yay engineers, mostly

Okay, if we’re so amazingly smart that we can land a spacecraft on a comet (You guys! We totally landed a spacecraft on a comet!), why can’t we convince guys that wearing a “fun shirt” with “illustrations of glamorous women” is…well, completely fucking stupid? Let me amend that. At best it’s completely fucking stupid.

The European Space Agency just accomplished one of the coolest engineering feats ever. All over the world, men and women and boys and girls who love space and science were watching this astonishing event. And Dr. Matt Taylor, the Rosetta Project Scientist with the cool tattoos, shows up on live television wearing a shirt that basically says “I place great value on women who have big tits and wear skimpy outfits.”

Dr. Matt Taylor

Dr. Matt Taylor


I mean, yeah, they didn’t make him the Rosetta Project Scientist because of his sensitive social awareness. They made him Rosetta Project Scientist because he’s an expert in space plasma physics (whatever the hell that is). He’s clearly good at his job, and yeah, that’s what counts when it comes to landing spacecraft on comets. Nobody would dispute that. But lawdy, wasn’t there anybody at the European Space Agency who might have said “Dude, maybe change shirts”?

And if the shirt isn’t bad enough, what does Dr. Taylor say about the spacecraft’s mission to lad on the comet? He says:

“This is sexiest mission there’s ever been. I said she was sexy, but I never said she was easy.”

Taylor’s stupid sexist shirt and his stupid sexist comment doesn’t minimize what ESA accomplished. They landed a spacecraft on a fucking comet! But this sort of bullshit has to be discouraging to women and girls who might also want to work in a field where they’d have a chance to land spacecraft on various orbiting objects. It’s got to be disheartening for women and girls who want to be engineers and scientists to see that the Rosetta Project Scientist — the person in charge of this really amazing enterprise — has the emotional age of a 13-year-old boy.

Really good job on the comet landing, Dr. Taylor. Fine work and congratulations on a truly marvelous engineering and scientific achievement. Now please, just grow the fuck up.

Addendum: Dr. Taylor truly seems to have had one of those learning moments. Today he apologized for the shirt, and seemed genuinely distressed by the furor he created. You can see the apology here at about 15:30 into the interview.

It also turns out the shirt was given to him by a women friend for his birthday. And yes, it was a clueless choice of clothing and words, but good on Dr. Taylor for learning from the experience and making a sincere apology for it. Having seen so many phony non-apologies, it’s gratifying to see one that’s genuine.

15 thoughts on “yay engineers, mostly

  1. What’s even more discouraging is that from the tongue trip, it sounds like he actually spent time thinking up and rehearsing the “I said she was sexy” comment. Of all the things he could have said for his “one giant leap for mankind” moment, and THAT’S what he came up with. Lawdy, indeed. Brings to mind the movie, Contact, when Jodie Foster goes into a black hole, and is wide-eyed over the beauty of it. Mission control asks her to describe what she’s seeing, and all she can say is, “You should have sent a poet”.


    • I suspect Dr. Taylor is probably a nice guy and wouldn’t consciously be hateful or dismissive of women. I also suspect he’s just clueless — and the engineering work culture hasn’t adapted enough to give him that clue.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, he’s probably a nice guy and wouldn’t consciously be hateful or dismissive, but the depressing thing is, if he actually spent time thinking up a good “soundbite”, and in all that time, it didn’t occur to him that it might not be a good idea to say what he did (and no one he bounced the idea off of said anything), then I feel very sad for the women who have to work in labs around the world who still have to deal with that kind of culture on a daily basis.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I wouldn’t worry too much about whether these comments will actually discourage any members of the opposite sex from entering into a career in space technology. All it will take to convince you what I say is to see the absolutely gorgeous blonde driving around my part of the country in a humped-up, tricked-out pick ’em up truck with “This ain’t my f–king boyfriend’s truck” neatly appearing on the tailgate.


    • Not to be rude, but I think you might be demonstrating the same problem as Dr. Taylor. I doubt he was being intentionally sexist, nor do I think you are — but what difference does it make if the woman driving the truck is gorgeous or blonde? Taylor wouldn’t have worn a shirt that depicted ordinary women — only one with images of highly sexualized women. The problem is women are being discussed and/or judged by whether or not they meet some arbitrary beauty standard.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When I described this “person” as an “absolutely gorgeous blonde”, I did so because that is my perception and opinion of her. I know her personally. What I elected NOT to share in that description is that she is a very attractive, healthy young woman who is a real pleasure to be around. She is fun to speak to, interesting to listen to, and overall just a plain person who I enjoy running into at the utmost. Nothing in my statement should have been derived as being offensive in that those who would say that simply because of my choice of words obviously have never met her.

