ShirtGate: Fascism Cloaked as Liberalism

For those with a love of science, the story of the week was, of course, the landing of a robot – launched 10 and a half years ago – on a faraway comet. As someone who is still amazed that I can instantly publish an article from a computer in London, that can then be read globally, I lack the words to express my jaw-dropped amazement at this latest accomplishment of mankind.

The mastermind of the mission was Dr Matt Taylor. Like many ultra-intelligent people, Taylor clearly possesses an offbeat personality and quirky outlook on life. Conformity is for the dull of mind. It was hardly unexpected then, that Taylor chose not to wear a grey suit and tie, but instead appeared at a press conference in a bright shirt made for him by an artist friend – a woman. The shirt featured cartoon images of scantily-clad women brandishing guns.

If Taylor had been paying more attention to politics over the past decade, he’d have witnessed the final stages in the collapse of the progressive left, and its replacement with a new set of intolerant, dogmatic, anti-sex, pro-censorship attitudes. But he clearly had more important things to worry about, so he’d missed the rise of a clique of online bullies using feminist language to achieve a very non-feminist goal: the suppression of the idea that women can be sexual beings if they so choose.

During the attacks on Taylor – referred to online as ShirtGate – the online mob made use of a now-standard logical fallacy to attack the shirt: the idea that an image of any woman is an attack on the rights of all women, and thus, any woman who is offended by an image of another woman has the right to attack the image and call for it to be censored. It was also implied – equally ludicrously – that the shortage of female scientists might somehow be linked to such “sexist” shirts – suggesting that women are incredibly weak individuals (and ignoring the fact that anyway, sex isn’t sexist). The tendency for women to attack women-who-dare-to-be-sexual (brilliantly written about this week by a female journalist) is well known – only the language changes to keep up with the times.

To the rest of us who haven’t had to worry about landing a tiny probe on a small, fast comet, the wave of media bullying that Taylor experienced came as no surprise. Anti-sex feminists have been busy in recent years: closing down strip venues, working with religious fundamentalists to strip all rights from sex workers, advising governments to censor the Internet (because, you know, OBJECTIFICATION), and attacking proudly-sexual womanhood in every medium, from pornography to music videos. The left is guilty of attacks on sexuality that the religious right would once have been proud of.

Online witch-hunts by the new, conservative feminism have become popular in the past year or two: where once, “witch” or “communist” were slurs that meant the end of a career or a life, now “misogynist” and “rape apologist” are labels to avoid at all costs. I myself was labelled a “rape apologist” on Twitter for defending the free speech rights of a comedian this week; but I knew I was opening myself to such slurs when I started this campaign. To fight for free expression is to offend those who hate it.

And so we were treated to a sight that brought to my mind the struggle sessions of the Chinese cultural revolution: an intelligent, gentle man reduced to tears as he made a forced apology on TV (this time wearing a plain hoodie. Fascism hates bright colours).

Once a standard bearer for free expression and reason, the left is now increasingly the home of a rising anti-intellectualism, as well as the most puritanical anti-sex attitudes. The sight of a crying scientist confessing to crimes against the sacred purity of womanhood is symbolic of wider attacks on science from the new left, rather than the  right. This week also saw a scientist (this time, a women, Professor Kate Glover) sacked for simply stating a scientific fact: namely, that there is no evidence that genetically-modified organisms are harmful. Calls for her sacking were orchestrated by left MEPs, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. George Orwell, as ever, understood the nature of fascism better than anyone: “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. As if to illustrate the blur as to what “left” and “right” mean any more, a right-wing commentator mockingly compared the intolerant, puritanical attitudes of today’s left with the religious right’s most ludicrous character: When did the left turn into Rick Santorum?

The only silver lining in this is that Dr Taylor, unlike previous victims of the combined feminist-fundamentalist mob, has attracted great sympathy and support from many women and men. Perhaps this time, the “objectification” bullies have overreached themselves. One of the reactions has been a crowd-funding campaign to buy Matt Taylor a gift: click here to donate, and help demonstrate that most people are not nearly as stupid or hateful as ShirtGate might have implied.

Those of us who consider ourselves liberals in the true sense – pro-liberty, free expression and science – must realise that the political spectrum as we knew it has become meaningless. A new, pro-liberty, pro-reason left needs to be built if we are to stop the slide into intolerance, censorship and authoritarianism being pursued with equal vigour by both left and right.


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24 thoughts on “ShirtGate: Fascism Cloaked as Liberalism

    1. As a leftie – well, I was one anyway – I don’t like a lot of the “libertarian” ideas about tax=theft, etc… but I agree that a new left-right pro-liberty consensus needs to be established

  1. Note one feminist photoshopped the offending t shirt to feature more wholesome acceptable images of women than scantily clad sexy ones. In other words sexy women r icky and unacceptable but women who are politicians or CEOs are.

    1. The last sentence is absolutely spot on!!!! As a woman how very dare you want to feel/look/act sexy or in a sexual way? You should want to dress in dark colours, be modest and not give in to your icky shameful sexual self! *sigh*

  2. So after the great fight of two world wars all shirtgate tells me is that we’ve hit a new level of mediocrity when we have to question what a scientist is wearing on TV

    You don’t see people in war torn countries, starving and dying of disease complaining about trivial stuff like this.

    That said it depends on how you view what he was wearing. Cartoon women semi clad carrying machine guns. Maybe I’m looking at it too deep but I can see the irony in the bringers of life being the bringers of death being an ironic joke in the cartoon medium….ie liven up people. Its the sort of thing a scientist WOULD wear. Gone are the days when they wore brown corduroys, tweed jackets with the plastic sewn on elbow patches and smoked a pipe.

