Lessons learned from a “Shirtstorm”

Last week a team of scientist landed a probe on an comet from an orbiting satellite. That’s the coolest sentence ever, right? Like thousands of other nerds across the globe, I watched the whole thing live… on Twitter.

During the long wait for the Philae lander to reach it’s target, one of the team’s project scientists landed into an internet shitstorm when he wore a kitschy bowling shirt filled with images of scantily dressed women during a live interview on the BBC. I just thought of it as tacky until my wife, who is a scientist, described to me how it’s things like this that can make women feel out of place in a professional environment. Dr. Matt Taylor has since given a heartfelt apology and seems to be a really decent guy who just made a bad decision when getting dressed for a big day in the lab. I thought that was really awesome of him, and most of us just moved on from this shirtstorm.

But for some reason there’s still a ton of dudes out there who literally can’t even why anyone would bat an eye at overly sexualized women in a workplace setting. So I made them this:

I still :ello:L* every time I look at this thing, but honestly I was trying to make it easier for some guys to visualize the issue. Of course it didn’t work. Most of the replies to my Twitter post are along the lines of “You must be homophobic if you think that shirt is inappropriate for work“. And a few replies saying “We’ll obviously it’s not the same, those dudes are wearing less clothes.” (which I’d argue further goes into how our standards decency vary from men to women, but whatever).

I’m sure I didn’t change anyone’s opinion out there, but I was surprised at what I learned from the experience . When trying to make the shirt as equally balanced as I could to the original design, I realized there really was no equivalent. There literally isn’t any way to translate the power imbalance and sexism that are so deeply ingrained in our culture that we can’t even see it. As one commenter put it, “there’s no stigma that men are nothing to science and just a set of abs“.

* I call that an Ello-L (get it?). I originally posted this piece on Ello and I’m actually digging it over there. Follow me if you like.