Tuesday, November 18, 2014

the shirt thing

Probably most of you have heard of "shirtstorm," where one of the ESA guys involved with the Philae landing was photographed wearing a fairly ugly shirt with "sexy" women on it.

And then the backlash some women encouraged, and then the back-backlash that (mostly male) conservative bloggers (mainly) started. And you know what?

It makes me tired. It just makes me all tired.

Was it a bad fashion choice and a seriously tacky shirt? Yes. Are engineers known for making good fashion choices? Generally not.

Am I, as a woman who is arguably on the fringes of STEM (I am in biology, which some consider too "soft" a science...) offended? No, not really. I don't feel threatened by it. I've felt more threatened by a former administrator here who used to make rude, borderline-offensive jokes. But even then, I pretty much rolled my eyes and reminded myself of that's why the person in charge of committee assignments here does her level best not to put him on committees that meet frequently, so they don't have to interact with him as much. The biggest threat he posed to me was that he was an ADMIN and controlled some purse strings and might have input on promotions decisions....so I waited until he was out of the room to roll my eyes and look at one of my colleagues and go, "What is up with that dude?"

An ugly shirt is nothing compared to ugly insinuations.

If I had a colleague in my department who regularly dressed like that, I'd probably mostly give him a wide berth rather than reporting him to HR. Now, if he regularly made statements of a demeaning and demonstrably-to-a-reasonable-person sexist nature (for example, not dropping doing the dumb "make me a sandwich!" joke or demeaning my abilities because I am female), I would probably talk to my immediate higher up (in this case, my department chair) and say that we all really need to have a meeting about 'expectations.' Or, if the response was "he gets to make those jokes and you just have to put up with it," meh, I'd brush up my C.V. and find a new job somewhere less annoying.

But the thing is, all the back-lash and back-back-lash? Don't we have more productive things to do with our time? I know I do. And I'm just on the fringes of STEM.

In conclusion: it's an ugly shirt. If I had been the guy's wife or mother or female housemate or whatever, I would have strongly counseled him to wear something a little less flashy on that day. If I were his boss, I probably would have chewed on him a little afterward for not wearing the standard button-down, or at least something less idiosyncratic. (And yes. People's bosses do have the right to chew on them for how they dress.)

But I think there are a lot of other things in the STEM fields that go farther towards discouraging the participation of women than one dumb shirt.

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