The XX Factor

The Bizarre Fight Over a Scientist’s Sexy Lady Shirt

On Wednesday, Matt Taylor, a scientist on the Rosetta Project, which landed a spacecraft on a comet for the first time ever earlier this week, was interviewed on TV about his amazing accomplishments while wearing a shirt. That’s good. But unfortunately, the shirt featured a design of scantily clad women in pornographic poses. On Friday, Taylor apologized for wearing that shirt. What transpired in between has been dubbed Shirtstorm. So what happened?

After seeing Taylor on TV in his sexy lady shirt, Atlantic journalist Rose Eveleth tweeted:

That was Eveleth’s fairly casual way of expressing that it was not so awesome for Taylor to wear a shirt like that during such an important moment when so many people are trying to persuade women and girls to take up STEM careers. Then chemist and Skepchick contributor Raychelle Burks wrote a cheeky piece agreeing that it’s fun to wear loud clothes when being a scientist in the public eye and recommended some alternatives to Taylor’s chosen shirt, like “Think Geek” T-shirts or a shirt covered in planetary bodies instead of naked women. “There are appropriate places and times to wear clothing with sexual imagery on it — sex parties, erotica readings, erotic art openings, I can probably think of a few others,” Greta Christina, a sex writer and pornographer herself, wrote. “But the very public announcement of a major event in the history of scientific discovery — landing a robot on a comet! — is not one of those places or times.” The reaction, in total, was pretty lighthearted. This should be a learning moment and an opportunity to talk about the subtle ways to make science more welcoming to women and leave it at that, right? 

This is all over a shirt that common sense should tell you is not appropriate, even by the loose and free standards that the science community often (wonderfully, mind you) employs in its dress standards. Something to remember next time you see a feminist going over the top or taking cries of sexism too far, which does happen: Feminists have nothing on anti-feminists when it comes to going overboard.