Last month in this space, we reported on the story of Dr. Matt Taylor’s tangle with political correctness, division of feminist indignation. Dr. Taylor is the brilliant astrophysicist who led the team that managed to land a probe on a comet traveling 41,000 miles per hour, some 311 million miles from earth. It was a historic triumph of calculation and technology. But that triumph was overshadowed by an angry outcry on Twitter and elsewhere, sparked by Rose Eveleth of The Atlantic, who objected to Dr. Taylor’s shirt. The garment in question is a garish Hawaiian-style number festooned with cartoon-like drawings of scantily clad, gun-toting women. How dare this man “objectify” women! We don’t stock them at The New Criterion canteen—our taste in torso wear is distinctly more understated—but surely Matt Taylor should be allowed to choose his own shirts. The whole preposterous episode—the tirades, the trembling public apology by Dr. Taylor—was repellent.
One thing that especially caught our eye was the hypocrisy, or, rather, the conspicuous double standard at work in the controversy: Women can dress (or undress) with total freedom, but men’s choices of apparel are held to the impossible, shifting standards of feminist rectitude.
The basic reason for this is the moral (to say nothing of the political) bankruptcy of contemporary feminism. You don’t have to look far to see what we mean. There was the fake UVA rape case, for example, reported in the sternest, high-dudgeon tones that Rolling Stone could manage. It led to protests and name-calling outside a university fraternity, but the story turned out to be completely fabricated, i.e., made up, i.e., not true. That didn’t prevent some “feminists” from continuing to insist that the story was true even though it was false—that there really was a “rape culture” on college campuses that made victims of women. One in five women, we are told, has been raped on campus. The columnist George Will is one of many who have disputed, indeed, exploded, that baseless statistic. Will noted in an article last June that universities have made “victimhood” into a “coveted status that confers privilege.” For pointing out that inconvenient fact, Will was “disinvited” from giving a talk at Scripps College last year and, just last month, had to stand by while some whiners at Michigan State University protested his appearance, accused him of being a “rape apologist,” and, some of them, turned their backs to him during the commencement ceremony.
But back to Dr. Taylor’s shirt. It wasn’t the garishness of the shirt that sparked the Twitter storm. It was the buxom babes. But here’s a question. If wearing such a shirt is so outrageous an example of sexist insensitivity, why is it such a good thing for women to have Madonna pose topless in Interview magazine? According to the London Daily Telegraph, the aging ecdysiast pop star’s photo shoot is “a triumph for all women—whatever their age.” Why? The article by Claire Cohen does not rise to a level of coherence that enables one to answer that question with any confidence, but it is clear that Ms. Cohen approves of women, at least famous women, who take off their clothes in public. She had earlier praised Keira Knightley for posing topless. And now there is Madonna. “Isn’t it a blessing,” she asks, “that we have these strong, famous women brave enough to turn unrealistic thinking on its head and show us that the female body comes in many forms?”
Is it? I wish Matt Taylor were available to answer that.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 33 Number 5, on page 3
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