The European Space Agency’s Rosetta project accomplished one of the most impressive scientific feats in our lifetime. It essentially moved a clunky machine from one speeding bullet onto another, by remote control, from 310 million miles away.
It’s hoped this achievement will help usher in a new era of space exploration by teaching us how to exploit the raw materials swirling around the solar system. Also, it was really cool.
But it wasn’t cool enough for some feminists who found the shirt worn by Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist, to be a bigger deal. Taylor’s shirt, designed by a female friend, depicts a bunch of attractive, scantily clad women drawn from comic books holding guns. Rose Eveleth, a science writer, tweeted in response to a televised interview with Taylor: “No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt.”
A meteor shower of hashtagged rage rained down on both sides of the Atlantic. “Shirtstorm!” “Shirtgate!” and similar remarks.
What should have been the best week of Taylor’s professional life ended with him weeping on TV as he apologized for his alleged crime.
Many of my friends and colleagues on the anti-PC right have responded with understandable outrage. And it’s true: Taylor’s confession of wrongdoing did feel forced — awfully North Korean.
Still, the feminists have a point. Although I like the shirt (which is now selling like hotcakes), I would never wear it to a nice restaurant, never mind on a globally broadcast TV interview. The reason I wouldn’t wear it has very little to do with my fear of offending feminists. It’s simply unsuitable professional attire.
Where feminists seem remarkably self-absorbed is in their assumption that only their sensibilities matter. It is hardly as if feminist-friendly career women in STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and math) are the only people who might reasonably dislike the shirt. But here’s astrophysicist Katie Mack tweeting: “I don’t care what scientists wear. But a shirt featuring women in lingerie isn’t appropriate for a broadcast if you care about women in STEM.”
OK, maybe. But why are feminist motives so special?
In short, feminists want a monopoly on when everyone must be outraged or offended.
A few weeks ago, feminist idiots rolled out a video of little girls dressed as princesses, cursing like foul-mouthed comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Unlike Taylor, they set out to offend. But that was in support of feminism, so it was OK. We live in an age of diversity, defined not merely by gender and race but by lifestyles and values. That’s mostly a good thing — mostly.
Like all other good things in life, diversity comes at a cost. And a big part of the tab is a lost consensus about what constitutes good manners and propriety. So instead of knowing how to behave, we spend vast amounts of our time worrying and arguing about it, with combatants on every side insisting it’s “Live and let live” for me but “Shut up! How dare you!” for thee.
For millennia, good manners were understood as the means by which strangers showed each other respect. Now, too many people demand respect but have lost the ability, or desire, to show it in return.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review.