We land on a comet and some feminists complain about a shirt?

One of the magazines regular contributors, John C. Wright, has an interesting piece on the reaction of feminists to one of the more impressive feats of space exploration in recent memory.
Scientist Lands a Probe On a Speeding Comet and Feminists Shriek About His Shirt

If I wrote this in a parody SFF story, no editor would buy it. It is too far beyond belief.
Feminists: We need to fight negative stereotypes like women caring more about fashion than science.
Comet? What comet? EEEK! LOOK AT THAT SHIRT!! Some big, strong man, HAAALP! Protect me from seeing that shirt. Eek! Eek!
Dr. Matt Taylor is a freaking hero, okay? We should do like the crowd at the end of the movie V FOR VENDETTA and all of us, each and every man in America, buy the same shirt. And the Guy Fawkes mask.

Read the Rest
What is wrong with some feminists? Is this really what they think is important? In a recent interview with Lena Dunham she commented that part of Feminism was accepting that women had something important and relevant to say before going on to expand on this idea by saying something trivial and banal. I laughed at the time but I didn’t really appreciate that this trait was much more widely spread in some branches of feminism.
Can anybody explain this too me? If this isn’t a prank and these feminists really think this is an important issue that over shadows the achievement of landing on a comet, isn’t it time we concluded that these feminists don’t really have anything important or relevant to say?
We landed on a freakin’ comet! The ESA hit something relatively small, moving quickly, a long way away with a shot that took place 10 years ago. That is amazing!


  1. It’s not like he was filmed on the street or in his home. It seems to me that when speaking to the press, a person can take a second to choose a non-offensive shirt.

    • It seems like a ridiculous over reaction to me. From what we can tell it looks like he regarded this as his lucky shirt, made as a gift from a friend of his, and he wore his lucky shirt on that day. For the feminists to descend on him like a pack of shrieking harpies and crap all over his achievement seems like a total over reaction. The hashtag #firstworldproblems was invented for this sort of thing.

      • Aside from the fact that, “For the feminists to descend on him like a pack of shrieking harpies and crap all over his achievement,” is a sexist way to describe feminists, I don’t think they did crap all over his achievement. Everything I read and heard was more along the lines of, “That’s really amazing, but, dude, that shirt was a poor choice.” Women have been marginalized and degraded for most of human history. Why blame them for getting upset (they didn’t get violent or make threats or anything worse than speaking their minds) over something that perpetuates that degradation? What if the shirt had had a racial slur on it? Would that have been different?

        • Serious question, if “pack of shrieking harpies” is sexist, could you please tell me what pejorative I should have used that wouldn’t be sexist?
          I don’t really think the Verge saying “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing.” is a rational reaction and I think it might reasonably described as “crapping all over” what Dr Matt Taylor and his team achieved. Ok, you don’t like his lucky shirt that his friend Ellie made for him. Claiming this is marginalizing women seems like an over reaction.
          I would ask another serious question, if this shirt sends women heading for the hills and drives them from science, how exactly do they expect to survive peer review?
          Thanks for the input Gene, we are unlikely to see eye to eye.

          • Just a guess, but they probably won’t have to worry too much about the peer reviewers sitting across the table from them in shirts like that one – they’ll probably dress for the occasion… that is a pretty patronising comparison on your part, though, congrats.

          • Why is it patronizing? I’m not the one who claimed it is things like this that make women “feel unwelcome” and “excluded” and “marginalized” from science. Is it unreasonable to characterize this as “heading for the hills”?
            And my understanding of peer review is that it can be brutal. I work in tech, tearing bad ideas apart (and having your ideas torn apart when they are crap) is part of the environment. Everybody is just expected to get over it and try again.
            If someones shirt upsets you to this point, then how are you going to react to having something you thought was a good idea destroyed because it turns out to be a bad idea?

          • It’s an open question whether you should use a pejorative, but I’d prefer one without the mythological baggage. Maybe something that keeps feminists human. Perhaps myopic would work.
            And I’m not sure the shirt is marginalizing women as much as it is degrading to women. I don’t think the shirt is going to stop anyone from becoming a scientist or engineer. It falls into the “it’s just one more thing” category.

