Monday, November 17, 2014

Shirtgate: Four Things to Consider

Everybody knows the story by now: Matt Taylor, a British scientist, was part of the team who landed a probe on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  In a recent interview, he wore a shirt that made some people very upset, subsequently apologized for it, and is now more famous for the shirt than the remarkable scientific achievement for which he is responsible.  Here are some takeaways from the story.  If they offend you, ask yourself why:

  • The shirt was designed by Elly PriZeMaN [sic] and it depicts women in skimpy outfits holding guns.  If you click the link, you'll see that Ms. PriZeMaN is a woman.  Also note that the shirt itself doesn't show violence against women; indeed, if holding a firearm is an implicitly violent act, then the women depicted are themselves engaging in violence.  The shirt is in poor taste.  But Dr. Taylor obviously wore it because he very much liked it and wanted to show off his female friend's work.
  • There's very little difference between radical feminists and small children. One thing you learn early on with small children is that you get the behavior you reward most frequently.  Small children act out.  They can't help it.  But you don't reward them for acting out: you use the appropriate tools available, including ignoring the bad behavior, removing the child from the situation if he or she becomes destructive, or distracting the child with something else.  To a radical feminist, the best thing that can happen is getting attention, even negative attention.
  • Dr.Taylor wasn't forced to apologize.  He didn't have to apologize for wearing a shirt that a tiny group of very loud people found offensive.  The only reason why this became such a big deal is because he apologized.  He rewarded bad behavior, and as a result, not only failed to mollify an extremely angry subgroup of individuals whose very existence is predicated on anger, but also brought scorn on himself from people who would otherwise have supported him.  Had he stood up for himself, or, better yet, ignored the screeching, he would have been known for his achievement, not his sartorial choices.
  • This story hits the bullseye on two important issues: a misplaced sense of proportion and political correctness.  If this guy's shirt elicited so much anger and tears, it's clear that radical feminism no longer has any major issues to address, and should be relegated to the dustbin of history the way John Birchers have.  Also, everybody hates political correctness, but nobody wants to take responsibility for it.  Apologizing to the eternally offended increases political correctness.  
Some questions remain.  I added the leavening adjective "radical" to feminist in this piece, but are the people so offended by this shirt actually radical feminists, or do they represent the mainstream of feminism?  If not, why not?  Will Dr. Taylor have a career after this?  Does an attention-seeking subgroup of a subgroup have a right to tear the spotlight away from people with actual accomplishment to further an agenda supported only by them?  How many times will this have to happen until someone gathers up the courage to fight back?

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