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Thursday, November 20, 2014

20 Shirtstorm Narratives and What's Wrong With Them

In the Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett's characters wage an intricate game, ostensibly about the Maltese Falcon, but that turns out to be a MacGuffin. The truth is that they are struggling to control the narrative (and if I had an extra five pages of your attention span, I could make a pretty good case that they were doing so in an analogy of the attempts to frame World War I as Good vs. Evil, but maybe another time). They are struggling to be the story that frames what is really going on. Whoever among them ends up controlling the story gets to decide whose motivations and intentions are noble and whose are nefarious. By the end Sam Spade has all the power–multiple times–to decide literally who lives and dies by which story he chooses to go with.

Similarly Skyrim has several themes that involve controlling the narrative, including plot lines that are about which side of a story to accept and even one Bard's quest that is literally about changing the text of a story to alter political reality to the benefit of the Bard's Guild.

The word "narrative" might feel like one of those overused, overwrought, chic, cliché catchphrases that show up too often when third rate bloggers are trying to put contemporary social issues into their writing blogs, but "narrative" isn't fucking around. Controlling the narrative means getting to say who is right, who is wrong, and who is batshit crazy for even trying to explain their point of view. Narrative power is the closest thing we get to absolute social control. It is no coincidence that the political campaigns for the most powerful offices on Earth are won or lost by their "war chest," which amounts to little more than funding for their advertising campaigns–that is their ability to reach voters early and often and control the way they think about issues.

Controlling the narrative is power. Never make a single mistake about it. It is why people work so hard to get their side of the story told in any conflict, it's why divorcees say things like "I want to get my point of view on record," to mutual friends, it's why many work very, VERY hard to marginalize and silence stories that don't agree, and why those who have different experiences are so threatening to the power dynamics of the status quo. It's why allowing white, cis, able, heterosexual men to dictate what isn't offensive or harmful instead of listening to other's stories is such a crucial component of modern social justice and understanding social issues.

This is about power, and who has it. It's about people who control the narrative feeling entitled to go right on controlling it. They are upset that their hegemony is being challenged. Don't ever, ever forget that.

As usual, I'm swinging the bat after the ball is already in the catcher's mitt. Shirtstorm outrage is fading on the blogs and FB posts of my socially conscious friends. This joins a Lynn Shepherd rebuke and a Gamergate analysis that showed up to the party long after the pizza and cake were gone and the only soda left was flat generic brand diet orange. Still, it lets me be a little bit more comprehensive.

If you don't know what Shirtstorm (#shirtstorm) is, I highly recommend the Slate article because it properly frames the actual succession of events and where the vitriol really came from. The short version is that a scientist named Matt Taylor working with the Rosetta Project landed a probe on a comet for the first time in ever. During the press conference he wore a shirt with pin up girls in bondage gear all over it. The next day he apologized for causing unintended offense. That's when legions of entitled sphincters went to work. They claimed that Feminists and Social Justice Warriors* (SJWs) had ruined everything.

For the record, I am not a social justice warrior. I am a social justice BARD.

Let's examine some of their most popular narratives and why they don't actually hold much water.

1. Narrative: It's no big deal/Nobody really cares/It's just a shirt/Why does anyone care?/Why is this still a thing?

Problem: Awwww. If only you got to tell other people what they found important, this might actually be a good narrative.

If there could be a better illustration that it's not "just a shirt" than a weeks long social media explosion called Shirtstorm, I don't know what that might be. Maybe something involving lava or rocket propelled grenades?

I'm sure whatever they're on about is no big deal.
It clearly is a big deal. We're fifty-three million blog posts and six hundred gagillion tweets into Shirtstorm, and the only reason feminists are moving on is because a) there are already all new stories of casual sexism to talk about like computer engineer Barbie and b) Richard Dawkins opened his mouth again.

What is happening here is that you want it to be no big deal. You want it to go away because you've declared it beneath you and dismissal of an issue is the easiest way to control the narrative. The trouble is that nothing about the actual events that have unfolded would support such a claim.

And while nothing says "I don't care about your incredibly trivial opinion that makes absolutely no difference to me....really," quite like thousands of people screaming so at the top of their lungs, in this particular case it's becoming apparent that perhaps people do care, it is a big deal, and it's not going to be so easily dismissed.

