#ShirtGate / #shirtstorm should have ended – right? After scientist Matt Taylor apologized for wearing a shirt that offended many feminists, you would think the discussion might move on. Perhaps we could discuss Taylor’s phenomenal accomplishment or the involvement of Rosetta Principal Investigator Kathrin Altwegg, a notable scientist who happens to be female. Unfortunately, that’s not the case – and it’s still about feminism (or, if you prefer, gender equality).

Taylor offered a sincere apology. He indicated that he was upset over it – he didn’t mean to hurt or offend anyone because he didn’t realize how or why the shirt might be offensive. After all, that’s what casual sexism is all about – and kudos to Taylor for understanding that and recognizing it publicly.

I was initially annoyed by Taylor’s shirt, but after the apology, I was excited to move on and learn more about Taylor, the other scientists on his team (which includes women), and their accomplishments – because science is awesome. However, others felt that Taylor should not have apologized for his shirt, and that it was unfair for him to feel obligated to do so.

This bothers me more than a silly and unprofessional shirt ever could. Here’s why:

  • spaceNo matter what women accomplish, we are often judged on a looks-first basis and scrutinized far more than our male counterparts based solely upon appearance. While I don’t think the answer involves harshly judging men in the same fashion, it definitely exposes the harsh judgment that women face every day. It’s unfortunate that Taylor had to go through the experience of being judged based on what he wore; no one likes being told they don’t know how to look appropriate or that they were ‘asking for’ criticism or worse. Welcome to the world of what women experience. Every. Single. Day. (Just ask Karl Stefanovic about his observations.)
  • Taylor was emotional and sincere and cried during his apology. This made a lot of critics of his shirt feel like we could move on from the issue – and I was really grateful to see that as an intelligent person, Taylor easily grasped the concept of casual sexism and that he did not intend to cause hurt feelings. He seems like a pretty awesome person – maybe someone I’d want to befriend or even LARP with. But in the backlash against us feminist shirt critics, opponents expose an area of sexism that significantly affects men. Men are culturally conditioned against crying and expressing their feelings – and on top of that, Taylor is in a scientific community, one that demands serious logic, intellect, and rationality. It seems like he’s also a general geek just like the rest of us, interested in comic books and the like.
  • Opponents of the apology often still refuse to recognize a need for women in STEM. I know some women in STEM fields, and most just want to continue having equal opportunities as they do what they’re best at doing. And we need that ethic – because how else will it ever be deemed ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ for women to exist in labs and video game development teams? The real women in the field are the real examples – not fabricated role models created by Mattel.

I hope we can move forward from #ShirtGate. After all, there’s a huge accomplishment to highlight. It was an emotional experience for Taylor and the other scientists involved – not even counting the shirt-related craziness.

And you know what? Sometimes men cry – because men are people, and people cry – and that’s okay.

Exactly what issue still remains?

PS: In case you missed it, the European Space Agency (ESA) actually landed a probe craft on a comet, and it’s totally learning things.

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