I live in the city where Richard Feynman did a bunch of amazing things. I’ve chatted with a number of people who knew him. He is fondly remembered as an inspiring teacher, engaging writer and phenomenal scientist. He is also remembered as a creepy guy who frequented a local strip club, and for misogynist quips, even in his popular writing.
In a scientific world that was almost all men, Feynman was able to finesse being a wonderful human being and a lech.
We have a lot more women in STEM now than we did in Feynman’s time, but the situation is still far, far from equitable. Here’s one indicator that we have long way to go:
This is a photo of Matt Taylor. He was watched by millions as he landed his robot on a comet, while wearing an exploitative sexualized shirt.
His shirt says to girls watching from their elementary classrooms: Science is not for you. You shouldn’t be an engineer sending robots into space.
His shirt says to women in STEM: I have no respect for you as a professional. When I look at you, I see a sex object, and not a colleague.
Matt Taylor should be getting into some big trouble right now. But there are bunch of dudes in science out there who feel like giving him a pass. This overt sexism can only become unacceptable when we, as the scientific community, keep the perpetrators accountable. In this instance, if you’re not a part of the solution, then you are genuinely part of the problem by keeping the sexism in science.
This form of pigdoggery doesn’t belong in this century. If we mildly tolerate his behavior, as we tolerated Feynman, we are passing the responsibility for gender equity to the next generation. Taylor is not only guilty of a fashion crime; he is harassing his colleagues by creating a climate antithetical to equity in the workplace. Taylor just failed in his duty as an ambassador for science.
We need to grab this moment to announce to our colleagues and our students and our children that science is the place for them, and this kind of harassment is not tolerated. If you’re in Europe, let the European Space Agency know about how your feel about he represents your government. If you’re in the US, then he is also high profiled as a part of NASA project, and you can contact NASA. Your best bet would be to take to your favorite social media platform. Getting upset isn’t getting caught up in a passing social trend — it’s actually the only reasonable course of action.