There has been a big flap about the rocket scientist's shirt. In fact, it may have eclipsed the actual event that brought that guy into the public eye in the first place.
The response seems to mostly be in two camps. Camp A is outraged and says that this shirt is an affront to women in general, and demonstrates why more women don't go into science.
Camp B says that Camp A is overreacting and being bullies. In a diverse world, they say, we all have to basically relax a bit and don't get to impose our views on others. They also point out that in many feminist circles, there is a strong tendency towards defending a woman's right to wear anything at all and insist on respect.
Frankly, I think both sides are engaging in a lot of hypocrisy that really bothers me, but there is something else I want to point out.
For starters, the shirt was totally inappropriate. It just was. When I think of my female students seeing that and processing what it means, I feel literally sick inside. But, leaving the merits (or demerits) of that shirt aside, it was most certainly not appropriate for the workplace, and not appropriate for a worldwide media broadcast. It just wasn't. In what world is that professional attire? Had the guy just worn a shirt and tie, or even business casual, none of this would have happened.
We used to be governed by good manners and common decency. Our dress reflected that. Professional dress shows respect to those around and also to ourselves. Yes, formality can be taken too far--but I think we're a safe distance away from that right now.
In my theatre work, I've noticed that there is magic that happens when actors first put on their costumes. Wearing that costume has a profound impact on how they act in a multitude of ways, small and large. The way we dress influences how we act. It just does.
So, out of respect to those around us, and out of respect to ourselves, we ought to dress appropriately for the venue. That used to be a matter of common decency and basic civilized behavior. And many of those on Team B normally agree with this proposition--thus their hypocrisy. But I do think a little more self-restraint, a little more formality and dignity would not hurt us. And many of those on Team B normally agree with this proposition--thus their hypocrisy.
The second point is closely related. We live in a world where traditional mores, standards, and cultural agreements are either decaying or being thrown out. As a result, our culture is coarser and uglier in every way. Many of the people on Team A have either helped drive this or have welcomed it.
Those of us who don't think it is good to live in a coarse, violent, and in this case, sex-drenched culture are often called prudish or censorious. But standards are like guard rails or speed limits. They keep us all going relatively safely in the same direction, even in different cars and going different directions. They provide necessary social cohesion, and that seems more important than ever in a world of growing diversity.
If you want to start throwing out traditional standards of behavior, if you accept (and encourage) the relaxing and coarsening of the culture, then you can't be shocked or outraged when the culture is coarse. You can't get indignant when someone is coarser than your sensibilities allow.
You can't laugh at comedians or musicians dropping F-bombs, and you can't breathlessly ogle the shirtless Twilight guys, or the Victoria's Secret models, or carry around porny Abercrombie and Fitch bags and then complain because the culture is too sexualized and coarse--or that one guy's shirt is inappropriate because it has sexualized images on it.
Likewise, you can't accept and defend bad behavior simply because your political opponents are upset, or argue that lower standards apply only to you and your allies, not no one else.
Culture is formed by the decisions of millions of people--what we think, do, and especially, what we support with our money. If you watch crass, coarse movies or TV shows, you are helping creating a culture that allows coarseness. You have that right, of course. But you don't then get to define when and how others will be crass.
This scientist guy simply did what millions of other people did: he did whatever he wanted with no regard for others and no regard for what used to define good manners. His shirt was coarse and ugly in a coarse and ugly world. No more. No less. He is part of a culture that we have collectively made.
If you don't like what he did, and I don't, then you need to help start unmaking that culture pretty fast. But it can't be selective. If, on the other hand, you like the way things are, then you really can't be offended when others exercise their right to be as unrestrained as you.
Note: I've been thinking about this for several days and drafting this in my mind. I just now saw that Jonah Goldberg had written some similar things. So, it seems like the decent thing to provide a link to his column.
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