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Sunday 23 November 2014

   

Feminism must be reclaimed from the idiotic sisterhood

Noisy hysterics firing at the wrong targets are making feminism a toxic word


Colourful: Dr Matt Taylor, Rosetta Project scientist, provoked a stir with the shirt he wore on TV. European Space Agency/PA Wire

Like millions of others, I've had it up to here with whingers whose pettifogging grievances and herd mentality are making feminism a toxic word by encouraging women to embrace victimhood, take offence where none is meant and revile and belittle men. Fortunately, their more idiotic campaigns sometimes backfire.

We've had plenty of absurdities recently. There was the pillorying of David Cameron - who does as much child-minding as a prime minister can reasonably be expected to do - because he refused to be photographed making a prat of himself wearing a T-shirt saying, 'This is what a feminist looks like'. Fortunately for him, newspaper allegations that the T-shirts were made in Mauritian sweatshops caused the mob to retire in embarrassment.

Then there was the hysterical reaction to a video made for Hollaback, an organisation which campaigns against street harassment, purporting to show the suffering caused by predatory males to an attractive woman walking the streets of New York.

Well, I grant there was definitely a creepy bloke following her at one stage, but considering her voyage through the city took ten hours, if the best examples they could get were of men telling her in various different ways that she looked good and they'd like a smile or a hello, it didn't have me joining a demo.

It has also caused some difficulties. First of all, most of the men shown in the film were black or Latino, which led to accusations of racism. And then there were many bloggers who became outraged at a fuss about nothing. "Seriously, WTF?", was one comment, pointing out that in Saudi Arabia young men often chase taxis and cars with women passengers at high speed and have been known to ram the cars. I suppose pointing that out is Islamaphobia.

There are plenty of other examples about, but what made me really furious was the hounding of Dr Matt Taylor, the project scientist for the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission. This guy is a genius who successfully landed something the size of a washing machine, that had travelled four billion miles over ten years, on to a whirling, hurtling comet with almost no gravitational pull that is just 2.5 miles wide and 2.7 miles long and 310 million miles from Earth.

The poor sap was pretty happy when he appeared on TV, although not yet sure if data would be successfully collected. He might even have thought the world would celebrate and worry with him, but he wasn't reckoning on the sisterhood.

In The Guardian (where else?), an academic called Alice Bell led the pack in rebuke of his sexism. Not only was he wearing a shirt with images of PVC-clad women firing guns, but he had referred to the Rosetta mission as "the sexiest mission there's ever been. She's sexy, but I never said she was easy."

Dr Bell, an expert in digital reading practices and unnatural narratology (I didn't make that up) was concerned that neither Taylor nor his colleagues appeared to have asked themselves if the shirt was "appropriate". Why, oh why, she asked, were "people in science" not "routinely trained to be more aware of such issues?"

Keen to make science popular, and with a liking for casual clothes, tattoos, sunglasses, selfies and jokes, Taylor likes to show that scientists aren't all grey men in lab coats. The shirt had been made for his birthday by his good friend, the appropriately named Elly Prizeman. The material was chosen because it was "the most space-age available". Elly posted a photograph of him on Facebook with the message: "My buddy Matt on a very important day today wearing the shirt I made him. I'm so proud and nervous today! Good luck!!"

Her husband, a tattooist known as Prizeman Eternal Art, was thrilled too at the publicity for his tattoo on Taylor's thigh of 67P, the comet, Rosetta, the satellite, and Philae, the lander. He showed a photograph on Facebook with the message: "Tattooed on ma main man Dr Matt Taylor and YESSSSS the mission was a SuCCeSS!"

The bad news for Dr Bell and her chums is that after a social media furore over Taylor's shocking behaviour, he, Elly and Prizeman were drowned in loving messages and Elly can't cope with the global demand for her shirts.

That great campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali accused Western feminism of having squandered its victory. She grew up in Somalia, where you had no recourse when you were groped, harassed, raped or married off as a child. Feminists used to fight for the basic right of girls to have an education. "They used to fight for the recognition of girls as fellow human beings and recognition of their personal liberty." Now, instead of going after the horrific treatment of women by radical Islam, they engaged in "trivial bullshit".

A man "makes a scientific breakthrough and all that we as women - organised women - do is to fret about his shirt? We must reclaim and retake feminism from our fellow idiotic women". One of Elly's Facebook friends put it more pithily:"These people need to calm their tits now."

My sentiments exactly.

 


Ruth Dudley Edwards

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