Friday, November 14, 2014

but i didnt mean it like that

i'll be posting about the exciting robot landing on a comet for the first time ever very soon, but i want to quickly address an aspect of the comet landing relating to the "what not to wear to a comet landing" fiasco.

of course most people arent purposely trying to offend others with their words or actions, but sometimes it happens unintentionally and needs to be acknowledged, not ignored. it's easy to say “Oh I didn’t mean it like that” or “You’re interpreting it the wrong way,” but the intent doesn’t really matter because it’s a matter of intent versus *impact*.

As chescaleigh says brilliantly in this video (posted below),

"It doesn’t matter in these instances what you meant. What matters is what's the outcome of what you said or what you did. I use the example of stepping on somebody’s foot. I might step on your foot and break your toe. I didn’t mean to break your toe, but your toe is still broken and it still really hurts, so instead of talking about what you meant to do, talk about what you actually did."

so how should you respond if you or someone you know unintentionally offends someone? watch this video and listen to her words, or read the transcript here.

why we shouldnt ignore instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc...

just because someone doesnt intend to do harm doesnt make it permissible for them to do so. i've talked to people who were unintentionally making others uncomfortable. they didnt realise their behaviours were doing so and felt awful once they realised. they changed their behaviours (even if its as simple as changing some specific words they use) and everyone was much better off. these things shouldnt be ignored. 

the only way racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. will get any better is if people other than just the victims recognise, acknowledge and speak up when injustices happen. we can be easily blinded by privilege.  


GavinSpaceFace said...

So. A male has an appreciation of the beauty of the naked female form? What an absolute monster. Off with his head. How dare he! If all males appreciated the beauty of the naked female form, what on earth would humanity do?! Procreate as a species? The horror!

Amanda Bauer said...

that is a complete red herring. his appreciation for the female form (or male form for that matter) has nothing to do with the appropriateness of his attire for this occasion. having an appreciation of the female form doesnt make it appropriate to hang playboy posters one's office wall.

Eva said...

So, sexism does not exist because it is always a for of admiration of the female body?. Wonderful!, that takes care of everything. There is no objectification, only admiration. What a relief.

StuntTrader said...

The guy is obviously an extrovert (check out the tats) in party mode.The shirt wasn't offensive in my opinion, it was nothing like a playboy magazine picture.
I take it then, that you won't be posting any more "Dirty Space News" images?
Unless there's one rule for males & one rule for females?

Amanda Bauer said...

ST - context context context.

yes, dirty space news is a mix of astronomy and anatomical innuendo for purely comical purposes, and to the best of my knowledge, it has been interpreted as such. i have not had a single complaint that someone is offended by dirty space news, and if i receive one i will certainly have a good long think about it in order to give a warranted apology.

(ok, to be fair, there was one man who walked out of the DSN show i gave at adler planetarium...)

so if anyone is offended, i'm inviting you to please let me know, because i genuinely want to know.

also, the audience of astropixie is a few hundred, or maybe a few thousand for the occasional post. quite different contexts to his representing people from 20 countries and 15 years of amazing work to visit a comet for the first time ever.

KWK said...

StuntTrader --
That's a load of tendentious BS.

The problem is not simply that there is a sexual component to DSN like there is with the shirt in question.
DSN is "equal opportunity" and is not sexually objectifying any particular person or gender.
There's also a legal concept known as "coming to the nuisance": if you move next door to a pig farm, you don't get to complain about the smell -- you knew (or should have known) what you were getting into when you bought the place.
So if someone is shocked by the content after clicking on something (or attending an event) labeled "Dirty Space News", they have no one to blame but themselves.
So (to disagree with Astropixie a bit), in some cases, I'd say that intent *does* trump effect.

That said, if Astropixie ever wears a Dirty Space News t-shirt to a press conference viewed by millions of people, I will personally call her out on her questionable choice of professional attire.
But the bigger issue than introducing sexual content to a professional setting is the message that is conveyed by someone in a position of respect and authority.
In this case, that message is: women are sexual objects, not professional peers to be respected.
When there's already a problem of the treatment of women in science fields (as in most of the rest of society), such actions are completely beyond the pale and need to be confronted.

StuntTrader said...

Quote "That's a load of tendentious BS"
I find your statement offensive, there is a difference between fact & opinion, so try not to present your opinion as if it were a fact.

Anonymous said...

