A man wore a shirt with women in bondage to work. Not just to work, but to an event that would be broadcast everywhere in the world because the event involved landing a rocket on a comet. A very, very cool thing that had never been done before.
Two women in STEM commented that the shirt might not be appropriate or might not make women in STEM feel included. The women commenting on the shirt did not say the man was bad. They did not attack him personally in any way. Some journalists wrote pieces on it, trying to explain how women who are already marginalized in STEM might feel.
The dog pile that followed was not more women (or men) with cries of, bad man or fat man or ugly man. No, what happened next was some journalists, largely male, turning a few tweets into a story about why women are so overly sensitive, why feminism is evil, and we women should all just chill out and get some freaking perspective. Because women in the field have no right to make a comment about how a shirt with semi-naked women might in such a male dominated field might make them feel less welcome.
Imagine, for example, if I wore a shirt made of scantily clad men while speaking a national meeting of OB/GYNs. The field of OB/GYN is ever increasingly female and I have heard from some men in the field that they feel marginalized. Might they feel more or less marginalized by someone representing them at a national meeting that will be televised wearing a shirt or dress or suit made of fabric with scantily clad cowboys or Santa’s helpers?
To those men (and the few women) who are so myopic that they can’t see the wood for the trees I tell you this. The scientist was not judged, his shirt was. No one said he looked fat, or gross, or that the color didn’t work with his skin, or that his hairstylist should be fired, or that his make-up was so last year, or that his ass was clearly photoshopped because those are the kind of things the press writes about what women in entertainment and politics wear, these women said A SHIRT OF HALF-NAKED WOMEN IN BONDAGE MIGHT NOT BE THE BEST CHOICE FOR SUCH AN IMPORTANT EVENT IN SCIENCE. And of course they are right. The difference between what was said and apparently what some in the press (and public) heard isn’t subtle, at least not to those of us who have been told we look fat/old/ugly.
A broadcaster in Australia just came forward to announce that he has worn the same cheap suit on air for a year as an experiment in sexism, clothing, and the media. His point was that not one person noticed his same suit day after day. They noticed what he said and how he said it, but not his suit. His female colleague, on the other hand, receives constant comments about how she looks. Interesting, no?
But back to #shirtgate or #shirtstorm or whatever.
The people who made this into a “thing” are the people who amplified the original comments without understanding them in USA Today and elsewhere. To quote Glenn Harlan Reynolds in USA Today, the whole comet landing was “drowned out by shouts of feminist outrage.” But that isn’t what happened. Two women who are in the field commented on the shirt, some thoughtfully wrote more on it, other journalists made it into a story missing the nuances, and then people like Mr. Reynolds jumped on it to mansplain it back to the women (and men) who raised an eyebrow to begin with. The shirt was a poor choice for work attire. Mansplaining it back is misogyny.
To Mr. Reynolds and his ilk, the feminist idea of wearing what you want is related to not being treated like a piece of meat or being told that you were dressed in such a way you deserved to be groped or raped and is not an excuse for a middle finger at your work’s dress code. If you wear a t-shirt and ripped jean mini skirt and your work dress code is business casual or business dressy then you are inappropriately dressed and need to change. If you wear a t-shirt and ripped jean mini skirt to a bar and get assaulted you did not ask for it. Hopefully you can see the difference between those two scenarios.
The thing is I think I know what would happen if I wore an outfit made of half-naked cowboys to a national event. If my ass looked fat that would be pointed out long before anyone noticed the fabric.
Late entry, 8:25 pm.
It seems from the comments below (and the lovely tweets that I have received) that many are having trouble understanding my points. Perhaps the half-naked men are just too distracting or perhaps they understand well-enough but have their own narrative to pursue. Regardless, here is a short summary so everyone understands my points:
A man representing a massive STEM project wore a shirt with semi-nude hypersexualized women clad in PVC (or leather, hard to tell).
His coworkers did not say, “Great shirt for a pub, not so great for International exposure.”
Two women in STEM tweeted about the shirt’s appropriateness given issues with women in STEM feeling marginalized. Issues that they are familiar with.
What should have happened next was a buddy saying, “Hey, that shirt is really for the pub” and perhaps the man issuing a statement saying “It’s my favorite shirt. I just totally missed how it might come across. Sorry.” Instead the press, needing another angle other than a rocket landing on a comet, made the tweets into a story. Editors apparently believing that controversy involving partially naked women will get more clicks than a rocket landing on a comet (possibly, and very sadly, they might be right).
The man, like a lot of people, was unprepared for the eagerness of the press to report so much on a couple of tweets and how it became such a big story. He felt very badly.
Vitriol was cultivated, amped by the press coverage and men (mostly men from the comments and tweets I’ve received) feeling that women were wrong to feel the way they did. A man (a couple actually) wrote op-eds explaining to women, but especially the two women who had tweeted, that they were silly and wrong to feel they way they did. And that feminism is dead. And that there is such a double standard with dress codes so women should just shut up. And get over it.
Much more vitriol ensued against the women. Death and rape threats were made (silly women, they were not meant to take those seriously, just all in good fun you know!). All because of a couple of tweets that rightly pointed out that a shirt of hyper sexualized half-naked women in PVC or leather (because the specifics of how scantily glad these women were dressed matters more to some commenters below than the veracity of death and rape threats) might not be a welcoming image for women in STEM.
All proving that many of the comments on posts about feminism prove why we still need feminism.