Last week, science did awesome things. Or rather: Reaped the fruits of having done awesome things 10 years ago. We landed a spaceship on a comet and had it talk back to us. That is really, really awesome.
And during this event, the lead scientist did a sartorial booboo: He chose to wear a very boldly patterned shirt that was gifted to him by a good friend. And a shirtstorm occurred, as the „bold pattern“ actually consisted of provocatively half-naked women. Which is really a not very (socially) smart and sexist move.
Now, I highly doubt that Dr. Taylor is a sexist. He seems like a hoopy frood who knows where his towel is, with awesome tattoos and a great beard and hairdo. And the shirt in question was a gift, hand-made by a female friend. And he obviously has at least one foot in the rockabilly/burlesque scene, which is actually full of people who do know what feminism means and who fully support this.
All that makes him very probably (I don’t know him) a good person and not a misogynist asshole that objectifies women. But it still doesn’t make him socially smart in every way. Which is totally ok, not everyone is, nor needs to be. I’m not that socially smart either.
Still, in the context of presenting a major science success to a very diverse and international audience, wearing this shirt was a bad idea. Most of those who see it don’t get the rockabilly/burlesque background, they don’t know that it was a hand-made gift, they don’t know Dr. Taylor or how he usually behaves. They just see some bloke in a shirt full of nekkid ladies. And then jump to conclusions. So there’ll be folks who immediately think that „I wouldn’t wear this around ladies, so there can’t be any women in this project!“ or other dumb stuff.
And that is why it is still somehow important how we dress. I have tattoos. I love to wear „odd“ shirts. I play computer games and enjoy pen&paper roleplaying games. And heck, yes, I like New Burlesque and thus occasionally have saucy background pictures on my home computer desktop. I’m not ashamed of either of these things, and if asked, will tell you about them, often enthusiastically.
But I also know what sort of message appearances send, so I do dress for the occasion, be it a meeting with a client, going out for drinks with friends, having dinner with family or presenting awesome computer facts to a diverse audience. And I do know when to not draw attention to this or that facet of my interests, because I understand that they might detract from the message I actually want to send.
And that is the actual tragedy of the #Shirtstorm, that the very exciting science suffered negative attention.