2. Narrative: Taylor didn't do anything wrong.

Problem: Everyone pretty much agrees that Taylor never did anything intentionally hurtful, but then again only a few people ever suggested that he did. The shirt thing wasn't really even that big a deal. It was a thoughtless doof move not unlike running into someone when you're not watching where you're going. Nobody thinks you're evil, but an apology might be in order. He apologized. That would have been the end of it.

We pointed it out because it was a very visible example of casual sexism–the kind of casual sexism endemic in STEM fields. It's kind of like how people always explain that even Star Wars fails the Bechdel test. It's not that Star Wars is the worst, most sexist movie ever. Han isn't a raging misogynist. Luke never says "Step back Leia, a lightsaber is a man's weapon." There isn't a "Planet of Delectable Whores." It's just that everyone has seen Star Wars. It's a good frame of reference.

Hey she has like five lines.
AND her death makes Luke get his ass whup on.
What more do you Berkenstock-wearing feminazis want???

Taylor shows up on his most public day ever in front of half the world, and it's a great place for women in STEM fields to say "This is exactly what I'm talking about." The shirt by itself is not next level misogyny and his comment about the comet being easy wasn't either (and no one really said they were), but they do make for great illustrations of the "background radiation" that exists.

3. Narrative: The shirt was not really that problematic.

Problem: Oh come ON! What the actual fuck? Are you trying to use the Jedi mind trick or something? This is so fucking ridiculous.

You think you could wear that shirt to your work? Better yet, do you think you could wear that shirt at an internationally televised press conference where you are representing your company and your boss (and then describe your job through a slut shaming sex metaphor)? Or do you suppose that someone might mention it? That someone might have the foresight to imagine that there would be objections?

If you think there's no problem with what's on that shirt, try having women wear one of the outfits displayed therein to work on the day that they will be representing their boss on international an television broadcast about a scientific achievement. That shouldn't be a problem, right?

This is one of the absolutely MOST absurd narratives out there because it's spectacularly 100%, non-debatable exactly why a shirt like this would be objectionable to 99.999% of employers. Take a look around.

Shirtstorm is what is known in the biz as "a PR nightmare." Land a probe on a comet and be remembered for your shirt. It's exactly the sort of reason most jobs have policies about wardrobes and/or sexual harassment, and most bosses would tell you to change–especially before an internationally broadcast press conference. Pretending that anyone can wear anything to jobs where they face the public goes beyond disingenuous into willfully obtuse.

Even the damned AAS weighed in on this (which actually includes their support for those who brought the shirt up and then dealt with backlash).  Get over your fantasy where you WANT this not to be problematic. It was. Let's move on.

ETA: As has the RAS.

4. Narrative: Not that many people really care.

Problem: You know how you can tell it's not just "a few" offended people acting on behalf of the lunatic fringe of some over-sensitive group?

When it's international news.

When literally thousands of people are weighing in.

When it goes on for days in the media and the blogosphere explodes.

When there's a New York Times piece about it.

I don't know when social justice crosses the rubicon between the lands of, "catering to every easily offended person in the world" and becomes, "marginalizing a group by suggesting their feelings are completely irrelevant." I think the exact point is a personal decision for most people. But in this case, it's pretty easy to see that point is in the rear view mirror.

5. Narrative: This doesn't matter to women in STEM fields./It's just a few hysterical women.

Problem: This one boggles me because it was women in STEM fields who pointed it out and who have largely been the voices to object to the shirt in the first place. The lists of people with a problem include other top scientists of both genders.

Feminists/SJWs: "This shirt kind of shows what the problem is in STEM fields."

Shirt Defenders: "Women are welcome in stem fields because it's about *accomplishments* not clothes. We judge people by their brains not their outer trappings. If they're worried about clothes instead of the quality of someone's mind, they don't even belong. Women's opinions and input are highly valued. Because this isn't about sexism at all. We respect them and everything they have to contribute. We really, really care what women think about us.

Women in STEM fields: "Actually we do kind of have a problem with it."

ESs: "Shut up you hysterical bitches."

We only want you in STEM fields if you're one of the guys.

6. Narrative: Women need to toughen up. If all it takes is a shirt to upset them, they don't belong in STEM.

Problem: You mean tough like being able to handle some snarky Tweets? Or are we talking even tougher than that?

There are two problems with this narrative, and they both very clearly illustrate the power dynamic in play. The first is that it ignores the idea of "death by 1000 cuts." I've read a lot on this topic and not one person has said that this shirt upset them so much that they are leaving STEM fields.