Promoting dirty space news while criticising someone's cultural and fashionable tastes simply because you feel them to be sexist is absolutely a double standard

KWK said...

@ST (and Anonymous):

How about if I amend my words to: "Your claim is tendentious, and therefore I feel it is a load of BS."
Does that make clearer the division between fact and opinion?

Implying that DSN is just like the shirt worn by Dr. Taylor (that he himself admitted was offensive!), and that Astropixie is therefore a hypocrite promoting a double standard *is* tendentious, and I gave very specific reasons why that is so.

However, if that was not what you were implying in your previous post, I would be happy to apologize for misunderstanding you. Do you agree that a) there is a difference between consensual participation in activities with "mature content" (even if they are astronomy-flavored) and broadcasting sexualized (and arguably, sexually objectifying) images to millions of people who were expecting professional scientific discussion, and also that b) pointing out the problem with the latter while participating in the former is not hypocritical or promoting a sexist double standard? If not, then I stand by the statement that your words are (factually) tendentious, and therefore (in my opinion) a load of BS.

For what it's worth, I didn't find the shirt particularly offensive either, especially after more details emerged about it. But while that is fine for me personally, my own opinion on the matter doesn't negate the fact that many (reasonably) viewed it as sexually objectifying to women. Such actions are not OK, particularly in a professional setting and in a field where many women have already endured far too much negative treatment solely on account of their gender.

If this were the only incident of problematic behavior from a male scientist, I (and I suspect, a lot of female scientists) would be content to laugh it off. Now for all I know, it *is* the only incident that you have witnessed, so my response, and others like it, come across like a hysterical over-reaction. But even if it is an isolated instance of unintended thoughtlessness on the part of Dr. Talyor (and given his apology, I believe it is), I can guarantee you that it is not the only time that most female scientists (or girls contemplating a career in science) have been sent the message that science is not for them.

StuntTrader said...

I notice that you have been offensive twice in referring to my comments as BS.
I find it ironic that someone who goes on ad nauseam about a supposedly offensive shirt would himself resort to offensive language when replying to my comments.
I'd say you are well out of touch with the younger generation if you think a party shirt is going to put anyone off from following their choice of profession.
We have indecency laws, we don't need shirt police too.
PS Tendentious, such a lovely word, have you just discovered it? Careful you don't wear it out.

Amanda Bauer said...

i think it's pretty great that a friend of matt taylor's went out of her way to make a shirt for him in honour of his big accomplishments. and if i saw it on the street or at a pub or at a friend's bbq, i probably wouldnt think twice about it. BUT choosing that to represent yourself and colleagues from 20 other countries for THE big event, in addition to describing the rosetta project as "sexy but not easy", in my opinion, were both errors, which matt taylor admitted.

i dont think matt taylor is a bad person and i'm not calling him a sexist. he's a great scientist who made a bad choice, people who were offended said so, and he was sympathetic to the fact that he offended some, which he demonstrated by acknowledging the situation and apologizing. so i'd like to consider the issue done and dusted and move on with the science.

that said, i'm pretty damn shocked at the extreme turns the internet rage over this issue has taken in the days since the incident. colleagues and scientists and journalists i respect are being horrifically bullied and threatened. and the females are being bullied, but not the males. does that not say something in itself? i am so so so disappointed by this.

discussion is one thing, threats and name calling are another. so i'll ask people commenting here to please keep the discussion to relevant issues and not resort to name-calling or commenting negatively about individuals.

about dirty space news... i still dont see how presenting DSN is a double standard, when it's representing my humorous take on innuendo of body parts of both sexes, not sexualising people. there's a difference. sex and sexuality and sexual enjoyment are fabulous things that consenting adults should be enjoy in any way they see fit. but objectifying, or adding a judgement about being "easy," are not what DSN does, in my opinion.

also, people have the choice as to whether they look at DSN or not, i'm not forcing it upon people under the guise of some other fabulous, humanity-changing discovery (as KWK pointed out) whereas taylor didnt give people that option - those who were viewing the live feed or those he was representing.

GavinSpaceFace said...

Amanda Bauer - Well I ask you how "appropriate" it is to be placing importance on his attire, instead of the incredible momentous achievement this man has made. Choosing to focus on the shallow, material surface - the 'book cover', rather than what matters. "Its like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory."

