It's been a week since the European Space Agency landed their probe on the surface of a comet for the first time ever in human history. A proud day for the Agency, a proud day for Europe and a milestone for human space flight.
Which will forever be tainted by the image of a team member wearing a wildly inappropriate shirt emblazoned with images of scantily clad women while being interviewed by the international media.
Almost instantly, social media picked up that image and noted its inappropriate nature, criticizing the man for his insensitivity. Within a day, the scientist, Dr. Matt Taylor, had apologized profusely, even breaking down in tears on camera. For many people, that ended the incident.
But not for the apologists.
Social media exploded with apologies for his behavior, some even going to far as to weigh in with their opinions as to how innocent that shirt was, because the depictions of women were cartoonish instead of photography. They opined that feminists were overblowing the incident, eclipsing the accomplishments of Dr. Taylor and his team.
And so today, a week after he appeared on camera, the argument still rages on social media.
More and more, louder and louder, the argument rages. But, wait! That loud sound you hear? That roar? The one that sounds like a hundred airliners going over?
That's not a fleet of 747's. That is the sound of the entire point missing your heads.
Yesterday, a comment was made on a post on Facebook I have been following. Here's the important part of it:
The only thing that strikes me as sexist in this is the fact that men don't seem to be expected to consider the implications of what they wear to the office, while women have to take the rest of the office into consideration. Take a look at your company policy on dress and lateness.
This. This is the point. Somehow, someway, Matt Taylor managed to appear in front of a major media outlet's camera wearing a shirt that should have been considered inappropriate in any professional setting. And yet, EVERYBODY, from his fellow team members to his team leader, to the head of the ESA (and don't fool yourself, that control room was literally crawling with management before those cameras ever got in the room.) completely missed the fact that he was wearing it.
Even at the last minute, somebody could have tossed the guy a lab coat to cover up The Shirt. It would have been that easy.
Instead, the ESA missed numerous opportunities to notice The Shirt. His team leader. His team leader's boss. HIS boss. The ESA Public Relations Office. Upper management on that morning's walk through.
So, what does that say about the ESA and its policies towards professionalism, given that literally nobody even noticed? Anybody want to bet how quickly a female team member would have been counseled on her dress if she'd tried to wear something even mildly provocative on camera? At the very least, she'd have been forced to wear that lab coat.
But not DOCTOR Taylor. No, apparently The Shirt is so much a part of the environment in that team's space that nobody thought it was important. That millions of women around the world would be put off by it, and that it might send a message to girls everywhere considering a career in the European Space Agency that sexism is such a normal part of life that a team member can appear on camera, representing the ENTIRE Agency, wearing The Shirt and nobody cares enough to even make him wear a lab coat.
This isn't just a problem with Dr. Matt Taylor. It isn't just a problem with the ESA. It is a problem within the entire world of science, wherever this kind of thing can happen. It is pervasive and part of the culture, so much so that an entire chain of management can miss something that simple.
This very public conversation we are having is important. You apologists out there, pay attention.
We aren't blaming the good Doctor. Not now, he apologized and is moving on.
It's the rest of us who need to understand that the issue isn't just an ugly shirt. The issue is an environment where that ugly shirt is allowed on a guy, ON CAMERA, while women are still judged by the clothing they wear and not on their professional abilities.
That needs to change. Not only do we need to be more aware of things like The Shirt, but we need to change the atmosphere where men aren't judged by their clothing but women are. We need for people to see how corrosive sexism can be and just how invisibly invasive it can get.
How unnoticed. So badly unnoticed that a man can get away with representing his team and his Agency on camera while wearing a wildly inappropriate shirt and it takes someone from outside to see it.
We've got a lot of work to do. This conversation is important, which is why we are having it a week later.
Got the message?