“Why do geniuses lack common sense?” was the brilliant title the Telegraph gave to the article about the pin-up shirt that became in a few hours a lot more famous than the man wearing it, and which totally took the scene from the actual news.
The news was: The ingenuity of some exponents of mankind brought two products of science to land on a speeding comet. Possibly one of the greatest accomplishments of our century.
The world however, or the media world rather, parted over the shirt. The shirt, if you live on the moon, have no access to media or social media and are blind and deaf, portrays sexy women, dressed in what looks like lingerie and holding guns.
On the one side the so called feminists who want to fry the chubby scientist, on the opposite side those who minimize and say that he was just naive.
I have three nuggets of wisdom for those who care:
1. Matt Taylor’s shirt was designed for him by a female friend who is an artist, it’s unclear if it was made for the occasion, but what’s more than sure is that her piggy bank is getting heavier by the minute. He knew the world would watch, and although he may not have considered the recent feminist surge (because he DOES live on the moon) I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have expected comments on his shirt. Even because I’m pretty sure his fellow colleagues do give interviews in white shirts and ties rather than in shorts.
2. Provided that the European Space Agency is not populated by movie-like, goofy geniuses who are unaware of what happens between their office and outer space (oh yeah, they have a legal department too, and several accountants.. normal, non-genius people) it seems like they are pretty cool with what Matt Taylor, Dr. Matt Taylor, does rather than how he dresses. Pin-up shirt, baggy shorts, bare tattoos. That same man who landed two satellites on a speeding comet a million miles away from earth.
3. The tears are totally fake – this is my personal point of view but if he hadn’t repented so theatrically he would have blown his career. He had to cry to keep the image of the goofy scientist who didn’t expect his stupid naivete to hurt anybody. (I do admit that if he had acted otherwise I would probably be less lenient towards him…)
Now, I do agree on the fact that Dr Taylor should have been more cautious with his wardrobe, but on the other hand he portrayed empowered women who are sexy but also seem pretty much in charge with their guns and all, without ever making a comment on them. What I mean is: do we have proof that he wears that shirt out of misogyny and spite for women that he considers complimentary like the welcome drink in a hotel? No, we do not.
Does his work change our understanding of humanity? Yes, it does.
A few months ago I was asked at a conference what I think about male doctors who volunteer for children who have been victim of abuse and/or trafficking. I don’t remember the exact wording of the question but it was pretty clear that whoever asked meant “don’t you think that a camp full of children who are used to abuse and grateful for the help they receive is the perfect playground for a sex predator?”. Well, this, as much as speculations on Dr Taylor’s shirt, is a trial based on the muddy grounds of speculation. Does being in a crowded room make me a nymphomaniac? Does having the chance to steal because the person sitting next to me on a train has her bag open make me a thief? No, until I actually do something I am not a nymphomaniac or a thief, as much as a doctor is not a paedophyle until he abuses a kid and Dr Taylor is not a sexist misogynyst until he openly says something that makes him so.
My reading of the incident is as follows:
Dr. Taylor tells his friends what he is working on, his artist friend challenges him to wear her shirt on the day of the landing, he does it and, forgets/refuses to change it for the interview (has anyone Barney challenging Robyn in How I met Your Mother?).
I haven’t seen the video with the teary apology (I live in Vietnam, there’s only so much my connection can hold….) so if someone has the real explanation please let me know.
The bottom line is that, once again, our society is bewildered by what it can see and not by what challenges its intelligence. Learning how Rosetta and Philae landed on the comet is hard, talking about a shirt is something anyone can do. And somehow everyone feels entitled to do it.
What fewer people do talk about is that sexism does exist and it’s pretty much like the mafia “when you talk about dramatic spikes people focus on what looks big but is actually small”. This is exactly the same. And what worries me the most is the same ones who calls themselves feminists have fallen in the trap.
Dr. Taylor was at best a sneaky cheat who wanted to challenge the system, knew he was in charge and thought he could do it, and give visibility to his friend. So far we have no proof he is a misogynyst who would beat and kill women if he could. On the other hand the world is ridden with tragedies that, right this week, have affected women -one above all the mass sterilization gone wrong in Chhatisgarh…- but we look at those tragedies as something that sooner or later was bound to happen. Because again, following the news and learning that the antibiotic they had been given was poisoned with rat poison is tiring and sickening, discussing the actual use of mass sterilization (4.6 million women and 110.000 men in India in 2012, for the record) and of the dangers of bland pharmacology is boring, whereas talking about the shirt seems more fun.