Nikita Ramkissoon
Nikita Ramkissoon

Can we please talk about the sexism on Matt Taylor’s shirt?

So there’s this scientist, right? And he and his team do something amazing. They land a satellite on a comet. How cool is that?! Possibly the coolest thing since Felix Baumgartner decided that skydiving is too mainstream.

But that shirt. Eish, that shirt. The scientist, Matt Taylor, wore a shirt plastered with drawings of semi-naked women in his post-landing interview on live television.

People have been up in arms on both sides — one side outraged over it and the other defending it.

Taylor1

The people defending Taylor’s actions are saying things like: “If Kim Kardashian can bare her booty on the cover of a magazine, Taylor can wear that shirt” or “Women are always moaning about wearing what the hell they want, so why aren’t men allowed to?” or even taking the joke too far by photoshopping a picture of him with a poster reading “This is what I was wearing. Tell me I asked for it”.

What these so-called “menists” are doing is undermining the feminist movement by equating a case of public backlash to rape, persecution and prejudice by claiming that he has a right to wear whatever he wants in the same way that the feminist movement claims the right to wear whatever we want.

Yes, actually, that shirt was in bad taste. But it’s more than that. Regardless of whether the shirt was plastered with drawings of women or pictures of real women, it showed that he and his defenders disrespect women. They disrespect us to the level of wanting to own women’s sexuality as their source of pleasure or fun, and expect the world to take it as a joke.

Claiming ownership over other people is an age-old issue and it affects not only women, but any marginalised group. People want to own others’ rights to marry, other people’s bodies and other people’s thoughts. In this case, it’s about men wanting to own women’s bodies for their own pleasure.

It’s not a joke. Undermining women is not a joke. Reducing women to images on a shirt is not a joke. And neither is reducing the “nobody asks my rapist what he was wearing” movement into a farce.

Taylor does not own those women on his shirt, unlike Kim K, who owns her own body and can decide what the hell to do with it. You cannot equate the two. Women who walk around in mini-skirts (which don’t objectify anyone) on a body (which they own) cannot be equated to a man wearing a shirt covered in images of sexualised women (who he does not own). What you are saying by equating the two is that because women are allowed to do what they will with themselves and their bodies, men are allowed to do what they want to women.

This issue has become so sensationalised that men are claiming that women are oppressing their freedom of expression. Huh? Excuse me? Are those thoughts actually spilling from your brain? Do you expect women to be sorry that we inconvenienced your freedom in order to protect ourselves? Do you expect us to apologise tearfully for taking our own bodies and sexuality into our own hands? Do you expect us to grovel before an inconsiderate man just because he landed a satellite on a comet?

Do we really have to take you by the hand and lovingly show you how everything about patriarchy is wrong and then watch you tap dance all over our progresses? I don’t think so.

Some have asked whether a female scientist would have been trashed for wearing a shirt that “objectified” men. Sorry? Objectifying men implies that women have power over them. It implies that there is equality. It implies that, societally and politically, women can actually objectify men. No, we can’t. Because a “hot” man on a T-shirt ALWAYS implies reverence of masculinity, the strong and the powerful. “Hot” women on a shirt ALWAYS implies sexual pleasure and ownership.

It’s something that men — and even feminist men — don’t seem to understand. We cannot lay back and make feminism comfortable for you. We refuse to work within your paradigm, because it’s your paradigm that is doing the oppressing.

You cannot claim to understand what it feels like to be “raped” by another’s gaze due to what you’re wearing. You’re never judged in that way. Even male rape victims are never asked what they were wearing.

Taylor was not objectified by what he was wearing. Not even by the backlash. He objectified women by what he was wearing. And that is an undeniable truth.

And landing a satellite on a comet is cool, but it doesn’t excuse Taylor from being accountable for his actions. And just because there are worse things out there, it doesn’t make what he did right.

Taylor has since apologised
for wearing it, and I wholeheartedly accept his apology. People do stupid things all the time, and it was big of him to apologise. He just should have never done it in the first place. It’s just unfortunate that his grand achievement, however badass, was overshadowed by that shirt.

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    • katman

      I’m sorry, but as tacky and garish as his shirt was, you (and a gazillion “feminists” who have jumped all over this) are creating something out of nothing here. Your outrage needs a vehicle, and anything will do. In the process, you do more damage to gender equality than good, because your indignant outcry over trivial nonsense ends up seeing real feminists painted with the same brush (and dismissed as “shrill”).