          • Fair enough. I get what you are saying about “just one more thing”, but I guess I come at it differently and get sick of people being so thin skinned, especially when everybody demands I must have a thick skin.
            Here we have some feminists getting upset and offended by a bowling shirt. Alright, you might think it is tasteless, but “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing … the sort of casual misogyny that stops women from entering certain scientific fields” is ridiculously thin skinned and over the top. Not to mention what this says about women an how infantalized they are if this is a serious comment.
            I’m an orthodox Christian (Protestant, conservative Anglican specifically), and we are treated to things like Piss Christ or images of the Virgin Mary covered in feces and pornographic images. When Christians get (not unreasonably) upset over a deliberate act of desecration of things they hold (to varying degrees) as sacred or holy, we are told to have a thicker skin and stop being offended so easily, and “just get over it” or when we are subjected to usual collection of stupid ignorant articles in the paper and on TV at Christmas and Easter (every frickin’ year), and likewise told to have a thicker skin and just get over it. All of these are deliberately provocative attacks too, designed specifically to cause offence and attack Christians. I don’t mind being expected to have to just put up with garbage like this either. I value free speech and free expression and if you want to say something that disagrees with me, that’s fine even if you want to be a dick about it.
            But when feminists want to get up in arms over some guy and an unintentional fashion choice they don’t like, it annoys me. I hate thought police. [/rant]

  2. For a site that professes to be about sci-fi and *philosophy* this seems a poor choice of post. Do you not see how your choice of words displays a bias towards feminism which the word “some” does nothing to blunt? I’ve seen worse, mind: John C. Wright’s rant smacks of the most juvenile emasculation paranoia… I was especially impressed by his pre-emptive censoring of anyone attempting to make an argument he doesn’t accept it to be about – ie: the only argument, that Taylor was dressed inappropriately for his presumably impromptu role as media spokesperson.
    If Taylor had rolled up one sleeve to reveal a tattoo of Einstein and “harpies”, possibly descending in a “pack”, “shrieked” that he should have had Mme. Curie tattooed there instead, yes, that would be stupid. However, that’s not what happened. Taylor isn’t a hero. He’s a highly educated individual who managed to make himself look stupid by not understanding “some” basic social expectations on a Big Bang Theory-like level. It takes a room filled with comedy writers to find ways for Walowitz to embarrass himself, Taylor did all his own work.

    • “Do you not see how your choice of words displays a bias towards feminism”
      I assume you mean against feminism. Was it unclear that I think feminists getting up in arms about something like this is strong evidence of feminism’s total irrelevance? Not all feminists are like this, that is why I agreed with changing it to some, but _this_ is ridiculous and the feminists have a conniption are ridiculous. I’m not the only one who thinks so.
      We don’t have to agree, I doubt we will, and I welcome your input. Thanks.

      • Yes, I did mean a negative bias.
        I think there is a slippery slope of blame in this situation, and (acknowledging that I have sympathy for Taylor, given the hole he dug for himself) the first thing that needs to be recognised is that any over-reacting within the feminist community that has followed all this is *effect*, not *cause*. The swiftness to defend Taylor is coming in the form of swiftness to attack those who felt offence – and “attack” is not “disagreement”. Phrases like “shrieking pack of harpies” establishes your point of view very clearly – it’s literally dehumanising, which is hardly a step designed to ease tension.
        The average male observer, if standing in a lift with someone who was wearing clothes plastered with sexualised male imagery, would likely feel a bit uncomfortable about it. The same person in the same clothes, broadcast into the world’s living rooms, would be slated the world over. Feminists in this imaginary hell might abstain from that criticism, and level instead the argument that “If it was a shirt covered in sexualised women, no-one in the mainstream could care less” – and it’s because this was just proven demonstrably true that some of them object with vitriol.
        The issue here is that this stupid shirt has become emblematic of a failure of equality. The only men who should feel threatened by feminism are the ones who consider themselves better than women, or who are in fact lesser than them. Any man who assumes “the average woman” to be little different from himself, and deserving of the same rights, is effectively a feminist.
        As a coda to all that: what I do and say in a private environment is significantly more offensive than what I do and say in public. I share with my friends the same degree of affectionate abuse I would be happy to accept from them, and it varies from person to person. I like dirty jokes, sick jokes even, and I’m not afraid of making fun of a friend’s beliefs to their face – feminism would be included in that, has been in fact. The detail that Taylor’s female friend made him his shirt is not a mitigation, nor is the fact that for all I know his every lady acquaintance thinks it suits him down to the ground: all that matters is that wearing it on such an occasion is, whether you like it or not, a statement.
        And it’s a bit of a backwards statement. You want to know who crapped all over Taylor’s special day? The fool who dressed like a thirteen-year-old’s bedroom wall, that’s who.

        • Just to edit myself: where I said –
          “Any man who assumes the average woman to be little different from himself, and deserving of the same rights, is effectively a feminist”
          – I’d have preferred to say “deserving of the same treatment”. Rights too, of course.

