Wrapping Up The BullShirtStorm

In one of the most awesome space achievements of 2014, the Rosetta team of the European Space Agency (ESA) landed a spacecraft on a comet, which performed scientific measurements and sent data and images back. Sadly, most media coverage of the mission has been centered on the pathetic ShirtStorm (or, better, BullShirtStorm) caused by online mobs of embittered feminists who didn’t like the shirt worn by mission scientist Matt Taylor at a press conference.

We are taking the first steps on the road to the stars, but we have lost our inspiration and only notice those petty things that we can use for our provincial squabbles here on Earth. Very sad.

Also read: Boring Bureaucratic Lack of Vision from European Space Agency’s Director

Matt Taylor Worked for the Giant Leap

Image from the comet
Image from the comet (ESA)

In a Time Magazine titled “How to Turn a Cool Moment Into a #ShirtStorm,” Cathy Young, contributing editor at Reason magazine, summarized the BullShirtStorm episode:

The ShirtStorm, as it was dubbed on social media, culminated with the transgressor, British physicist Matt Taylor, offering a tearful apology for his “mistake” at a briefing. Taylor’s shirt may not have been in great taste. But the outcry against it is the latest, most blatant example of feminism turning into its own caricature: a Sisterhood of the Perpetually Aggrieved, far more interested in shaming and bashing men for petty offenses than in celebrating female achievement.

In an article published on The Federalist titled “It’s Time To Push Back Against Feminist Bullies,” Mollie Hemingway wrote:

“We witnessed a mob of online feminists harass a male scientist to the point of tears because of his sartorial choices. Dr. Matt Taylor helped land a spaceship on a comet hurtling through space at the clip of 135,000 kilometers an hour, the first time humans had come even close to accomplishing such a tremendous feat. He is a great man who has accomplished great things for all of humanity. But when he discussed his team’s accomplishments on television, you see, he was wearing a shirt made by a female friend out of fabric depicting cartoons of scantily clad women. The outrage couldn’t have been more over-the-top.”

The two passages quoted, written by female journalists, perfectly summarize my own feelings. I tweeted:

Kudos to Matt Taylor @mggtTaylor – The #BullShirtStorm will be forgotten, but the spectacular achievement will be remembered! #ShirtStorm

A lot of other tweets, social media shares, blog posts and magazine articles expressed support to Dr. Taylor and denounced the ShirtStorm episode as way over the top, often using very strong terms like “feminazis.”

Another woman, Julie M., launched an Indiegogo campaign to buy a gift to Matt Taylor, an astronomical watch. I am proud of having contributed to the campaign, which asked for $3,000 and received more than $24,000 from almost two thousand donors.

“[Matt Taylor] worked for the giant leap. It is a glorious moment for human space exploration and future. Instead of receiving the recognition he deserved, he received tremendous backlash due to the fact that he was wearing a T-Shirt depicting scantily clad women. He was bullied over a t-shirt a FEMALE friend designed for him.”

Predictably, Dr. Taylor chose not to accept the gift and indicated that he preferred to donate the money to UNAWE, a charity dedicated to inspiring children and educating them in astronomy and space science.

I was afraid that UNAWE would be too afraid of being caught in the ShirtStorm to publicly acknowledge the donation. But they did the honorable thing and published an announcement titled “ESA Rosetta’s Project Scientist Donates to the Universe Awareness Programme.”

“[A] crowdfunding campaign was initiated to recognise Matt Taylor’s work as project scientist for the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission. The campaign raised 24 000 US dollars, more than the initial target of 3000 USD. Some of this money will go to create a plaque commemorating the achievements of the Rosetta team, and Matt Taylor has decided to donate the remaining amount (23 000 USD) to Universe Awareness (UNAWE).”

That provides a nice closure to the BullShirtStorm episode. Matt Taylor wins, because his work is publicly recognized by thousands of enthusiastic supporters. Those who donated to the crowdfunding campaign win, because they contribute to a worthy cause and at the same time they make their point loud and clear. And, most important, space science and exploration wins. I am sure that some of the children inspired by the UNAWE educational programs will follow Matt Taylor’s footsteps and do great things in space.

Images from ESA and Nature Newsteam.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.