      As for the bit about women not being able to objectify men – this is, of course, just made-up waffle. Unless you believe that every woman who ever views pornography or ogles some hunk is simply “revering the masculine, strong and powerful” as opposed to dabbling in a little sexual pleasure (which is apparently all that men are capable of).

      I understand and agree with the need to fix our broken gender problem because it is destructive. But that’s not what you’re doing here. You’re just having yourself a little self-indulgent whinge about a bloke’s shirt.

    • Cyril

      Um, I’d argue that the female friend of Taylor’s who designed the shirt and gave it to him owns the bodies since she conceived them.
      The shirt is art. Bad art and perhaps not work-appropriate, but still art. It is not pornography.
      Today’s feminist fanatics remind of the Nationalist Party of the 1980s – busybodying, puritanical petty fascists with no sense of joy or freedom. Bunch of harpies.

    • Esme Weatherwax

      Sums up my thoughts exactly: I Don’t Care If You Think His Shirt is Sexist,He Landed a Spacecraft on a Comet. #shirtstorm: http://t.co/hZV8TZbLCM

    • Cyril

      Censorship rules ok!!!

    • Mariette Pepler-Harcombe

      I’m sorry Nikita, but as a woman (and a Humanist) I’m totally opposed to the philosophies of feminism. I have a problem with your article (and that of general feminist opinion on this poor guy’s shirt) on 3 points:
      1) Displaying images of scantily clad women on your shirt does not necessarily mean that you want ownership of their sexuality, or that you in some way feel that men are superior to women.
      I’m confused why the use of the female image by men is always seen in a negative light. Why can’t it be seen in a positive light? The way some people like wearing animals on their shirt… Does that now symbolize the human race’s ownership of the animal kingdom? No, it does not!
      2) I don’t agree with the backlash of certain “menists”, who equate the reaction from feminists with rape. That’s taking it a bit too far. But they do have a point when saying that men should have the same freedom when it comes to the selection of clothing than women. Ever heard of the phrase “equal rights and big corn bites”. What goes for women should go for men.
      3) “Some have asked whether a female scientist would have been trashed for wearing a shirt that “objectified” men. Sorry? Objectifying men implies that women have power over them. It implies that there is equality. It implies that, societally and politically, women can actually objectify men. No, we can’t. Because a “hot” man on a T-shirt ALWAYS implies reverence of masculinity, the strong and the powerful. “Hot” women on a shirt ALWAYS implies sexual pleasure and ownership.”
      Why can’t a hot woman on a shirt be seen as a celebration of beauty, sexuality and sensuality? Why does it always have to be about power relationships?

    • Corné van Diemen

      Congratulations
      on a thought provoking article. I read it with great interest and for the sake
      of being objective I would like ask some questions.

      As I understood your main point of discussion was that women cannot (and should not)
      be owned, either by their sexuality or their choices. It is their choice and
      their choice alone. In South Africa that has a particular connotation due to
      the deplorably high crime rate of violence against women. On all these points I
      feel we agree; my one point of discontent with your article is that of your
      view Dr Matt Taylor.

      The shirt
      is ugly to the point of being an eyesore but it was his right to wear it,
      although it was a bad choice in the fashion sense only. He did not put it on
      thinking, “By doing this I own women” he was wearing a shirt that he liked and
      a friend gave him and did not think further. Ascribing a thought pattern to
      what the shirt signifies and what he meant by it is a dangerous rabbit hole
      that can sink to the point where grey should be all we wear as we can just as easily
      encode colours with meaning subscribe to the oppression of others. Questions
      like; who made the shirt? Which shop sold it? Which workers where oppressed in
      Asia to make it? Then become the order of the day. When looking at who made
      the shirt, does this person then become the villain for producing it and is
      she a self-gender sexist then?

