Rosetta landing kicks up a shirt storm

Rosetta Mission LandingI LOVE Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new update of Cosmos; I read Hawkins, Dawkins and even have a Darwin tattoo – so it’s safe to say I could be labelled as a bit of a science geek. Therefore these last few weeks have filled me with great excitement, what with the Rosetta space mission flooding science news. One of the most notable moments was the interview with Dr Matt Taylor; a person so passionate about his work and so confident of its success that he had the landing depicted in tattoo form – one of many he had on display during the interview.

It was with a heavy heart and a bad taste in my mouth I watched a second interview a few days later in which the same confident, outgoing guy, with his many tattoos hidden under a dark hoodie, broke down in tears to make an apology. This was not however, for making a mistake which led to the failure of a project (costing many millions of pounds, and thousands of man-hours), or for committing some crime which would taint his and his colleagues’ achievement. Instead, the crime others saw fit to punish this intellectual man for was his shirt which some people found offensive.

What was so offensive? The shirt depicted caricatures of scantily clad women, which in itself could be considered a bad choice of wardrobe, but was made for him by a female friend.
Headlines like “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing” (The Verge, Nov 13th) littered social media. The sheer achievement of landing of a camera on a moving comet which has taken ten years dedication has clearly surpassed some people (let’s not forget: it was only two years ago that NASA’s Curiosity Rover successfully landed on Mars, let alone anything that is travelling around 55,000 km per hour).

Professor Ian Wright from the Open University, which is leading the team for the Ptolemy instrument, stated that: “we will be looking for evidence recorded in remnants of debris that survived the processes of planet formation. Our quest is to gain insights into this transitional era, which took place more than 4.5 billion years ago.”

Although it may be true that women’s entry into STEM subjects is limited, it does not mean that these days of abuse towards to Dr Matt Taylor are accurate for laying the blame for generations of misogyny and sexism in the science and technology industry at his door. It also stands that ESA prior to the interview did not pick up on his ‘heinous crime’.
So what the hell is going on? A guy wears a shirt with some cartoon-style female characters, and he is portrayed as some chauvinist who thinks women belong in the kitchen and out of his science lab.
He spent years working towards a goal which is a great achievement – not only scientifically, but also for mankind as a whole – and he is greeted with nothing but scorn and abuse from overzealous feminist doom-sayers.

Yes, women are grossly underrepresented in the the science and technology sectors, and yes, more should be done to rectify this; but instead of hanging Dr Taylor out to dry for something he wanted to wear, perhaps the problem should be directly addressed. If you want to change the way things are, fighting the problem at the source is key.

Rather than focus on the success of the ESA and plug for the inclusion of females into high up scientific fields, the Verge article stated that: “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.”

For one, it would be imperative to change the way media portray females in the sciences; talk about the female scientists who have already made inroads like Rita R Cowell, Anne McLaren and Mayim Bialik. Next time someone achieves something amazing and worthwhile of praise it should be justly celebrated. At the end of day, it was just a shirt and a handmade gift from a female friend, but it’s probably not going to hinder women who truly want to be in scientific fields from achieving their goals.