Not. One. Person.

Know what else no one said? "This is the first and worst misogynist thing to ever happen in a STEM field."

The, "It's just a..." argument is always predicated on willfully ignoring that it isn't just anything. It's not just a shirt, just a comic, just a joke, just a casual comment, just a slip up, just a webpage, just a commercial, just a show, just a character, just a compliment, just a, just a just a.... It's that all these things add up to an environment. Any time someone calls out the environment an example is demanded; any time someone calls out an example it is just a shirt.

It's not just a shirt.

The alternative way this narrative fails is that if it is just a shirt, it shouldn't be that big a deal to just change it to foster greater inclusivity. Right? No big deal. Accept the apology, don't do that again. Grow as a people. No one is going to turn this into the next feminism vs. anti-feminism battleground if it's not worth the struggle, right?

But, in fact, Taylor got more hostile tweets about his apology than he ever did about his shirt. (ETA: I appear to have closed the browser on my source on this, so if anyone knows where I can find a new source link, please let me know.)

7. Narrative: His shirt was given to him by a woman. So clearly it's okay.

Problem: Oh well shit. If a woman gave him the shirt I guess that means there's no possible context (ever) in which it could be inappropriate to wear that shirt. I have a Black friend who said I could use the N word, so I'm headed down to east Oakland to try that shit out on some strangers. Better yet, I once was given a copy of Couples Seduce Teens by a woman (that's two-girls/one-guy threesome milf/teen porn for the two of you who aren't just pretending you've never heard of it), so obviously I can screen it for my class next week since there's no possible context in which something given to me by a woman could be considered sexist or unprofessional.

If only there were some sort of name for assuming the actions of one person in a group was tacit sanction for that behavior among the whole group.

Maybe this guy knows.

Context is the key here. The woman even wrote her own blog about making the shirt and how she was thrilled he wore it. If she were the only one watching that press conference, it would have been awesome. A few others were too. No one said this shirt wouldn't have been great for the after-party or down in the lab (although you'll have to ask his colleagues about that). But representing his mission and company on international TV...maybe not so much.

8. Narrative: This doesn't make women in STEM fields feel unwelcome.

Problem: One of these days you're going to learn how truly, epically uninformed, unempathetic, and just plain arrogant it makes you look to tell other people how they feel. Especially when they're standing there contradicting you.

Never mind for the moment that you would have to literally ignore all the women in STEM fields who have stepped up to point out that this shirt is part of the reason they feel unwelcome, but you would have to be blithely unaware the current statistics about women's resilience in STEM jobs and the reasons they cite for leaving and generally unaware of the problem STEM has attracting and keeping women overall.

When you could double all but one and STILL not have equality,
you don't get to say there isn't a problem.

9. Narrative: He got completely buried in rage./ Feminists went crazy.

Problem: Gee whiz, Sport, how did he get completely buried if "no one really cares"? You need to get your story straight.

This narrative is fun to repeat to your Reddit and 4chan friends if you hate feminists and think those uppity Bs should have a tall glass of shut the fuck up instead of saying words that you haven't told them are okay, but it doesn't match the timeline, and it doesn't match the facts.

Feminists and SJWs didn't "fly off the rails"–they pointed out something problematic (most of them while hailing the success of the mission–a few even explicitly saying "I am more critical of the things I love."). They pointed at his shirt and said,  "No wonder stem fields can feel a little hostile."

Twitter can make things feel like a dog pile--especially when someone does something that, you know, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE HAVE A VISCERAL REACTION TO. Unfortunately in media where things are open and equal (like the intertubes) you don't get to control how people react to something. I recommend you avoid this by setting Twitter not to send you e-mails and ignoring the internet for a couple of days. That is something that people suffering from actual oppression can't do.

There were some overwrought articles complete with linkbait titles (how unlike the rest of the internet it was). But the vitriol and incendiary posts about the shirt were nothing compared to what was coming.  Where the real dog and pony show started was the backlash.

10. Narrative: Feminism and SJW's made a huge deal out of it.

Problem: Yes, snark and hyperbole on social media. I can't remember the last time I saw anything so unexpectedly horrible.

If by "huge deal" you mean they pointed it out, yes they did. Some were even mean, but not actually very many.  (Seriously, if you don't actually know what the initial reaction was, click that link and be informed.) Most were pretty reasonable. Pretty measured. Maybe mentioned kids watching or that it was a bit on the unprofessional side.  Only a couple of tweets were even what might be considered hostile.

