Dudes in shirts

Discussion of Matt Taylor continues, for instance via Alice Bell in the Guardian:

It’s not just what he wore either, his language stunk of a casual sexism too. Watch the video in the Mail’s version of this “British scientist taking Twitter by storm” story, and you can hear Taylor refer to the Rosetta mission as “the sexiest mission there’s ever been. She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.”

I captioned a Facebook post about this yesterday “with dialogue by Chuck Lorre” but I didn’t realize quite how accurate that was. “Easy” – good god, he sounds like Julien Blanc.

ESA can land their robot on a comet. A comet! It’s amazing. But they still can’t see misogyny under their noses. It’s painfully ridiculous. Pointing this out is not a distraction to the science. It’s part of it. It’s time science finally realised that.

I suppose Andrew Sullivan would say “but science doesn’t want to realize that, much less to act on it, so it’s bad to try to get them to realize it and act on it.”

One absurd counter-argument I’ve been seeing is that this is just “puritanism” and hatred of sex. Please. A shirt plastered with mostly-naked hotty women isn’t “sex”; it’s women-as-sex-toys for straight men. A shirt like that is “sex” only if you assume that the only point of view is that of the straight man, or perhaps even more narrowly the straight man who finds imaginary cartoon hotties arousing. That is not the only point of view, so that kind of shirt is not a metonymy for sex.

No, on the contrary, what that shirt amounts to is a tacit claim that the only point of view that counts is that of the kind of straight man who sees women as either hawt and a target, or a nuisance.

If the shirt stands for just “sex” in general, why don’t we see gay men at space agencies wearing shirts plastered with mostly-naked hotty men? Why don’t we see straight women at space agencies wearing shirts like that? Why don’t we see all parties wearing shirts plastered with pictures of people fucking? Why bother to talk about the probe’s landing on the comet at all, why not just talk about sex instead?

So have a photo instead.

landing location


  1. themadtapper says

    One absurd counter-argument I’ve been seeing is that this is just “puritanism” and hatred of sex.

    Amazing that people can completely fail to tell the difference between an objection to nudity and sex (actual Puritan objection) and an objection to objectification. I’m sure anti-feminists the world round have already warmed up their “just a bunch of ugly women complaining about guys liking sexy girls” routines. It’s not really a hard concept: It’s not about sexy women in a state of undress, it’s about seeing/treating women as though “sexy and in a state of undress” is all they’re for.

  2. quixote says

    Sexy ±undressed woman when having sex with her is the point: relevant.

    Sexy women when discussing the science and engineering of robotic spacecraft: not relevant.

    Therefore in the latter case also insulting, objectifying, off-topic, nothing to do with sex, etc.

    Why does any of this even need explaining? /*Screeeeeeaaammmmm*/

  3. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    Maybe it was a satirical comment on the G7 tradition of wearing a silly shirt day.

    Utterly bizarre to wear that shirt for a major PR event. Wearing a normal Hawaiian shirt would be somewhat odd. It is a formal event and business casual would be the minimum dress code.

    If he likes naked people, why didn’t he show up naked for the press interview?

    If you are the head of an organization then you are representing them every time you have a press interaction. What you wear matters.

    It is the sort of shirt you would wear for receiving the Sam Harris award for advancing the cause of feminism.

  4. Dunc says

    One absurd counter-argument I’ve been seeing is that this is just “puritanism” and hatred of sex.

    I am so very, very sick of this. It’s fucked up on so many levels. If there’s anything that demonstrates a “hatred of sex”, it’s the inability to conceive of sex in anything other than these stupid, puerile,, objectified terms. God forbid that it might actually be something that two people could engage in on an equal footing.

  5. screechymonkey says

    Dunc @9,

    Not to mention, if anyone’s comments demonstrated a Puritanical hatred of sex, it was Taylor’s insistence that the probe was “sexy… but not easy.” But the self-proclaimed free-spirited pro-sex brigade doesn’t seem to mind comments like that that equate sex with lower value.

  6. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    Anyone have any more information on the source of the shirt? Is there a video game tie in or something?

    I have a Lara Croft mousepad but it is rather more tasteful.

  7. says

    The shirt was apparently a present from his wife, created by a female friend, Elly Prizeman. So of course this means the shirt isn’t a problem, since a woman was involved in making it. Because women never fall prey to the same sexist cultural norms men do.

    And if you believe that I’ve got some nice resort property in Antarctica for you to buy.

  8. Blanche Quizno says

    What sort of person would *own* a shirt like that, much less wear it?? I’ve been given gag shirts as (misguided) gifts before – I never felt obligated to degrade myself by wearing them.

  9. A momentary lapse... says

    Aaaaargh. I’d so wanted to enjoy this for the whole “landing on a comet” thing as well.

    The shirt, the tattoo, it just screams “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT MEEEEEE!!!” — hint: it’s not about you, it’s about landing on a comet for the first time in history. Or at least, it should have been.

    Contrast Bobak Ferdowsi whose mohawk was a noticeable individual style, but who did not go out of his way to make himself the centre of attention and did not have the poor judgement to choose a look that objectifies women.

  10. komarov says

    Already posted this on the pharyngula thread on the topic, but since I’m ever so happy ESA responded I’ll post it here as well.

    Matt Taylor just apologised during todays live broadcast (google hangout). It was very brief, but that may be understandable under the circumstances. He’d just been asked his first question during the event and apologised before saying anything else.

    The hangout can be found here (assuming it’s not moved or anyhting, not sure how these things work):


    The apology segment starts at 15:20.

    The shirt I wore this week … I made a big mistake and I offended many people and I’m … very sorry about all this.

    So it is very short but on the plus side he said this publicly on a hangout a lot more people will likely see compared to a separate apology. I’m glad ESA decided not to simply ignore this (difficult to do at this point, which is a good thing). I really like ESA and especially the Rosetta mission so this has really been bugging me.

    (Unlike the pharyngula preview this one apparently does not show blank lines. Fingers crossed.)

  11. theobromine says

    A nice counter example: Eamon and I recently went to a computer store, and were pleasantly surprised by the images on some Intel posters, presumably directed at gamers. These posters had a background IIRC composed of circuits and game landscapes, and on the foreground was an avatar-styled human protagonist wearing body armour. There was a male version and a female version, and both of the young and shapely figures wore similar body armor. Most notably, the woman was normally shaped and reasonably covered. Yay Intel. (Sorry, I couldn’t find a copy of the poster online – maybe next time I’m in there I’ll snap a photo, before someone gets it taken down by complaining that the image of a strong clothed competent women is offensive and threatening.)

  12. smhll says

    The shirt was apparently a present from his wife, created by a female friend, Elly Prizeman.

    His wife is free to give him all kinds of sexy presents, but he probably shouldn’t take those out and play with them OR display them at work.

  13. johnthedrunkard says

    #2 Blanche
    Penguins and bunnies and bears…oh my! The mugs are sexually allusive without any particular objectification of women. Maybe they’re too ‘heteronormative’ but I can’t really discern the genders involved.

    The shirt was so spectacularly vulgar/garish that I was flinching before I saw what it depicted.

    I not for the rampant, current, horror of geek misogyny, a collective ‘eew!’ should have been enough. But if he had worn jackboots and a Sam Browne belt, it wouldn’t have mattered who gave them to him or what underlying intention anyone may have had.

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