If you weren’t too distracted with Kim Kardashian’s naked-ass publicity stunt last week, you’ll remember that the European Space Agency landed a probe on a comet. Like Kardashian’s backside, that’s huge! For the first time in human history, we landed a spacecraft on a comet. The Rosetta mission is another giant leap for mankind (even if the battery on the craft is dead).
But something else scandalous happened at the same time that practically overshadowed the monumental event. British physicist Matt Taylor gave a press interview at the ESA’s satellite control center while wearing an ugly Hawaiian shirt with scantily clad, gun-toting cartoon women. It was definitely in poor taste and the last thing someone should ever wear on the job.
The fact that one of the program scientists wore a tacky, unprofessional shirt was only part of what has become known as #shirtstorm. Some feminists took serious issue with Dr. Taylor’s shirt on the grounds that it was sexist. “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing,” was one of the headlines on The Verge. Rose Eveleth of The Atlantic tweeted, ““Thanks for ruining the cool comet landing for me asshole.”
Whoever cleared Dr. Taylor for an interview should be reprimanded if only for the fact that the shirt is just downright inappropriate for a press interview. But heterosexual men wearing shirts with half-naked women are sexist oppressors now? Celebrating the female body is considered sexist? I have no problem with men or women sharing what they find sexually appealing because human beings are sexual creatures.
Feminist scholar Camille Paglia has written about what she describes as “the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism.” Her argument is still as valid now as it was in 1990: Why are women simultaneously told to celebrate and love themselves but not express their sexuality? Women should be free to live the lives they choose to and express themselves how they see fit. The last time I checked, that’s sort of what feminism is all about.
Dr. Taylor didn’t have a shirt with depictions of men controlling women on leashes. His shirt didn’t say, “Women aren’t smart enough for science.” No, the unforgivable sin here was wearing a sexually themed shirt as male heterosexual.
Cathy Young of Reason magazine, a publication I normally disagree with for its libertarian views, summed up the whole situation perfectly:
Dr. Taylor’s shirt may not have been in great taste. But the outcry against it is the latest, most blatant example of feminism turning into its own caricature: a Sisterhood of the Perpetually Aggrieved, far more interested in shaming and bashing men for petty offenses than in celebrating female achievement.
I didn’t plan on blogging about this until I was called a sexist, privileged gay male in a series of Facebook comments. A Facebook friend posted a piece from an author who argued that Dr. Taylor’s shirt was offensive and sexist. After commenting that I respectfully disagreed and that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with depictions of pin-up girls, the Facebook user accused me of being clouded by my privilege as a gay male and that I didn’t know what I was talking about. “You have made it very clear that women’s feelings on inappropriate behavior matter less than yours and that anyone who gets upset about women being disrespected is overreacting.”
Right, because disagreement with an argument is the same thing as telling feminists who are offended to f*** off. You got me!
The exchange only reinforced a cultural observation I’ve made over the last couple of months: For every conservative, bigoted nut job in America, there’s a self-righteous, more-enlightened-than-thou liberal who reduces disagreements into mini culture wars (in much the same way social conservatives do). #Shirtstorm should have fizzled out before it even started. That doesn’t mean I think that those who disagree with me are “less than” or stupid. It means we disagree…and I shouldn’t have to clarify that.