The misogyny in Mission Control

The big news in science today is that a guy smart enough to help land a spaceship on a comet was dumb enough to wear this shirt to talk about it.


He’s Matt Taylor, who briefed the media yesterday on behalf of the European Space Agency, which planted a space lander on a comet.

The near-naked women shirt isn’t sitting well with people who say it shows perfectly the sexism in science, The Guardian says.

Not only did Taylor not ask himself whether it was appropriate, none of his colleagues seemed to either (or if they did, they were ignored). If the press noticed it, they largely saw it as a good thing. When science writer Ed Yong expressed his discomfort at this shirt, another journalist replied: “Don’t be such a misery guts. Matt’s a legend!”

Taylor recently joined an online chat with the Wall Street Journal. In response to a question over how he was accepted in science with his tattoos with: “The people I work with don’t judge me by my looks but only by the work I have done and can do. Simple.” As a post at Business Insider dryly noted “If only women could hope to someday be judged that way too.”

It’s not just what he wore either, his language stunk of a casual sexism too. Watch the video in the Mail’s version of this “British scientist taking Twitter by storm” story, and you can hear Taylor refer to the Rosetta mission as “the sexiest mission there’s ever been. She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.”

Some men are speaking out. The blog Infactorium says, basically, “grow up.”

I’m not going to condemn a man for owning an awful shirt with half-naked women on it. That’s his own business, and I couldn’t care less. But it shows a staggering lack of judgement, and callousness to what others might infer, to wear this shirt to work. At all. When grownups go to work, they should dress appropriately for work. And unless you work at a bowling alley/strip club, that shirt is almost certainly not appropriate. It is really not appropriate when you’re going to be on a worldwide live-stream meant to be dedicated to inspirational science and engineering.

Casually throwing around sexually charged language and imagery in a workplace that is not about sex is simply not appropriate behavior. For anyone. And yes, for some men this means losing a tiny measure of freedom. We lose the freedom to be horn-dog dipsh**s in the workplace, because we need the workplace to be a comfortable place for everyone. (And, while it seems far less common to me, yes, women are also not allowed to be horn-dog dipsh**s in the workplace.)

When people (near-universally young men) start complaining about these losses of freedom I have to sigh and shake my head. We all give up things to make society better. We give up our right to take things by force. We give up our right to drive on the wrong side of the road. I give up about 40% of my income. And yes, I think we have to give up our right to be sexist a*******. And this guy should not have worn the shirt, or spoken that way, because it’s juvenile, and sexist, and unprofessional.

The reaction on Twitter? Men who want to know where they can get one and women waging a lonely battle to explain the problem.

On his Twitter account, Taylor hasn’t responded to the criticism.