      By vilifying a man that has brought the human race closer to understanding our universe due
      to bad fashion choices I feel is pushing it. Wearing a shirt that a fashion
      designer friend gave him is not the biggest crime as we can clearly see fashion
      is not his forte. It was not a slogan that read “I
      bathe in the tears of men” (as the journalist who started this furrow) or
      him stating that “I am glad that no women could do this”, he merely made a bad
      choice. By brow beating an individual who’s biggest mistake was a horrible
      shirt rather than focusing on a) core issues that surround violence/inequality/injustice
      against women and b) the actual achievements of Dr Taylor and what previous
      history this man has in relation to “sexism”, seems as conducive as blaming the
      rabbit for Alice’s fall down the rabbit whole. Although there is a parallel
      that can be drawn due to shared proximity, coincidence is not causation.

      I hope for
      everyone sake that we can focus on the root cause for problems that perpetuates
      violence and oppression against women and, Dr Matt Taylors actual achievements
      in terms of the future of the human race, rather than flogging a dead horse
      about the shirt he was wearing.

    • rufus_t

      A questionable shirt worn by a British scientist in a control room in Germany, working on a probe that was launched from French Guiana? Clearly a matter of considerable concern in South Africa…
      I think that given the benefit of hindsight he wouldn’t have worn the shirt that a friend of his had hand-made and given to him for his birthday, or worn something over the top of it.
      Incidentally the friend who made the shirt was very proud of the fact that he’d worn the shirt that she had made on his big day (she’s the wife of his tattooist) and was outright horrified by the twitter reaction.
      Seriously though, if you’re having to look more than a continent away to find offence, and the best you can find is a shirt then everything else must be pretty much OK.

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      As a woman and a long time advocate of women’s rights, I disagree completely.

      The ASTRONOMICALLY photoshopped Kardashian behind is far more damaging to females than a bunch of weapon toting, drawings on a shirt. At least his shirt was honest enough to show that they were drawings and not distorting a human body into something that would not be able to physically exist. Those drawings are not going to keep dirty old men happy in the bathroom – that behind is. That shirt is not going to make young girls think that they are inferior – that behind is.

      Men can be, and are, objectified. The only difference is that they think it is a good thing. Men don’t go to gym for the six pack and the belt of adonis for fun, they go because women drool over them … i.e. women objectify them. Don’t tell me you know what colour Chad le Clos’ eyes are (or that you care), but I bet there isn’t a woman in this country who wouldn’t recognise his abs.

      The guy is a geek! To him, women are probably the most magical, unattainable godesses. He isn’t a rapist or a threat to womankind! Give the guy a break.

    • Chris Chrizzle Stevens

      Feminism, as a philosophy, is meant to be an all inclusive doctrine of non-exclusion. However, with the recent burst of popularity thanks to Ms.Watson’s appearance at the UN, the true value of feminism has been displaced by a preoccupation of feminine angst. Firstly, as a student of both philosophy and popular culture, I can safely say that Kim is the furthest thing from a feminist as she not only benefits from the patriarchal capitalist paradigm, but further I forces the discourse of patriarchy by willingly objectifying herself to do so.

      Secondly, the double standards of radical feminism are rife in this exchange. By ONLY vindicating Kim’s expression of “feminine sexuality” (and I use the term in the most narrow-minded context I can muster), the fascist agenda of feminism completely overlooks and marginalized any consideration for Matt Taylor’s sexuality. Does his shirt depict women in a sexual context? Yes. But as always, the man-bashing radical feminists do not look beyond the surface when a man is involved. Why is he not allowed to express his (I assume hetrosexual) sexual identity by wearing a shirt whilst women so readily objectify both themselves and men without as much as a second thought. Perhaps then the new agenda of the feminist philosophy is to oppress men’s sexuality and impose upon them a fascist uniform of non-representation of their own sexuality whilst women are allowed to run free and do what they want.

      Double standards much?

    • Alan Kennedy

      Oh, puh-leez

    • Eric Mader

      If we reduce it to its basic premises, the argument you make here, Nikita, runs as follows:

      1) Since men in our society “own” women, men’s attention to women’s beauty or sexuality is always an attempt to further consolidate this ownership and is thus always a matter of objectification.

      2) Since, on the other hand, women in our society don’t own men, women’s attention to male beauty or sexuality can’t be objectification, but is rather a kind of worship of male power and beauty.

      Really I don’t know what is more striking about this argument: the sheer obviousness of the double-standard or the fact that so many so-called feminists still try to make such obviously flawed arguments.

      First, I want to ask you: Who made you (or your feminist sisters) an authority capable of speaking on what is happening in men’s heads when they look at women? How do you know anything about it?