Are we going to start judging whole groups by the actions of a very few now, because if we are, I'd like to talk about the woman who got doxxed for saying the shirt was inappropriate, and a few of the Tweets that came out about Taylor's apology.

Or do you suddenly appreciate the nuance that not everyone is part of a Borg hive mind when it comes only to your side? Because folks who show up and get "feminism" mixed up with "this one feminist" pretty much show up every issue to try and tell us that this time we really have gone off the rails and we need to shut up. It's not like this is...ya know...new territory for us.

Casual sexism exists. It just does. Get over it. We're not past all that. The world isn't egalitarian yet. Cope. And some people live their lives under the ethos of calling that sort of thing out. Still, most people aren't evil bigots, they just don't realize what they're doing is reinforcing a status quo. Equality dies by a thousand cuts, not by some evil a-hole's coup-de-grace.

However, if you pay careful attention, you can see the power dynamics at work. You can watch which voices are dismissed as insignificant and which ring loud from every mountaintop and media locus. These power dynamics are always there, working underneath the surface to silence anyone who dares to points out casual sexism, to deny that it exists, to tell people that they have no right to their feelings. They manifest in a backlash that considers any reaction an overreaction. They call being called out a "huge deal."

The real shitstorm NEVER comes from people calling out casual sexism (or racism or ableism or heteronormativity or...).

It ALWAYS comes from the backlash. The people who feel entitled to do whatever they want no matter who it hurts and who are offended that anyone had the temerity to point out that their intentions and their effect were not aligned.

11. Narrative: He should be judged by his accomplishments, not his shirt.

Problem: Oh that's rich! Especially given how women's fashion choices are policed to death–doubly so if they are on camera. A woman with large breasts can't even wear comfortable clothing without being told she is unprofessional. Women of color are told their natural hair is too political. And if a sexy picture is found (even from before they worked at a job in the context of their private lives) they can be fired.

People get judged by their clothing all the time. I had a boss who would send me home if my pants were too wrinkled, and I never even appeared on camera. This is just a stupid narrative. If he's some brilliant Dr. House maverick type who is so. fucking. GOOD! at science that he gets to wear anything he wants, then stick someone else in front of the camera for your international press conference.

If he's going to be on camera, we assume he can handle some scrutiny.

11.5 Narrative: Well in that case, isn't this what feminists want? People shouldn't be objectified by their clothes. This is SJW/feminazi hypocrisy. Checkmate bitches!

Problem: Taylor wasn't being objectified. That word obviously doesn't mean what you think it does. Nobody talked about his glasses, his beard, his weight, his tattooed arms or even the way his shirt failed to bring out his eyes. Nobody hyper-focused on his attractiveness and most of the people who said anything at all still lauded his accomplishments.

His fuckability was not what was getting him judged, and this narrative is just false equivalence.

12. Narrative: What crazed feminists did was a witch hunt/lynch mob/gang rape/abuse.

The problem: Really? Do you really see no problem with those particular terms. As the group who has historically done the witch hunts, lynch mobs, abuse, etc using those terms against the groups who have typically suffered them....literally. And you're using them to characterize what? Some social media sarcasm? A nasty blog post? A little bit of a dog pile that lasted a couple of days?

That's beyond douchey. It's extra douchey with douche sauce. It's like a German arian telling a Jew that the Jew is "exterminating" them every time their antisemitism is called out. ("Quit putting me in these 'concentration camps' of your Twitter censure to 'ethnically cleanse' me of my opinion.")

Lynch mobs were actual things that happened in some people's living memory. Witch hunts were actual ways that women were killed (usually for being the "feminists" of their day). Abuse and rape actually happen and they have nothing–NOTHING–in common with a spate of uncomfortable tweets.

Even if you're the biggest fan of hyperbole and figurative language in the universe, you make yourself look so egregiously insensitive and like such a total raging asshole to turn around and use the language of actual oppression when characterizing those who are calling out the very "isms" that have led to these things.

Assuming that it's far far too much for you to spend an hour on Google grasping the complexity of the idea that calling out oppression is never as "mean" as the oppression itself, I'll just say this: if you want to use "bullied," I think it's kind of an insult to every kid who ever got the crap physically kicked out of them or the parents of kids who were harassed so savagely on social media that they eventually took their own lives, but at least that word doesn't have the breathtakingly insensitive connotations of being the violent legacy of oppression to the very movements you are opposing.

