The Scientist & The Shirt: One Giant Step Forward, A Little Step Back

Hey there, minions! I’ve been swamped since “going viral” and have been focusing on getting life back on track. Which includes working a little on the “Best of the Cunt” essays collection I’m getting together for an ebook to release at the New Year. Woohoo!  Get updates on that by signing up here.

In a moment of stunning precision, a bunch of scientists landed a robot on a comet hurtling through space, and in a split second, the future of cosmology took a giant leap forward.

We have yet to see how that all plays out, but for a moment, the entire science-nerd world was elated that this highly unlikely scheme worked out as well as anyone could’ve dreamed.

And this guy got up to talk about it. Dr. Matt Taylor is a very popular scientist, and his “cool” factor makes him a legend amongst his peers and audience. For what it’s worth, he sounds nice enough and I like his tattoos.

However ethical and moral he might be, all we saw was his “cool” factor getting completely overshadowed at his lack of fashion logic when he wore a shirt covered in women who went to the Barbarella PVC-fetish school of style.

Cue the internet denizens! Unleash the rage! Hail the righteous indignation! Hell hath no fury like the angered left-wing citizen online! RAWR, Dr. Taylor. RAWR!

Today the inevitable hue and cry is tempered by those who say “Whoa, man. It was just a shirt. He fucked up.”

Well, sure, that’s true. It was a mistake. Probably a one-time only thing, but maybe not. If the guy’s willing to wear Barbarella’s babes for a history-making press conference, is he liable to be Mr. Gender Progressive when the cameras are off too? You know what? I don’t really care.

Fact is, Taylor doesn’t even really matter here.

Because, for me, this isn’t really about Dr. Taylor. This is about how the European Space Agency didn’t even blink when he stood up to handle the dialogue, wearing the least-subtle shirt ever designed.

This is about how women work in sciences. This isn’t 1898, when Madame Curie was breaking new ground with radiation. This is nearly 2015. We put a rocket on a comet after a 6.4 billion-kilometre chase scene. Women were on teams that made this happen. They were in the room.

They deserve respect, whether it’s beyond the glass ceiling or on the TV screen. The “brotherhood” of science, the bromance of it all, that all needs to end. Women deserve to be at a press conference where some guy isn’t wearing a shirt that shows women as being mere sex objects. They deserve not to hear a world-class scientist describe his project as “She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy,” as if normally sexy and easy are one and the same.

Are women too keyed up about sexism these days? Are they lashing out about misogyny? Is it all a little much?

No. It’s got more to do with this being a long time coming. Cameras are everywhere today and a 24-hour news-cycle and omni-infoworld means sexism that once failed to hit the radar is cropping up far more often, and when it does, it’s having greater reach than ever before. And rightly so, says I.

We have a world hobbled by serious issues. Water challenges, food supply issues, climate crises, and so many other grave problems are threatening us. With places like the European Space Agency not giving a shit when blatant sexism stands up at the podium, it’s hard to argue why women don’t feel that sciences and maths are industries they want to jump up and join.

Our world being fraught with problems really needs everyone at the table so we find solutions. Let’s stop creating work and study environments that leave some 50% of the planet feeling unwelcomed and unvalued.

It might be “just a shirt,” but it’s representative of an entire culture that taints what is arguably the single most important professional discipline in the world, which needs to attract all the brilliant minds — male or female — that it can.

Let’s stop dismissing these things as momentary lapses of judgment. I don’t want Matt Taylor’s head on a platter, and I don’t want his job jeopardized in any way. What I do want is for him and ESA to realize that this was indeed sexist. Luckily a lot of men agree and are calling for change as well. As unpleasant as the dialogue has gotten, Philae lander and the Rosetta Mission now have the power to create a watershed moment in cosmology and other science labs around the world in more ways than one.

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