UPDATE 14 NOV 2014 11:30AM: Matt Taylor made a sincere (according to trusted reports – I haven’t seen it yet) today.
I’m the proud parent of two small children. That means we occassionally (ie, every day) have to review the clothes they select and determine if they are appropriate for the day’s events (eg, landing a robot on a comet). Sometimes we have to intervene because they have made poor choices. We apply experience, knowledge of the day’s activities, and awareness of the effect their personal presentation can have on others to identify poor choices. I am the adult. Making sure my kids represent themselves, our family, and our values positively is part of my job.
My kids don’t always like being told that they need to make a change to their attire. That dislike is sometimes expressed in a loud – painfully loud – and vocal manner. They are young. They are inexperienced. They will be making bad decisions with total commitment well into the future. That does not relieve me of my responsibilities to limit the harm done by those bad decisions, because I am the adult. This is my job.
European Space Agency (ESA) scientist Matt Taylor must not live with responsible parents, because he showed up for work in a shirt covered with pictures of scantily clad women* (violating any HR policy not written by Silvio Berlusconi). He wore that shirt to work on the day that the ESA was landing a robot on a comet – on the day that event was broadcast globally – on the day he was going to appear on that global broadcast. Wearing that shirt was a bad decision.
Matt Taylor’s individual bad decision turned into a bad decision for the entire ESA. He was allowed to go in front of the camera dressed like that. He was allowed to make robotic space exploratio appear unwelcoming to women. He was allowed to make that portion of the webcast unwatchable in my child’s classroom.
Were they so unaware that they did not realize his clothing would offend so many? Or, were they aware, but decided the interview was more important than the offense? Either way it speaks to systematic blindness toward the negative and chilling effects of sexism. Cameras turn off.
During the webcast, numerous old, white guys spoke of ambition, collaboration, courage, and hope for the future; but no one had the bravery to stop one man from making a fool of himself, emabarassing their organization in their moment of triumph, and signalling that the field of robotic space exploration is not ready to treat women with respect and dignity.
Those “no ones” at the European Space Agency – those “no ones” who should have been “someone” – are the ones that I want to hear apologize and explain themselves. I have kids. I know the job you were supposed to do. You didn’t do it.
*No, I am not going to post a picture of it. If you want to see it, you can find it.