    This scientist was cool….Oh and he did send some probe to some rock at 300 zillion miles away going at a speed of 340 zillion miles per hour and landed on it. Now that was super cool in the history of all things cool in my book

  3. I’m someone who was there and the online attacks took not only Matt but the Rosetta team by surprise, consuming effort and emotional emergy when they had least to spare. It was intensely uncomfortable to be told that in defending the right on someone to wear whatever they like we were somehow crushing the dreams of women in science. in censoring Matt we risk creating a crafted vision of the future in which the bosses select who speaks and what they say. We know what that looks like – a parade of old white guys in suits.

    I wish I could say more publicly, but it would cost my my job. You now have my email if I can help – thanks for the support,

    1. Thanks comet-lover: I’ve added you to our mailing list. We appreciate your interest and support – spread the word!

  4. You’ve earned yourself an unsubscribe from me for this one. Comparing your opponents to fascists is completely unreasonable and makes *you* look like the one who’s overreacting and gets easily offended by everything.

    In this instance, perhaps the shirt did get more attention than was justified in the media; but it wasn’t appropriate for the circumstances, and pointing that out was hardly bullying, still less the onset of fascism. I’m sorry that Dr Taylor took things so personally, but this is not a case of a woman whose right to sexual expression has been censored.

    You seem to think that anyone who criticises sexual content for any reason should shut up. Ironically, in your quest against censorship, you’ve become the censor yourself.

    1. I don’t use the word fascism without thinking. Culturally, fascism is an ultra-conservative grass-roots movement that attacks the basis of Enlightenment values, namely: free expression, equality and science. The left shows utter disdain for these things, which were once core left-wing values. In fact, it’s increasingly hard to distinguish today’s feminist commentary from the religious right. The left in Britain often plays the same anti-sex, pro-censorship role that the Christian right does in America

  5. I love the way that it’s been pointed out that this has happened on the same week that Kim Kardashian bears her backside on the front cover of a magazine and this is seen as empowering and liberating. The images on Matt Taylor’s shirt are probably no different than what you see in a woman’s celebrity or fashion magazine or worn by a female pop star. Taylor has worked with women on this project , they have worked with him, so he clearly has no issue with women scientists

  6. I think that the totalitarian attitudes displayed by the Object crowd and their allies and the double think that goes with them are more accurately described as Stalinist rather than fascist. They are what Orwell was attacking in Nineteen Eighty Four.

    There ‘s always been some on the Left who are every bit as puritanical, bigoted and authoritarian as their counterparts on the right. It’s just that the more liberal minded tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Yes, the left has always had puritans, but there has been a shift in recent decades. The left was the natural home of intellectual, free-thinking politics at some point, but it no longer appears to be.

  7. The most disturbing thing of all is that somehow, the barbarity of publicly breaking a good scientist has garnered the label of ‘feminism’.

    This isn’t feminism. This kind of bullshit superficializes feminism and the very real horrors perpetuated against women all around the world. And it staggers me just how many of my ‘liberal’ friends, male and female, have sat by silently or actually defended this pillorying. It’s a testament to just how thoroughly these hype-garnering, media-manipulating pseudo-feminists have misdirected what is – ultimately – a very important ideological movement to ensure equality.

    I have heard apologists say: “Well, if Dr. Taylor didn’t want this trouble, he shouldn’t have worn that shirt.” I don’t see a millimeter of daylight between that statement and those who say or imply that a woman was asking to be raped for wearing a short skirt or a plunging neckline.

    Here’s my post on it:

    1. Who are you to say this isn’t feminism? Amanda Marcotte? Jessica Valenti? For all practical purposes it is they who define feminism, and about you I have never heard before. They defend Taylor’s bullies, and this is feminism. Own it.

    2. The problem is there isn’t actually a definition of feminism… and even if there is anyone with a mouth and ideally female sexual organs (although this is not essential) can call themselves a feminist. So there’s a spectrum of ideas from the sensible to at the bottom of the barrel intersectionality. There really are people who sit on twitter all day starting insane hashtags and trying to stir things up. For example Selintifada who started the whiteproverbs hashtag is copying suey_park is copying etc … much of this stuff emanates from the states and I think the reason is that there they have no hate legislation at all so it’s a way of people trying to impose some kind of unofficial censorship on racial hatred but it swaps over its self into reverse racial hatred. This is how you get people like Bidol thinking up new defitions of words to try and explain that this isn’t happening.
      I did try and make sense of it once but you cant really address Identity Politics with logic so this is the best I could end up with

      I mean there’s usually a modicum of a good idea somewhere – I’m a physicist and wouldn’t wear that shirt to a press conference – it’s just taken way beyond any common sense. I mean there’s some logic in intersectionality … that the black people and white people visiting Exhibit B don’t have the same experience … but it’s just taken too far. You can’t add oppressions together. I mean but that theory black women should be the bottom of society but research shows that for no doubt complex sociological reasons it seems to be black men

    3. There’s a small army of keyboard warriors – the children of CRT – that literally do nothing else than look for things to be wound up about
      He’s just too innocent to know this … I think a lot of this stuff started in the states precisely because they have no hate legislation so people see it as some back to front system of do-it-yourself censorship that’s kind of standing up for yourself in some way. But there’s a spectrum. When you transplant it to the UK it looks say. Partly it’s a function of the greater social inequality in the US. I dont think it’s an accident the US came up with PC – it’s the system of censorship you come up with when you’ve not official form of censorship for constitutional reasons

  8. And yes, the ‘feminists’ who participated in #shirtgate are precisely the kind of plodding Stalinist gender warriors who’ve been trying to ringfence the word ‘feminism’ for their exclusive use over the last four decades.

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