor man's forehead:  Reactions utterly out of scale with the presumed crime.

Compare that to the drip-drip-drip aspect of all those little acts that are tilted by gender.  Perhaps another mosquito parable would apply here:  One mosquito you can swat away, but if you are always surrounded by a horde of them you do become rather sensitive to mosquito stings.

Whatever you might think about that, someone probably failed in organizing those interviews and in making sure that Taylor was appropriately dressed for the occasion.
*That would be feminist.  See Time magazine for more details.