What with twitter being mandatory reading and all,
I can't imagine women and POC won't appreciate this metaphor.

13. Narrative: Not getting to wear his shirt is censorship.

Problem: There seems to be some pretty powerful confusion in the "I-just-got-called-out-for-something-racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist/transphobic-I-just-said" camp about what the word censorship means. They appear to have conflated an absence of absolute freedom from any and all consequence or reaction with jack booted government officials threatening to throw them in jail for their words.

I know the difference is subtle, but if you really think about it, you can figure it out. I just know it!

Someone telling you that you said or did something that hurts and offends them is not censorship. But for ten points, see if you can spot the irony in trying to silence their criticism by saying that it is.

13.5. Narrative: Well it may not be censorship, but it does have a chilling effect on the discourse.

Problem: It does? Where?

Let's pretend for a moment that social media is a monocle and brandy sort of environment where you can tell people who are angry to settle down and it won't make them more upset. (Are we pretending? Good.) I still think you're mistaking "someone said something to me that was in any way critical and has made me feel bad" with "chilling effect" because it's pretty fucking clear that not too many people are having a whole hell of a lot of trouble speaking their minds.

If anything, anytime someone gets called out for hurtful remarks, there is a doubling down and their faction gets louder and more obnoxious. There are like a gillion tweets and articles complaining about SJWs and feminists over every issue they ever bring up EVER. I'd hate to see what you assholes would be like if there weren't a chilling effect. Every time we try to correct one mischaracterization, ten more articles come out comparing us to the social Gestapo.

Yes it's VERY apparent that you just want us to shut up and accept the status quo (or only complain about those things you deem worthy), but that's the problem with real, actual, non-lip-service equality. YOU DON'T GET TO DECIDE WHAT MATTERS TO OTHER PEOPLE.

If what you actually mean by this is: "The next time I get ready to say something that might hurt or offend people, I think back to the last time someone called me out, and I am less likely to say this thing in a hurtful and/or offensive way," well then....good. If empathy can't move you to give a shit about how you make others feel, then perhaps the thought of all that horrible sarcasm on Twitter will just have to do.

And by the way, just so you know....you all look like the biggest entitled lot of fucking hypocrite crusty anal sphincters every time you wail about the "chilling effect" (or whatever) of angry words on "the discourse" but are conspicuously quiet when it runs the other way, or when it crosses into abuse, or when people get death and rape threats. When you only police one group's tone....well, they sort of have a word for that.

14. Narrative: This ruined his great day in science./No one should have their shirt criticized on the day they land a probe on a comet.

Problem: I honestly can't figure out what is worse about this narrative: that it is trying to give someone carte blanche because they [WERE PART OF A TEAM WHO] landed a probe on a comet, and there are presumed to be some things that are so cool they automatically make you above reproach, or that it attempts to deny the fact that humans have multitudes and can do complicated mental gymnastics like saying "Awesome landing dude!!! What's up with that shirt?"

If his shirt were covered with pedophilia or images of ISIS beheading Christians we wouldn't even be having this conversation, so can we please agree that there is no moral "get out of jail free" card for landing a probe on a comet and move on to the fact that the people who are advancing this narrative are entirely made up of those who aren't offended.

15. Narrative: Feminists are anti-sex and here they go again with their sex hating nonsense.

Problem: Wait, I thought all these guy feminists were just trying to get laid. How does that work if all the women are prudes?

Look, I don't mean this to sound belittling. (Okay, maybe I do.) But seriously, I'm not even kidding, if you tell me that feminists are sex hating prudes, you have ONLY informed me of the fact that you've probably never actually met very many feminists.

Like...at all.

That is seriously all you just communicated to me with that sentiment.

You're literally talking about the vanguard of the sexual revolution, and the first people in and the last ones out when it comes to questioning traditional gender roles, sex negative attitudes, and even monogamy. They are the ones who want reproductive control because sex is good and pleasure feels awesome. They are the ones who want to smash the ideas of slut shaming because women shouldn't feel bad about having as many partners as men. They are the ones who want your laws out of their bedroom so they can get next level freaky in there without worrying about it. They're some of the most sex positive, freakiest, sluttiest (reclaimed, not shaming), go-after-what-I-wantiest, sure-I'll-try-that-iest, people in the room. Half the feminists I know would take Taylor's shirt and sex toy to bed if their booty call didn't pick up the phone that night.

They just want consent first.

16. Narrative: His apology was forced.

Problem: I love how we are reminded that we can't know that sexism was in his mind when he picked his shirt, but when it comes to his apology, suddenly everyone's a fucking telepath.

The good news is I have perfected telepathy.
Unfortunately, it only works when I'm exonerating cis, het, white men from being called out.

Taylor had the empathy to realize he had offended people, the integrity to care that he had, and the class to apologize. Anyone assuming Taylor's words were fraudlent (probably because deep down they really want them to be) most likley doesn't even comprehend how breathtakingly that assertion serves only to reinforce just how much this really is about those who feel entitled to their sexist, status quo double standards.

This narrative has the fingerprints of oppressive power dynamics all over it.

It's not simply that their world view cannot fathom a person realizing they offended others accidentally and apologizing it. No, it goes beyond a lack of empathy. Not only do they not care that they offended people, but they're actually going to get pissed off at anyone who does. Taylor recieved more hostile tweets about his apology than he did his shirt.

17. Narrative: Feminists are out of control and this is one more unreasonable argument.

The problem with the "unreasonable argument" gambit is that the reasonable arguments are already out there.

They exist.

They have erudite points in high language and even tons of citations for the academics. They are soft and reasonable and not too uppity. They make thoughtful points filled with inscrutable rationality and eloquence. The reason they didn't grab anyone's attention is because they're politely tucked away in reasonable places, and very few people actually care about or pay them any attention. No one noticed them (they were so convenient to ignore) precisely BECAUSE they were not up in people's fucking face.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if "reasonable" arguments actually swayed people, things like Shirtstorm wouldn't be happening.

Plus....dude....if you're on Twitter to get reasonable, that was your first mistake.

18. Feminists have gone too far/Feminism has jumped the shark/They won't get what they want this way.

Right, they'll get what they want by being quiet and waiting until there's no comet landings or other things you consider important going on. Plus they have to wait for everyone who "has it worse" to be taken care of. Then, if they mind their tone, you can pencil them in.

Wait....hang on...that might be unfair of me. Do you know how feminists can get what they want because of your long and illustrious struggles within social justice movements? Because if you do, I owe you an apology.

You're still not getting the concept that the entire idea that you get to decide what other groups ought to find important is predicated on an unequal power dynamic–one that favors you. As long as you're sitting on your lofty throne saying, "Yes, I deem this reasonable." "Yes I deem this reasonable, but there was some overreach. I'm going to give it too you because I'm benevolent." "My goodness that's messed up; of COURSE I care about that!" "Wait? What? Just a shirt? No, I'm sorry, you didn't reign in the responses of your every member. I'm afraid your petition is denied and your entire movement invalidated."

You are still playing the position of power.

Everyone at the top of power hierarchies always wants to be petitioned for redress politely and properly. They want to be begged for their nod and they get infuriated at the people who have the gall to care about what they've decreed trivial or not ask for their concern like proper doting serfs. ("Please sir. Please care about this thing that has offended me. Please. I just don't know what I'll do without you.")

The problem no one should have to ask for things like equality.

Controlling the rules of discourse is just another kind of control. It advances the narrative that people who are angry shouldn't be listened to and can therefore be dismissed.

But just for shits and giggles, I have compiled an extensive and exhaustive list of groups throughout the entire arc of human history who have gained equality by calmly discussing their grievances in a way that bothered no one. Each of these groups were so reasonable that those who stood to lose power never characterized the aggrieved status as "an overreaction." None on this list have EVER heard the suggestion that they would get what they want if they would just calm down and wait for the right time.


19. Feminists and SJWs turn every little thing into a major issue./Feminism is toxic./Blah blah blah.

Damn, isn't it frustrating not to be able to dictate to marginalized groups what are "little things" and what are "major issues." It seems like they should just take your fucking word for it that they're not actually upset. God those pesky people insist on not letting you tell them how they feel.

Oppression is toxic. Thinking that you might get an angry tweet is not. I know that's tough to understand when you only experience one of them, but try hard.

Let me make this clear if I haven't already about seven times. Even if somehow you got to decide what matters and what doesn't to other people (you don't), the shit-storm came from entitlement, not "crazed feminazis." The shit-storm came from telling women that sexism gets a pass when someone is accomplished or that they were wrong about feeling offended or that no one really cared. The shit-storm came when they arbitrated how a marginalized group ought to feel–telling women (women in STEM fields who have said this is exactly why the atmosphere is so toxic) that they were wrong. The shit-storm came when entitled sphincters got mad at Taylor for having the temerity to apologize.