        • “the first thing that needs to be recognised is that any over-reacting within the feminist community that has followed all this is *effect*, not *cause*.”
          The reaction started _after_ the comments on Verge. It was that original reaction on the Verge that has prompted a lot of the reaction. That original comment was an over reaction and if others have reacted strongly against that it is probably because they are growing increasingly fed up with the behavior of certain groups of feminists.
          “The average male observer, if standing in a lift with someone who was wearing clothes plastered with sexualised male imagery, would likely feel a bit uncomfortable about it”
          I doubt the average man pays that much attention to what other people are wearing. Why don’t you do the experiment. I would actually be interested in the results.
          “The only men who should feel threatened by feminism are the ones who consider themselves better than women,”
          It depends what you mean. In my experience few (if any) men care what women wish to do, and how no problem with giving them the same set of political rights, at least in the West. Men in general don’t find the idea of “female equality” threatening, most don’t care, a level playing field isn’t a problem.
          What they object to is being told they are second class citizens because they have a penis. Don’t forget Jessica Valenti (prominent women identified as a feminist) was saying the solution to the pay gap was to pay men less and she wrote this in the guardian. Maybe it is economically illiterate and sexist garbage like that that makes people concerned about feminism.

  3. This whole incident reminds me a little of when I used to manage a chain bookstore. I had to deal with a sexual harassment case where an employee took a picture from a girlie mag that was heading to the shredder and put it on his desk. Several other employees complained. When I was having the difficult conversation, the employee who had the picture kept complaining that he was being ganged up on and saying it’s just a picture and everyone should just get a grip. I didn’t fire him (although I had the grounds), but he wound up quitting shortly thereafter because of this incident. I was baffled that he either couldn’t or wouldn’t look at it from anyone else’s perspective. He didn’t understand how the picture could offend someone. The initial thoughtlessness is certainly understandable, what I could never understand is the doubling down on his position after we talked. Taylor made a mistake with his choice of attire. I understand people calling him out for it. And I give him a lot of credit for, what seemed to me, a sincere apology.

  4. I must have missed something. I have not seen the shirt. Did it have a girlie picture on it? Did is have a sexually suggestive slogan? Or was it only the usual stereotypical trope of women criticizing how others are dressed? What was it about the shirt that supposedly made someone feel “marginalized”?
    A colleague of mine was once taken to task for sexist remarks because he used the phrase “rule of thumb” in referring to a statistical approximation. The offense was taken because the complainant believed an urban legend that the phrase originated in an “old law” (never specified) that limited the thickness of the stick with which a man was supposedly allowed to beat his wife. There never seems to have been such a law, and the phrase stems from the origin of the inch as the length of the last digit of the thumb way back in ancient Egypt. “Rule” was understood as in the sense of a carpenter’s or mason’s rule; hence, its sense as “an approximation.” However, the fellow had to make a ritual apology regardless.
    Couple that anecdote with the anecdote regarding the girlie picture, above, and one can see the error of lumping very different things into one label-box. Meanwhile, locally, the ACLU has successfully defended for middle school students their right to wear “I (heart) Boobies” bracelets on the ground of “freedom of speech.” So good taste is obviously not an issue. Supposedly, they are to raise breast cancer awareness, though one may doubt the intentions of male students in the matter. Once can hardly wait to see the bracelets for prostate cancer awareness.

  5. @Gene
    Yeah… your guy had every reason to up and quit, especially since his boss had such a warped ethos that he honestly thought, in his own little fairy tale world, that he had the grounds to fire him for that. Granted, I’m all for an owner of a business being able to fire anyone for any reason, but like with Freedom of Speech, that cuts both ways and does not render the firer from relentless criticism, especially if he fired someone for something stupid like that.
    Words cannot express the number of middle fingers I wish to send your way, but I do believe this will suffice:

  6. @Emmanuel,
    Clearly you know very little about employment law, especially regarding sexual harassment and hostile work environment. All of my employees received specific training about what constituted sexual harassment under the law and our policy and signed a form saying that they agreed to it. I used my discretion in not firing him. The letter of the law/our policy was stricter than I was. I’m surprised this makes you so angry. I guess that’s a good illustration of why the shirt was a problem and why employment law is necessary.

    • I would agree with you Gene that Emmanuel doesn’t have a great understanding of current law. Although I suspect he is saying he doesn’t agree with the current law.
      I don’t agree with a lot of it either because it tends to empower the thin skinned and deliberately easily offended.
      More than a few women seem to regard “asking her out if you are insufficiently attractive” as sexual harassment. That is hardly reasonable.
      We have already seen with “street harassment” women complaining about “being harassed” and then other women complaining they are being ignored and this made them feel ugly. How can you expect the law to be able to deal with something as flighty as women’s emotions like this? And that is because of the observation that they are highly variable in this circumstance not some female stereotype.
      I agree there is such a thing as sexual harassment but where do you draw the line? Law is a blunt instrument and fails badly at doing nuance. By its nature it needs to be black and white. “A is ok, B is wrong”, it cannot meaningfully allow for the sorts gradations that seem to be expected. Take the previous case, either nobody should be allowed to ask anybody for a date or everybody can and sometimes people will be asked by people they wish to refuse, and they should do so politely (but firmly) like an adult.
      Maybe we simply need to have gender segregated work places? That is where such laws will lead.

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