Playboy posters on someones office wall (men or women) doesn't bother me in the slightest, any more than having photos of physicists on someones office wall. Who cares?

"Objectification"? So portraying a woman naked is "Objectifying" them, but portraying a woman with a gray dull boring suit is not "Objectifying"? By whose book? Because they're less of an "object" that way? We're all freakin objects, men or women!! Institutionalised suits are more sculpted "objects" than anyone else. Get over it!

I'm sorry but I just don't understand your point of view at all. I really don't. It's actually quite upsetting, and just plain wrong that you 'colour' his act of wearing a shirt with such negative interpretation. It's your interpretation. It's your 'colouring'. Really it's just a shirt. And people complaining are so over-politically-correct that even in the face of a historical feat of humanity, they choose to focus on a divide between the genders. Why? Because you feel that 'nakedness' is taboo? Because you're uncomfortable with sex? Because machines and rockets and space rocks are ok, but the human body is not ok.

You think that a persons character, or intelligence or genius is measured not by his achievements and his work, but by the patterns on the cloth he wears on his body?

Who's to say the women on his shirt aren't genius physicists? Or is that impossible, because they're not wearing suits?

Can't you see what I'm getting at here?

In what type of world are people afraid of sex? Afraid of nakedness? Frightened (instead of in awe) of the differences of the genders?

I'm not angry, just disappointed at the state of humanity. Really, really disappointed.

Amanda Bauer said...

the issue isnt about sex or nakedness, its about cultural sexism, and in this instance, it's about *context".

there are appropriate places and times to wear clothing with sexual imagery on it, "but the very public announcement of a major event in the history of scientific discovery — landing a robot on a comet! — is not one of those places or times", for anyone! (

there are plenty of appropriate types of clothing that are not limited to "suits." no, i dont feel nakedness is taboo. yes, i'm quite excited by *consensual* sex messages in most facets of society (have you ever read my blog?).

and i appreciate that you dont see this instance as anything wrong, because you aren't equipped to notice it. most men dont notice everyday acts of sexism, just like most white people dont notice everyday acts of racism (myself included), most straight people dont notice everyday acts of homophobia. unless we're trained to actually *look* for it, which most of us are not, we wonder "what's the big deal? that's why it needs to be pointed out and discussed.

if a gay person points out to me a subtle, but certain instance of homophobia that i didnt really notice, the appropriate reaction is not for me to convince them it didnt exist because *i* didnt notice it, rather i should recognize that these things happen regularly to that person and it SUCKS for them and even though i dont feel the burden of these acts in my daily life, how can i help? no one deserves to deal with that shit. can i recognize what things in my own words and behaviours might cause stress for that person even if i dont intend to or interpret it that way? this is human empathy for another person's reality. this is recognizing the privilege that blinds those of us born into it.

i think a person's character and intelligence are measured by their achievements and work given equal opportunity to perform that work regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, culture or whatever they enjoy doing in their personal time.

"So yeah, it’s just a shirt.

And it’s just an ad.

It’s just a saying.

It’s just a TV show.

It’s just the Internet.

Yes, but you almost make as much as a man does.

It’s just a catcall.

It’s a compliment!

It’s just that boys will be boys.

It’s just that she’s a slut.

It’s just that your dress is too short.

It’s just that we want to know what you were wearing at the time, ma’am.

It’s just it’s just it’s just.

It’s just a death by a thousand cuts. NO ONE CUT DOES THE DEED. In the end, they all do."

Anonymous said...

Amanda's point about empathy versus one's own world view is really poignant. It's difficult for all of us to confront what we believe or to challenge strong held opinions born of our experiences. However, when people, in this case many people, cogently argue how a particular act promotes long-held biases and can propagate a well-acknowledged and studied gender disparity in STEM fields while, in many cases, relating personal experiences of such biases, their statements cannot be dismissed with a simple, "I don't see what the big deal is."

As Amanda said, even if acts of objectification of women are not a big deal for a particular person, they definitely are for many others, and affect women in STEM fields as a whole. In order to actually improve the situation, those of us who are lucky enough not to be affected by such acts need to take a step out of ourselves for a second to understand the outcry of individuals (and experts studying the situation).

StuntTrader said...

For those that are more interested in what's happened to the lander Philae and where it might now be locatated on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko than what some shirt a member on the Rosetta mission was wearing I have found this blog on the Planetary Society website to be a good, clear & up to date source of information: