The old adage goes that “misery loves company”. In light of the current meanderings of thought to be found in social media and modern culture at large, if I were to append a corollary to this truism, it would be that “hurt feelings exert their own gravity”.
It is no longer enough that one should perceive some given slight as “offensive” and address it within their own sphere of influence. These days, the perpetually aggrieved do their level best to collectivize their anguish, drawing as many participants into the fold as is necessary to make the spectacle visible, and shouting “excuse me, over here…we’re upset.” As if strength in numbers is the end-all litmus test that lends final legitimacy to an injustice.
Before the internet, it used to be much harder for such endeavors to gain traction. Old media could only disseminate information so fast. Now, with up-to-the-millisecond social mediums like Twitter, one can go from placid to pitchfork in no time flat.
This week was no different. We watched as the Rosetta Project, a European space mission, made history by landing a probe on a comet 300 million miles from Earth. The significance of this feat can’t be understated. Due to the vast distance the probe must travel to intercept the comet–and taking the comet’s orbit around the sun into account–scientists must fire the rocket into a portion of space that the comet isn’t even remotely near. Then, over the many months of transit, the trajectory of the rocket will put it into the path of the stellar object at a predetermined point in space.
The arithmetic to calculate such an interception is unambiguously impressive; the rough equivalent of hitting a golf ball so hard and precisely, it travels around the Earth 12,000 times before going in the cup, only after accounting for the rotation of the planet under the ball as it travels.
Rosetta Project astrophysicist Matt Taylor, in the aftermath of the landing, gave press interviews extolling the momentousness of the feat. The average listener hung on the weight of the achievement itself: “we put a probe on a comet three and a quarter times further from Earth than the sun!” Rose Eveleth, acting tech editor for The Atlantic, bounded over such banalities and landed on…
— Rose Eveleth (@roseveleth) November 12, 2014
…his shirt. Cartoonish pin-up girls on a piece of fabric–fashioned by a female friend of his, no less–managed to be of greater import to Ms. Eveleth than the message Taylor was delivering:
Several miserable harpies joined Ms. Eveleth on the public shaming, turning a staggering scientific achievement into a colloquy on restoring Victorian dress codes. For the record, the shirt was made by a woman named Elly Prizeman as a fun gift for her physicist friend. No doubt, she shall be placed in the village stockade for her grievous sin of consorting with a male and having her cartoon ladies show too much ankle. Her repentance will only be accepted when she covers them up in burkas.
Indeed. Matt Taylor’s shirt and the Memphis Belle might ruffle the feathers of the feminist crowd, but I’d be curious the reaction if a women scientist herself had worn the shirt, tongue-in-cheek, during the interview. Would Ms. Evereth’s hackles have raised, or would her attention been on the fact that “we put a probe on a comet three and a quarter times further from Earth than the sun!” To a feminist, women are granted the benefit of the doubt by default, so I imagine the latter.
In Ms. Eveleth’s mind, this shirt reveals, in part, some greater animus towards women in science. It’s difficult to comport this with reality. There were plenty of fellow women scientists in the Rosetta mission, who by virtue of their presence and participation, aren’t being harmed by the sort of cloaked misogyny that Eveleth presumes pervades the field. In my own experience–while certainly not a final indictment–the majority of my science professors in college where women, who got there by their own determination and weren’t perturbed by an “oppressive” “patriarchy” that seeks to keep them out.
What this latest boring episode of outrage does reveal, however, is the selective and capricious nature by which it manifests. Taylor’s shirt is supposed to be a sign of female degradation, but feminist grievance commissars usually have nary a thing to say about protesters dressing in vagina costumes, or “Slut Walk” activists strutting about parades in various states of undress, decrying The Man “dictating” to them what they may or may not wear. It’s a shame Matt Taylor isn’t afforded such discretion.
Or take Hunter Yelton. Last year, this six year old boy was suspended from school on allegations of sexual harassment for planting a kiss on a fellow schoolgirl’s hand. There aren’t many “feminists” raising a red flag in instances such as this, but when Lena Dunham of HBO’s “Girls” fame admits in her book of manipulating her younger sister as kids for sexual favors, her and others dismiss it as the sort “weird” things that seven year olds do.
What exactly are the rules of engagement for legitimate outrage? By my estimation, there aren’t any clearly demarcated lines to be found, and that’s the problem: it’s all completely arbitrary. There’s no tolerance for little boys firing imaginary arrows with imaginary bows, but Lena Dunham can brush off her own activity akin to “anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying”?
An almanac that passersby can consult before stepping into a society where even the most mundane personal activity like wearing a shirt must be approved of by our self-appointed social enforcers would be welcome.
Excepting that, society is becoming a contrivance of those who seem content to fly by the seat of their pants. Circumstances aren’t viewed through the lens of right or wrong any longer, or even whether they appear reasonable, but how they make you feel. When feelings are tweaked, this somehow grants people special grace to delineate how the rest of us must feel. If left to continue, this trend will only serve to rob people and events that should be exceptional of their joy and significance if they must constantly seek counsel as to how they’re permitted to feel. What nonsense.
Ms. Eveleth was pleased with herself that Taylor publicly capitulated and apologized–albeit under duress–and thereby can go on with her life. But I’m not sure that’s going to happen. The hivemind mentality of her ilk has yet to cease homogenizing the masses to feel what they feel, and as long as they can get victims who stray into their net to bend, they’ll march on.
She might be convinced a simple shirt discourages women to enter the sciences, but sometimes a shirt is just a shirt, gaudy though some may find it.