Saturday, November 15, 2014

Scapeshirt



Chris Plante and Arielle Duhaime-Ross:

No one knows why Taylor chose to wear that shirt on television during a massive scientific mission. From what we can tell, a woman who goes by the name of Elly Prizeman on Twitter made the shirt for him, and is just as bewildered as he must be that anyone might be upset about her creation. Taylor apologized on Friday during a live ESA broadcast for wearing the shirt, stating that "the shirt I wore this week... I made a big mistake and I offended many people, and I'm very sorry about this." Still, Taylor's personal apology doesn't make up for the fact that no one at ESA saw fit to stop him from representing the Space community with clothing that demeans 50 percent of the world's population. No one asked him to take it off, because presumably they didn't think about it. It wasn't worth worrying about.

This is the sort of casual misogyny that stops women from entering certain scientific fields. They see a guy like that on TV and they don't feel welcome. They see a poster of greased up women in a colleague's office and they know they aren't respected. They hear comments about "bitches" while out at a bar with fellow science students, and they decide to change majors. And those are the women who actually make it that far. Those are the few who persevered even when they were discouraged from pursuing degrees in physics, chemistry, and math throughout high school. These are the women who forged on despite the fact that they were told by elementary school classmates and the media at large that girls who like science are nerdy and unattractive. This is the climate women who dream of working at NASA or the ESA come up against, every single day. This shirt is representative of all of that, and the ESA has yet to issue a statement or apologize for that.

Emphasis mine. I swear, I'm beginning to suspect that these people are the result of an intensive, long-term breeding program designed to produce some kind of human super-terrier that can tunnel through layers of solid rock in fanatical pursuit of the faintest trace odor of offense to be taken.

As a good pluralist, I'm naturally inclined to believe that most issues admit of more than one valid interpretation. Ferzample, there's nothing inherently wrong with being the type of person who sees a shirt covered in images of sexy pinup girls and gets offended. You can offer up a number of reasons why such a person might be mistaken to see it that way, or perhaps some suggestions that life will be more pleasant and productive for them if they try to lighten up and take a less-judgmental stance, but ultimately, they're entitled to feel however they want. And even for those of us who don't go through life with a thorny stick wedged painfully in our posteriors and perpetually pursed, disapproving, lemon-sucking lips, it can of course be fairly argued that, whatever the backstory, it's at least inappropriate to wear a shirt like that on that particular occasion. It's obviously not worth being put through a show trial, but being pulled aside and told, "Hey, dude, come on, you're going to be on international television; maybe something a little less gaudy" wouldn't be an onerous imposition.

Notice, though, how a certain type of Puritanical feminist refuses to even consider the possibility that other people could have different, yet equally valid reactions to seeing Taylor's shirt. As you may have heard by now, Elly Prizeman is a close friend of Taylor's. He was the best man at her wedding. She made him the shirt as a gift, and he wore it to give her artwork a little publicity boost. Nonetheless, her opinion doesn't count, femininity notwithstanding. Any other woman shrugging her shoulders and saying, "What's the big deal?" would likewise be dismissed as irrelevant and unwelcome in the discussion. 50% of the world's population is being demeaned by that shirt! Of course, if even 50% of that 50% stood up and said, "Actually, we don't see it as a problem; you just need to chill the fuck out," their objections would be overruled even as their existence would continue to be cited as support for the Puritanical view. No woman could possibly see him wearing that shirt in conjunction with his tattoos and general demeanor and think Hey, he looks like a fun guy; no, they would see him as intimidating and threatening. They wouldn't "feel welcome". This is all stated as matter of fact, not as one perspective among many.

Notice the immediate assumption of the absolute worst-case interpretation. Generic sexual images, even campy ones, when sported or appreciated by a man, are sexist. Inherently offensive and harmful. The images of sultry, busty babes couldn't possibly be equally representative of comic book art or cheesy SFF; they can only represent filthy, degrading, aggressive animal lust, which all right-thinking people should be properly ashamed of. Any woman who sees them will take them personally and feel disrespected. Any man who enjoys them can clearly only think of women as second-class citizens, mere blow-up dolls to be used, abused, and cast aside. Nothing positive could ever be associated with them. Their very existence, especially when made public in any way, demeans all women, even the poor brainwashed ones who stubbornly cling to their ignorant opinions to the contrary.

Notice how the slippery-slope argument becomes a sheer logical plummet down the face of a cliff, as Taylor's shirt becomes an inkblot suggesting everything a woman could ever find to complain about. Well, again, they're free to find tendentious causal connections wherever they want, but the rest of us are also free to point out that they are simply projecting their own twisted, morbid obsessions onto everyone else, in the long-established tradition of fundamentalist crusaders of all kinds.

One member of the Slymepit had what I thought was a good take on it:

So a man is the best man of a woman. The woman makes him a shirt as a thank you. He wears it. Sounds like a pretty normal thing to do among normal, socially aware, empathetic people.

But since there was a woman in a sexy position on that shirt, suddenly the man is the devil, he sets back history, he's sexist, he's the reason why women are raped, etc.

And they say they're sex positive, progressive people. I've met nuns who were less of a prude. This objectification rhetoric hides pearl-clutching former fundies who get mad when they see female flesh exposed, be it real or fictional.

Also, for people who are all about "empathy", SJWs have very little social and emotional empathy of their own. They don't seem to understand the concept of being proud of your work, or of having friends, or even of humor and a relaxed attitude towards sexuality. They've lost the sense of wonder before the accomplishments of the human race.

It seems like a trivial, almost painfully obvious point to me, but apparently it needs to be said anyway: these people represent an extreme viewpoint, only one of many possible viewpoints, but for some odd reason, a lot of otherwise moderate people, as well as a lot of media outlets, seem inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt when they aggressively proceed as if theirs is the one true perspective on gender issues. Oh, for the day when this unthinking, groveling deference finally wears off...