      But second, and more importantly, the only even tentative logic your argument has is based on your first premise: namely, that men in our society “own” women. I’m sorry, but I personally have never met a man who owns any woman. As far as I can tell, there is no one around me who knows of such an institution either. In fact, as a modern Westerner, I see all the time how women walk out on these men who supposedly “own” them. It’s called breaking up. And in such cases, if the man were to try to force her to remain under his “ownership”, that would be a crime and our justice system has statutes to deal with it.

      What society exactly do you live in? If you live a modern Western society as I do, I have to say I’m offended at the level of malice and possessiveness you project into the heads of men like me–the men you see around you and that you somehow imagine “own” you. Or have I misunderstood your argument?

      You write that: “We cannot lay back and make feminism comfortable for you. We refuse to work within your paradigm, because it’s your paradigm that is doing the oppressing.”

    • Guest

      If we reduce it to its basic premises, the argument you make here, Nikita, runs as follows:

      1) Since men in our society “own” women, men’s attention to women’s beauty or sexuality is always an attempt to further consolidate this ownership and is thus always a matter of objectification.

      2) Since, on the other hand, women in our society don’t own men, women’s attention to male beauty or sexuality can’t be objectification, but is rather a kind of worship of male power and beauty.

      Really I don’t know what is more striking about this argument: the sheer obviousness of the double-standard or the fact that so many so-called feminists still try to make such glaringly flawed arguments.

      First, I want to ask you: Who made you (or your feminist sisters) an authority capable of speaking on what is happening in men’s heads when they look at women? How do you know anything about it?

      But second, and more importantly, the only even tentative logic your argument has is based on your first premise: namely, that men in our society “own” women. I’m sorry, but I personally have never met a man who owns any woman. As far as I can tell, there is no one around me who knows of such an institution either. In fact, as a modern Westerner, I see all the time how women walk out on these men who supposedly “own” them. It’s called breaking up. And in such cases, if the man were to try to force her to remain under his “ownership”, that would be a crime and our justice system has statutes to deal with it.

      What society exactly do you live in? If you live a modern Western society as I do, the level of malice and possessiveness you project into the heads of men like me is simply offensive–the men you see around you and that you somehow imagine “own” you. Or have I misunderstood your argument?

      You write that: “We cannot lay back and make feminism comfortable for you. We refuse to work within your paradigm, because it’s your paradigm that is doing the oppressing.”

    • conrad steenkamp

      Until such time as women and men enjoy equality, there can be no ‘objectifying’ of men by women. What nonsense. The real world does not fall into neat boundaries of the ‘category-think’ offered as intellectual at universities these days; not very intellectual either, is the ‘othering’ of those who dare to focus on the many shades of grey. The new dogs of god have been let loose, it seems. Suppose I’ll have to pack away the T-shirt my wife gave me.

    • SouthAfrican Parody

      You also neglected to mention the fact that the shirt was designed by a female friend and he was showing his appreciation for the gift. And why shouldn’t there be any “menists” in the world? Men also suffer. Privilege is not necessarily only something that remains in the domain of men.

      And what about the shirt itself? The only way it objectifies women is when you make that connection. It can be deemed a work of art – art being subjective. it can be something which appreciates women. It can also be evocative of his stance on gun rights – note the presence of all the guns on the shirt.

    • SouthAfrican Parody

      Good points aside from the geek-bashing. They aren’t all Big Bang Theory type social misfits.

    • Spectrekiller

      Yes. I agree with everyone. This article is very problematic. It simultaneously undermines real feminist issues while exaggerating and overstating masculine behaviour.

    • NONONO!!!

      It’s a shirt he got it as a birthday present, maybe you should start condemning the woman on the shirt, for it started with her posing nude, hayi no!!!

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      Not geek-bashing at all. The interviews show that he is a socially awkward guy. The fact that he was (literally) in tears over the disgusting attacks on him, shows that he is not even close to being a misogynistic rapist with a heart of stone. I was never so ashamed to be a woman as I was over the way he was treated

    • Umut Yarrow

      If all we have right now is a bunch of middle aged women bitching about EVERYTHING and trying to make mens life as miserable as possible I’d rather go back in time and live in the 50s. Modern feminism is riling women up against men and its wrong. I dont want to have kids in a society like this.