If there IS to be one more battlefield in the culture war between a "We're past all that" status quo, and those SJW "bullies" with their insufferable caring about others and their incessent questioning of the assumptions that have created a status quo in which we are not equal, it didn't happen because nothing was amiss. It didn't happen because Taylor doubled down or defended his shirt. It didn't happen because it was pointed out. It didn't happen because a few individuals mistook fucking foul language and the meanest hyperbole ever in the history of time as being a good argument.

It happened because the people who felt entitled to wear whatever they want, whenever they want, no matter who it offends, with no criticism of any kind, and by God, their word should be the end of all discussion....

THOSE people took to the fields.

20. Narrative: Feminists are making themselves look bad to turn this into an issue.

Who turned it into an issue?

I don't care what your opinion is (well, I do, but you're entitled to it) but at least get your timeline facts straight. Because if it had gone: Call out--->apology that would have been the end of it for 99% of us and it would have been over days ago. In fact most of "us" have moved on. Except for the occasional behind the curve, two-bit blog, the vast majority of Shirtstorm's ongoing momentum comes from people who are still upset that Taylor was "forced" to apologize or that anyone ever had the audacity to say anything at all.

What feminists are "wound up" about is the backlash to this event. That is, they are reacting to the claims that Taylor did nothing wrong, that his apology was forced, that their concerns were "hysterical"....all the earlier things in this article actually. It is emblematic of the way people higher up the cultural hierarchy react to being told they are doing something that hurts others–the first move is always, ALWAYS to attempt to control the narrative by marginalizing the voices of those who disagree.

Feminists are not wound up. Feminists are simply not backing down. There's a big difference.

Let me make this clear: this narrative control thing isn't some new phenomenon. No one in social justice was at all surprised at the reaction of those who wanted to defend the shirt. If anything we rolled our eyes at how predictable it's been. "Yes yes call it trivial, then call everybody oversenstive, then say that it's been blown out of proportion by the other guys, then try to reverse some arguments with false equivalence. ~yawn~ Call me if something interesting happens, okay."

This playbook is as old as dirt. This play is trying to bury feminist voices.

The backlash is where the real vitriol is because entitlement means thinking any reaction (at all) is an overreaction. It is the backlash that belittles the people who mentioned the shirt or continue to speak out about it, who call it a fringe minority even though it's in the mainstream news and millions of people are talking about it, who insist that if no harm was intended, none was done even as the people affected say otherwise, who attack the people who dare to speak out, who create toxic environments for those expressing their opinions (with actual abuse, not just harsh words and dreaded sarcasm), who turn to arguments they don't even realize are spectacularly ironic, and who even turn to the language of real, actual oppression ("lynch mob," "witch hunt," "abuse") to describe nothing more than social media rebuke. It is the backlash that has decided that someone who apologized for causing offense has been unduly harmed and needs to be bought a watch. This entire display has really been entitlement 101.

And the reason every single issue is "blown up" lately is because entitlement 101 isn't working.

The difference here is that for the first time since women's suffrage, feminism has voice, power and allies and can't be quietly marginalized into the background with tone policing or silencing tactics. Feminism gets to decide for itself which issues are important because it doesn't have to run them past the patriarchy for approval. Equality is a nice thing to talk about when you control the narrative. But having your version of any given story challenged is what actual equality is about. The difference is this is the sting of losing that narrative hegemony, and it's got them very, VERY upset.

So feminists continue to repeat the same points over and over again to an increasingly apoplectic group of entitled fuckwits who can't figure out why, for the first time in their generation, the social issues they have declared to be beneath their consideration are not simply going away.

And that is really okay.

[A reminder to newcomers that comments on this blog are moderated.]


  1. Best response to Shirtstorm. You're really hitting it out of the park this week! I really wish we lived closer, so I could have intelligent conversation with you instead of arguing with the douches I call my friends. Or not arguing, since there's really no point. Maybe I can fly you out here to argue with them for me?

    1. I may need to relax tomorrow with an umbrellaed beverage, but I hope this pace is the shape of things to come. Thank you. I'm not sure how much I want to fly around for argument's sake but if you lie to me and tell me that you'll introduce me to groupies who love threesomes, I'm sure I can be easily fooled.

