Last week, on November 12, history was made when a team of specialists from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission successfully landed a small robot (the Philae probe) on the surface of a speeding comet (a.k.a. “a 2.5-mile-wide ball of rock, ice and dust moving faster than 40,000 miles an hour”). But the mind-boggling achievement was unexpectedly eclipsed by… the lead scientist’s shirt.
Now infamously known as #ThatShirt, the pin-up girl splattered garment he wore stoked the devisive debate about sexism in science. It also inspired one woman to dream up #ThatOtherShirt, a retooled version featuring awesome women in science, which quickly went from parody Tweet to real, in-demand product with a philanthropic twist.
As the world tuned in to the live stream of Philae’s landing, and watched the subsequent interviews with the team that made it happen, Dr. Matt Taylor’s interesting wardrobe choice did not go unnoticed. In fact, within hours of touchdown, the Project Scientist’s shirt, reportedly crafted for 40-year-old Taylor by a friend using pieces of Bond girl fabric, sent social and news media buzzing with both criticism and support.
While all eyes should have been focused on what Matt and the mission crew had just done, attention and discussion virally shifted to the gun totting, barely-there-leather clad, buxom babes this uber-intelligent and accomplished man, a father of two, was sporting when he made science history.
Journalist Mika McKinnon, a field geophysicist, disaster researcher, and scifi science consultant, summed up #ShirtGate in a brilliant piece she wrote for io9…
“Instead of presenting a charmingly alternative aesthetic reinforcing the concept that anyone can do science, Taylor’s shirt derailed the Rosetta mission livefeed into NSFW, undercut the campaign encouraging schools to show the feed during class, and alienated people who don’t embrace the objectification of women. This didn’t come across as a dash of cheekiness; it came across as either outright trolling, or breathtaking obliviousness.”
She went on to boil down exactly why his shirt was a bad choice…
“It’s an example of microaggression and fostering a hostile work environment. While just a shirt, it’s part of the long line of, ‘It’s just…’ that directly and indirectly make it unnecessarily painful to work as a woman in science. Feminism and sexism, particularly for women working in science, engineering or technology, have been frequent topics in the news cycle the past few years. It’s not a shocking concept that a male scientist in a position of authority wearing clothing that blatantly objectifies women would ruffle feathers. It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to women in science, but it is still not acceptable.”
It was via Mika’s article that we came to know Elly Zupko, a writer, artist, and feminist who Tweeted her proposed “fix” for Taylor’s shirt… a women-you-should-know-esque button-down, featuring important (and fully clothed) female scientists whose most powerful weapons are their brains.
there, I fixed it pic.twitter.com/Z3gZQGh4GE
— elly (@SMLXist) November 13, 2014
Her Tweet, which included the crude photoshop job she did on Matt’s pin-up girl shirt, got such positive attention that Elly decided to turn her “lighthearted satirical commentary” into reality.
On That Other Shirt, a site she quickly launched to spell out her plans, she says, “I received so much interest and so many requests that making the shirt real seemed not only natural, but necessary. I am currently sourcing vendors who can produce the shirt at a reasonable cost, and developing the logistics for production and distribution.”
The shirt is not available yet, but Elly is fast at work on it. “The current plan is to use Kickstarter to run a pre-order and ensure we have enough interest to do a full print run.”
And… she doesn’t even plan to keep any of the profits from her ingenius endeavor. She explains, “Proceeds will be donated to a non-profit that promotes diversity in STEM education and fields.”
If you love this WYSKy shirt as much as we do, Elly’s That Other Shirt site has a number of ways for you to help her bring it to life. She’s asking people to check out the running list of women who have been nominated for the final design and help her find their photos. She’s also looking for suggestions of other women in science to add to it. Lastly, she wants suggestions of non-profits to receive the proceeds.
Crowdsourcing at its finest, orchestrated by a kickass Woman You Should Know. Brava Elly Zupko!