Last month proved rather eventful, what with the European Space Agency making the books for being the first to land a spacecraft on a comet’s surface. Many an ESA employee exploded in jubilation over the milestone, assured of their place in history. Naturally, media agencies everywhere were all too eager to capture such an unprecedented event for the archives, so the usual round of interviews with the milestone-makers ensued.
Enter Matt Taylor, former Newham co-denizen and Project Scientist at the helm of the lauded Rosetta mission, who happily gave the press an insider’s view on the momentous docking as it took place. Clad in tattoos and the most garish of garms, he gave the world a guided commentary on the Philae spacecraft as it landed on Comet 67P.
However, certain parties were less than pleased with Taylor’s presentation. Over at The Verge, one Chris Plante saw fit to write an article with the headline “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing”, describing the scientist’s choice of shirt as contributing to a culture of “casual misogyny” supposedly pervading the science field; according to this narrative, wearing a shirt depicting glamorous women oppresses would-be female scientists, preventing them from entering and advancing within a milieu they otherwise would have embraced. Plante’s assertion garnered support from various op-ed outlets, as well as an assortment of tweets and blogs from the SJW squad.
However, the thing that pissed me off more than the hectoring onslaught was Taylor’s reaction to it; during a progress report on the mission, days after the appearance, he broke down on camera, apologising to those he offended with his colourful wardrobe. For this viewer, it amounted to a pointless and cringeworthy act of contrition, ill-befitting anyone with a functioning brain; as I saw it, it came off as less of a considerate gesture to the oppressed and more a wail of defeat in the face of those eager to do some oppressing of their own. After all, what better way to prey than to masquerade oneself as prey?
And masquerade they did, this mob of gynocrats and Galahads, playing their violins to perfection. Amongst those affirming the not-so-radical notion that women are feeble were Slate scribe Phil Platt, who signalled his shirt-rending solidarity with the sisterhood by describing Taylor’s tailoring as an example of “casual sexism”; Terry McGlynn, who felt the need to scold the scientist for being “a sexist pigdog”; Mika McKinnon, who wagged her finger across her keyboard at Taylor’s “microaggression”; and the STEM women aghast at his “sartorial sexism”. Of course, online femorrhoid hangout Jezebel chimed in, framing the “kill yourself” retorts against the shirt-shaming brigade as “death threats”.
As if all that wasn’t lamentable enough, blogger Ann Althouse let rip a stinker of a post, declaring that “in the broad span of human culture, fashion is more important than space travel” (whilst hypocritically deflecting all criticism of her ilk as “overshadow[ing] the achievement of the Rosetta team”). Compounding that, she made the argument that by dressing in such provocative clothing Taylor was “asking for it” from the feminist fashion fash.
Which just left me thinking: Didn’t that lot get royally pissed off about being told how to dress just a few years back? So pissed off, in fact, that they stomped across multiple cities over it?
Does feminism require a penchant for rank hypocrisy or just a really short fucking memory?
Furthermore, for all the condescending cocksplash about the shirt scaring and slighting women, did anyone actually make a point of asking his female ESA colleagues what they thought about it, or the opinion of Taylor’s tailor, the woman who created the “sexist” shirt in the first place?
In their fervour to protect hypothetical women from shirt rape, the femiternalist contingent disregarded many of those living in the flesh ‘n’ blood world. Just as well for them, as they’d have to grapple with many a challenge to their narrative, including those coming from their own camp. Even in the case of the Third World, the value of feminism stands to question, but at least the issues Ayaan Hirsi Ali grapples with carry higher stakes for women than Shirtgate (or, for that matter, Gamergate); when a woman who endured and opposes genital mutilation calls your crusade “trivial bullshit”, I’d say it’s worth taking some notice. Hell, when Julie fucking Bindel finds you “toxic”, it may well be time to re-evaluate your life choices!
Critiquing the Whitehouse burning at the breast of every Althouse stands as something of a sport here at the Inferno, and it pleases me to see other, more prominent voices getting in on the game. In his ‘Rosetta Stoning’ piece, Russia Today columnist Igor Ogorodnev likens the sandy slits of SJWs to the Puritans of yore, calling them out for degrading Western discourse with their stifling mores and lust for witch-hunts. Nothing illustrated that Mayflower mentality better than their calls for sartorial strictness in the wake of Shirtstorm. Not content with shaming Taylor for the sin of “sexism”, they started squawking about what constituted “appropriate” and “professional” attire as if they had a hand in his employment. Disregarding that the ESA had no problem with Taylor’s threads ‘n’ tattoos – as well as the existence of employers sharing similar outlooks – they opined at length about the iron laws of that ideal Platonic realm known as “the Workplace”; I had to laugh at the irony of these “professionalism” preachers, shooting for sobriety only to get rat-arsed on reification.
Or perhaps ressentiment better describes their tipple of choice, what with having to wear constrictively conservative clothing for the cubicle. Perhaps the presence of a person, an environment, unfettered by such strictures gets the propriety-spouting critics hot under the (white) collar, seething for an equality of misery. One can only speculate…
Whatever the case, all the SJW noise over a piece of fabric succeeded in stealing attention away from the issue of its wearer’s galactic accomplishment (including debate as to whether it warrants celebration as such). It also trivialises the potentially stronger case they could have made for sexism in the sciences in regard to research paper acceptance (which femanist Phil Platt admittedly makes mention of); perhaps those recruiting for the discipline could do with applying a little more of that rigour and empiricism to their selection processes, instead of taking tendencies for absolutes.
All that said, if it really takes a single shirt to keep women out of science, I think the field fares all the better without them.