  2. Good summary of all the everything. Just wondering where this blog post by shirt's creator is 'cause this is the only one I can find and I don't see it saying the thing you said: http://ellyprizemanupdate.blogspot.co.uk/

    1. Hmmmm. MAYBE, and I'm speculating, the blog I got the info off of second hand was projecting her pleasure at seeing him wear it. Or maybe there's another blog post. Or maybe they sewed her generally positive attitude together with some other information stream.

      I did some research for this article but when it came to sources of sources, I just did a quick click through to see if they went where they said they did.

    2. It was the NY Times article I cited that claimed she thought his wearing it was nice.

    3. I found various things of Elly saying it was awesome and happy-making to see, it was this part I couldn't find any evidence of: "if she were the only one watching that press conference, it would have been awesome". Not that it actually matters to your overall point - even if Elly was saying "yes I made that exact shirt to wear on TV for a mass audience because I think that is the message that young women considering going into STEM fields should see!" that wouldn't really make it OK overall because she's still just one woman and sewing the shirt doesn't make her some kind of expert on how all women experience sexism. I was just kinda like wondering if I missed something.

    4. Oh it was ME who said *that* part. Maybe I should make that more clear.

    5. Hah, I went back and reread and was like "wait, how could I have been confused about that?" but then I realized you edited it to break it into two sentences. Is clear now.

  3. Do you have a source for the fact that Taylor recieved more abusive tweets about his apology than his shirt? The link you've included goes to Phil Plaits article--which while admittedly awesome--doesn't include that info.

    1. What, you mean I can't just use any random URL to make it look like I did my work? :-P

      Yeah, I screwed that one up. One of the things I looked at had a Twitter break down of abusive tweets and the shirt apologists were outstripping the original shirt tweets by 100:1. Unfortunately I thought that was the Plaits article and I appear to have closed the browser to whatever article it really was from.

      However, I found some other decent analysis with only a few minutes of Google, and if you give me a little more time I can PROBABLY unearth the original.


    2. Thanks. This is the kind of fact I'd like to use to support arguments with people who think that this is just SJW overreaction, but I don't want to quote it w/out a solid source first.

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  5. I was unaware of this storm, spending most of my time in the Autism world where the most recent storm was over Jerry Seinfeld opining he might be on the spectrum and folks going off about it. Eerily similar...

    1. It's the basic power vs. less power play. Versions of it exist basically everywhere. :-/

  6. I think my response, while somewhat covered by a few of your narratives (4, 9, 10), can mostly be summed up as, "really, THIS?" It seems from reading this that the problem has been less the shirt and more the backlash against anyone who had a problem with the shirt, but most of what I've seen, I think, has actually been the backlash to the backlash to the shirt and I kind of just want to keep my mouth shut and wait for it to blow over. Because, you know, we live in the world where literally the same week we also get Kim Kardashian's demeaning and downright racist ass photos and the Barbie Apparently Can't Actually Be a Computer Engineer and I just cannot seem to bring myself to care about the fucking shirt.

  7. Really good post. I actually read the entire thing on my phone; it was too good to postpone. There were only a couple of things I would add. As a feminist engineer, I resented having to point out to people that Matt was actually the one that started all the drama by his casual thoughtless sexism. That made me feel like a bully.

    Having to point out that our allys are acting in a sexist manner is the worst! Many (women in particular) at this point fear losing our allys when they have to face criticism from us as well as the heat they take from _actual_ sexists.

    I have no doubt that some of my staunchest allys didn't "get" all the nuances of the incident at the very beginning.

    1. Great points. I should probably be more proactive about making sure people know they can call me out. I may not like it while it's happening, but I'm not going to jump ship.

    2. And the pun/joke in the first two lines.
      "Really good post. I actually read the entire thing on my phone; it was too good to postpone."

  8. As someone in the STEM field who was repeatedly asked "are you going to be a nurse?" when I told them I was majoring in Molecular/Cellular Biology (because clearly women + science = nurse), I think one of the most telling parts of this being casual sexism is that not one person that it seems that no one on that team said, "dude, you might want to go put on another shirt." I thought he handled it beautifully and I was absolutely happy with his apology, it should have just ended there and instead switched to people asking, "what is casual sexism and how can I avoid it?" rather than more vitriol at those who dared to point out the problem.

  9. Chris is a marvelously awesome human being. Thanks for saying this. Because I am female, I am unable to say this and be heard.