Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Hey grrrl... the reasons why I'm furious about ESA's #shirtgate

The dust hasn't even settled yet on the amazing, incredible feat of human achievement - we have landed on Comet 67P.

HOORAH! Let me take the moment (ok many, many moments) to reiterate how wonderful this is.

And yet it was marred a little bit for me by the ESA #shirtgate incident (note that the hashtag has been reused from a previous incident on the internet, sorry about that folks).

When I opened up my social media this morning to get ready for the pre-announcements and hype (because these moments are what I live for as a scientist) I was shocked by something I saw in a colleague's post. She mentioned that the Rosetta Project Scientist Matt Taylor (@mggtTaylor) was on multiple media sources (an official BBC video, his own, and ESA's twitter feed etc.) wearing a crazy shirt. And sure enough, when I looked it up, this is what I saw:

Ok, wooaah.

There were also articles about the fact that Matt wants to challenge stereotypes of scientists and openly wear his tattoos - and this is something I whole-heartedly support. This is something I've blogged about before. It is extremely important to me that we concentrate on the science that someone has to offer rather on their appearance, because scientists come in all sizes and shapes and we should let them be just like everyone else.

So isn't this a double standard? I spend time writing about how I should be able to wear what I want as a scientist and here I am really upset by his shirt?

This is the really important reason why it is different, in case it wasn't immediately obvious to you right away. It objectifies women.

Matt's shirt portrayed several images of a naked woman, allegedly as a tribute to a sci-fi character.
He also allegedly said  on air (and this is something I'll admit I didn't hear myself - it was relayed to me):  "She's sexy, but I didn't say she was easy." [Edit: I've since been shown the link where Matt gives the "sexy" quote. He's talking about Rosetta, not the woman on his shirt! Thanks to Dave for reminding me to get the facts straight.]

Now - we have a huge problem getting women and girls into STEM fields. And spend lots of energy talking about how women aren't in science and should be (note: a Google search will yield many articles, that is just a recent one!).

And yet, here is a male scientist at a predominantly male science press conference from a male-dominated field - that is going to be broadcast to schools around the world - wearing a shirt objectifying women.

So, obviously the internet exploded. I, and many other people tweeted about it and were very angry, and later Matt changed his shirt (thank goodness before the most watched part of the landing).
But this begs the question, why did Matt choose to wear the shirt? Or rather, did he think about the message it would send? Did he care? Did anyone at the press conference even look at the shirt?

I hope that in the coming days we will hear more from Matt and/or ESA, but I feel like now I need to redouble my efforts to remind young women interested in science that yes, your mind is important. That yes, you are capable of being taken seriously in STEM fields. That yes, we do want you here (come and join me). And that no, your body isn't what defines you.

Until then, I'm going to look at pictures of the glorious mission and hope my anger subsides. It is a great day for science. It is not a super day for getting women into science.

[Edit: Thanks to Summer and Emily at @startorialist for some happier space shirt designs to brighten my day - and more here]