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Shirtgate & Souring on Feminism

The Rokeby Venus, by Diego Velazquez (Lloyd Shepherd/Flickr)

An English reader wrote this morning to say that he’s the only male in his division within his company, and was startled and gratified to hear, over a group lunch, every one of his female colleagues complaining about the PC nonsense from the company’s Human Resources department, and also complaining about Dr. Matt Taylor’s treatment in the Shirtgate affair. The reader was surprised but comforted by these “quiet dissenters.”

The Shirtgate affair has occasioned some very good writing. Here’s Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. Excerpt:

Yes, I suppose some might say that his Hawaii shirt was a bit garish, a bit of an eyeful. But the man is not a priest, for heaven’s sake. He is a space scientist with a fine collection of tattoos, and if you are an extrovert space scientist, that is the kind of shirt that you are allowed to wear.

As for the design of the garment, I have studied it as closely as the photos will allow, and I can’t see what all the fuss is about. I suppose there are women with long flowing hair and a certain amount of décolletage. But let’s not mince our words: there are no nipples; there are no buttocks; there is not even an exposed midriff, as far as I can see.

It’s the hypocrisy of it all that irritates me. Here is Kim Kardashian – a heroine and idol to some members of my family – deciding to bust out all over the place, and good for her. No one seeks to engulf her in a tweetstorm of rage. But why is she held to be noble and pure, while Dr Taylor is attacked for being vulgar and tasteless?

I think his critics should go to the National Gallery and look at the Rokeby Venus by Velázquez. Or look at the stuff by Rubens. Are we saying that these glorious images should be torn from the walls?

What are we all – a bunch of Islamist maniacs who think any representation of the human form is an offence against God? This is the 21st century, for goodness’ sake.

Look at the Rokeby Venus in the photo illustrating this post. If Dr. Taylor had appeared before the press in a shirt composed of that image, would outrage have ensued?

Here’s Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, writing in USA Today:

It seems to me that if you care about women in STEM, maybe you shouldn’t want to communicate the notion that they’re so delicate that they can’t handle pictures of comic-book women. Will we stock our Mars spacecraft with fainting couches?

Not everyone was so censorious. As one female space professional wrote: “Don’t these women and their male cohorts understand that *they* are doing the damage to what/whom they claim to defend!?”

No, they don’t. Or, if they do, their reservations are overcome by the desire to feel important and powerful at others’ expense. Thus, what should have been the greatest day in a man’s life — accomplishing something never before done in the history of humanity — was instead derailed by people with their own axes to grind. As Chloe Price observed: “Imagine the … storm if the scientist had been a woman and everyone focused solely on her clothes and not her achievements.”

Yes, feminists have been telling us for years that women can wear whatever they want, and for men to comment in any way is sexism. But that’s obviously a double standard, since they evidently feel no compunction whatsoever in criticizing what men wear. News flash: Geeks don’t dress like Don Draper.

Reynolds goes on to say that in a recent Time magazine survey asking which words should be retired from the English language, “feminist” won by a large margin. And in a YouGov poll, only about one in five people labeled themselves as “feminists.” The brand has a problem. Reynolds: “Whatever feminists say, their true priorities are revealed in what they do, and what they do is, mostly, man-bashing and special pleading.

Finally, here’s Cathy Young’s essay in Time. Excerpt:

[Planetary scientist and Taylor colleague Dr. Monica] Grady’s delight at the success of the mission clearly wasn’t ruined by a gaudy shirt with “sexualized” women on it. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Dr. Taylor: His Twitter, so full of excitement a few days ago, went entirely silent after his public humiliation.

Sadly, the brouhaha over Dr. Taylor’s shirt overshadowed not only his accomplishments but those of his female teammates, including one of the project’s lead researchers, Kathrin Allweg of the University of Bern in Switzerland. More spotlight on Dr. Allweg, Dr. Grady, Dr. Alexander and the other remarkable women of the Rosetta Project would have been a true inspiration to girls thinking of a career in science. The message of ShirtStorm, meanwhile, is that aspiring female scientists can be undone by some sexy pictures on a shirt—and that women’s presence in science requires men to walk on eggshells, curb any goofy humor that may offend the sensitive, and be cowed into repentance for any misstep.

Thanks for ruining a cool feminist moment for us, bullies.

If thinking about how their own daughters may be treated causes many to become more sympathetic to feminism, surely thinking about how their own sons may be treated causes many to lose sympathy for feminism.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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