        And by the way, I could also have included that she does NOT have big boobs and not “bubble-butt”. I elected not to because she hasn’t either. In this particular case, and because I enjoy her company so much, I can safely say that were I a single man, thirty-some years younger than what I am, I would be most interested in pursuing a relationship with this girl because I find her so compatible.

        Now, does everyone feel better? Should the day ever come that personal perceptions, or opinions, cannot be openly expressed because they may not be 100% politically correct, then humanity no longer has a need for existence.


      • Jeff County, I’ll say it again. I don’t think you were being intentionally sexist. I think your point is valid; there’s a growing number of women who are refusing to let the perceptions of other folks shape their life decisions. The important part of your comment was this: driving around my part of the country in a humped-up, tricked-out pick ‘em up truck with “This ain’t my f–king boyfriend’s truck” neatly appearing on the tailgate.

        The thing is, it doesn’t matter what the woman driving the truck looked like. What matters is the truck she’s driving and the bumper sticker on the truck. Describing her — whether it’s as a ‘gorgeous blonde’ or a homely redhead — suggests that her physical appearance is important. It suggests our view of the truck and the bumper sticker will be influenced by how the driver looks.

        Let me also say that I learned this lesson by making the very same mistake. Only I made it at a seminar on Feminism and Critical Criminology. It was painful.

        I’m still a guy. I still have that arbitrary beauty standard deeply socialized in my head. I still enjoy a gorgeous blonde when I see one. But I’ve learned that being gorgeous is probably the least important and least interesting thing about her, and her appearance is pretty much irrelevant in most matters.

        And by the way, that’s pretty much what you just said in your response.


  3. As someone who’s had many years experience of sexism, I can honestly say I have never found it “fun”.

    I’ve seen several intelligent responses from the women involved in this project – thankfully none of them wearing “fun” shirts or making dodgy comments about the size of the probes.

    I’m sure he’s a nice guy who doesn’t know better doesn’t work for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, of course. Sexism is sexism, whether it’s deliberate or merely thoughtless. I guess I’m inclined to draw the distinction for personal reasons.

      My mother grew up in the American Deep South, and I spent a chunk of my childhood there. I can vaguely recall segregated movie theaters and restaurants. My momma was a thoughtless racist. She was essentially raised by black folks (a nanny), she and her siblings played with black kids (the nanny’s family), and she frequently spent nights and weekends at the nanny’s home. She felt her nanny and her nanny’s kids were part of her family.

      But she was still racist. She didn’t hate/fear/dislike black folks, but she was raised to see them as socially inferior. It shocked her as an adult when my father (a Yankee from the Midwest) brought home a black co-worker for lunch. She wasn’t shocked that he was black, she wasn’t shocked that he’d eat at the same table, she wasn’t shocked to cook for him, but she was shocked that he came in the front door. It wasn’t a personal racism; it was a cultural one.

      But here’s the difference: because it was cultural, she was able to change. And I suspect (or at least I hope) the response Taylor is getting to his shirt and comment will be as eye-opening for him as having my father’s co-worker enter through the front door. It’s a LOT easier to abandon a cultural form of prejudice and discrimination than a personal desire to discriminate.

      But you’re still right. The folks being marginalized are being marginalized, regardless of the reason.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think all of those in equal measure. Well, not necessarily equal. A healthy helping of offense, a touch of defense, and a long-term low dosage application of beer.


  4. My reaction over the “joke” and shirt were to facepalm. Then he apologized and was obviously upset, and I forgave him. The guy made a mistake. He didn’t realize his error, especially when the shirt was given to him by a woman. I’m pretty sure he realizes it now and that this incident will change how he views women, women in tech, his behavior, and the behavior of the men around him and under his command. I’m pretty damned happy he learned something and didn’t make a non-apology or just blow off the comments. I think the most important part of this is not that he was a clueless sexist, but that he was big enough to learn something from his mistake and that that will most likely inform the rest of his choices and behaviors toward women from now on. That’s excellent. I’m thrilled. I WISH every man learned so easily and was open to admitting what he did was wrong. We can’t castigate people for making mistakes, however dunderheaded and idiotic, and then not also forgive them when they learn from those mistakes and apologize. We ALL make mistakes. We have ALL made some doozies. He seems sincerely to have learned from his mistake. How ’bout we cut him some slack now?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Slack has already been cut. I added an addendum yesterday.

      I think this has actually turned into a good experience for engineers and scientists, though at Dr. Taylor’s expense. There’ll be a few who try to turn this into some convoluted ‘free speech’ issue, but I suspect most folks in the field will have learned something. If nothing else, they’ll have learned that sexism is just completely inefficient and interferes with getting the work done.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That part of my comment was more directed at Debra, who seems pretty disinclined to cut him slack. Unless I am misreading her comment.


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