Thoughts on #shirtstorm, from a woman in science

Well. “#shirtstorm” has happened, and despite the flood of voices about it online, I couldn’t resist weighing in.

If this has somehow passed you by (HOW), check out this guardian article.

First panorama from the comet (ESA)

The first thing that strikes me about it is just how big of a deal it seems to have become. Do people realise these guys actually landed a probe on a comet?

That massive scientific achievement aside (more about it here), everyone seems to be talking about a certain scientist’s shirt. You know the one.

A lot have people have said a lot of pretty extreme things about it. Personally I feel like it’s a complex issue, and when complex issues get dragged through twitter they tend to turn into shouting matches; such is the nature of 140 character limits I guess.

I did do a double take when I saw Dr Matt Taylor’s shirt in the coverage. Not saying it’s a bad shirt! I’d go as far as to say it’s a shirt I might wear myself, in the right context. One twitter user summed it up perfectly here:

In a field where women are underrepresented and underfunded, I feel like someone with a PhD should see right away why that shirt wasn’t exactly appropriate. Women across the board are far more likely to be judged for what they wear than their male counterparts, so I can’t help but see the irony in #shirtstorm.

That said, have you seen Dr Taylor’s apology? The guy was in tears. Whilst someone probably should have pointed out to him that that shirt probably wasn’t the best thing to wear when representing a team of groundbreaking scientists on international media, I find it hard to believe he meant any harm by it. There is something to be said for a someone without a private school-to-Oxbridge background becoming a high profile scientist and challenging the “white coat” image with tattoos and lairy shirts. It just would have been much, much harder for a woman in science to be taken seriously if she made these choices.

The ensuing pile on from the media and internet has been pretty harsh on him, and hasn’t exactly endeared anyone to the modern feminist movement either. As a woman in science and self proclaimed feminist, I was surprised by what Dr Taylor chose to wear, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was offended by it.

At the end of the day, the Rosetta mission may not have been able to distract the internet from Kim Kardashian’s nudes, but one man’s shirt has.



  1. Echo

    Doesn’t matter if he meant any harm. What matters is proving they have the power to hurt him and make him cry (“NERD!”) in the most triumphant moment of his life.
    The extreme reaction was because enough people finally said “no, this is too important for callout culture to ruin. Not these people, and not today.”

    • chemily

      Thanks for taking the time to read! I wholeheartedly agree that the backlash against him in the media has been insane – while he could have chosen something more appropriate to wear given the context, it sucks that the whole debacle has kind of overshadowed the team’s achievement.

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