A T-Shirt, A Comet, And Humankind: The Nature of Power Dynamics

Photograph: European Space Agency/PA

Photograph: European Space Agency/PA

I’ve started my day as an angry feminist, which may surprise you, isn’t a normal occurrence. In fact, I like to think of myself as a happy-go-lucky feminist with a sprinkling of anger when necessary.

But this morning was different. Why? Because I greeted another grey day with the same old shit clogging up my newsfeed.

You’ve probably heard about it. It concerns a one Dr. Matt Taylor, the scientist who managed to land spacecraft on a comet – Something that’s never been done in recorded history! I mean… How cool is that! I’ve been obsessing over Rosetta for a while. I’m not particularly into science, but I just couldn’t help but nerd it up and stare lovingly at the barren surface of that beautiful comet.

You know what I’m talking about.

But then our loving gazes were ripped away from the stars, and forced to stare at a different type of spectacle: Dr. Taylor’s shirt.

Which just plain sucked.

Because honestly? I couldn’t have cared if he was wearing a dinosaur onesie (ugh, that would’ve actually been awesome!) But unfortunately his clothing choices went another way.

He decided that this was the day, on television, for all the world to see, that he would blatantly disregard women as human beings and instead wear them as sexual objects across this monstrosity of a T-shirt.

But it’s OK because us feminists called him out on it, and he apologized!

“I made a big mistake and I offended many people, and I am very sorry about this.”

Thank you Dr. Taylor!

And while I knew we’d be discussing the entrenched nature of the patriarchy for a while afterwards, I thought that was the end of it.

Because here’s the thing: Mysogony is so engrained in our culture that we’ve become literally blind to casual sexism. This hurts men (see Dr. Taylor crying over the incident here) and women (see every other article on feminism ever). So we have to call it out. Unfortunately, the person who perpetuated the sexism (even if it was subconsciously) has a huge (and very public) lesson to learn. But hey, that’s life! You fucked up, you pay the price.

This isn’t about vilifying Dr. Taylor specifically, nor is it about vilifying the ESA. It’s about demonstrating the innate sexism in the entire system that plays out very publicly through individuals.

Feminism isn’t “in danger of becoming toxic and repressive” due to a focusing on individuals. And we’re not ignoring or shifting away from “the more difficult, long-term work of making institutions such as the Crown Prosecution Service and other governmental departments accountable”. (Source)

We’re calling it out in the most public way we can. People can’t see sexism. People can’t see the unequal institutions behind sexism. But people can fucking see his stupid T-Shirt. It’s something tangible that we can use as evidence of a larger issue.

So I was mad that he wore the t-shirt, and happy that he was called out on it, and then grateful that he apologized. And I thought that was that.

But now I’m mad again.

It hasn’t stopped. It’s still all over my newsfeed. But the complaints are no longer directed at the ingrained sexism that has meant that a historical moment for humankind was tainted with the smudge of our unequal partriarchal system.

Instead, the tables have turned and the abuse is (yet again!) being directed towards women who were simply trying to call attention to the fact that even at the highest of levels, even in a moment where gender shouldn’t be the focus, even when we’re talking about humankind, women are still quietly and subtly (OK, so not so subtly) told that they’re objects to be adorned on a man’s t-shirt.

And that we SHOULD SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT IT BECAUSE THIS DUDE JUST LANDED A FUCKING SPACECRAFT ON A COMET.

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Excuse me if I missed the memo, but when did power, achievements and success mean that you’re excluded from equality? Oh, that’s right. Always.

This drivel that excuses casual sexism because of the perpetrator’s success is at the foundation of inequality.

It’s why you hear news stories every other day about bosses who have gotten away with sexually assaulting their employees for years. It’s why certain successful actors (you know who I’m talking about) were able to use and abuse young women (and men) right under everyone’s noses. It’s why producers take advantage of their female artists. It’s why those 4 teenagers from Shenandoah weren’t given a proper trial after the murder of Luis Ramirez. “Oh, but they’re good boys, great football players, and they’re only young… So let’s ignore their racist hate crimes that left a poor man dead!”

And it’s not just applied to gender issues, but works at every level that is directly influenced by unequal power systems, such as class, race, sexuality, age and abilities.

The idea is a very simple (yet horrific) one that goes something like: I’m powerful, so shut the fuck up and deal with it.

So here’s the news guys: It’s not about a T-shit.

We didn’t give a flying fuck about his T-shirt before the incident, and we sure as hell don’t now. What we care about is equality. What we care about is the power dynamics and the ease which we allow people who are in power to abuse their power.

And condoning such behaviour because the person in question has achieved and accomplished amazing feats just works to re-establish the inequality in our society. You’re literally saying: Shut up, stop complaining. He can do anything he wants, he’s earned it!

No, you shut the fuck up.

He screwed up. We feminists called him out on it. He apologized. Now we’re discussing the power dynamics behind the incident.

And I refuse to shut up just because you think that this guy has earned the right to casual debase women.

The simple fact is that no, he hasn’t. He doesn’t even believe he has.

So why the hell do you?

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