Sunday, November 16, 2014

Naked Rufus UPDATED

As I sat contemplating the Mark Zuckerberg shirt story from every which angle, another whole shirts-and-sexism scandal was underway. So much so that "shirtgate" refers to something else!

In all (humorless) seriousness, I'm probably too late to the #gate on this one. The man has already apologized. The woman who called out his wardrobe choice is already getting threats. I'd known about the comet landing for a while before hearing anything about the outfit.

That said, there's a TBTB angle here, for sure. Not a literal hygiene issue, but... that sense in which a man gets to be a mad genius, too brilliant to follow even the broadest outlines of social convention when it comes to dress. But TBTB doesn't quite cover it. It falls more into a different framework: the notion that women are killjoys. Now, some individual women (and - you guessed it - some men) are killjoys, but that's not the issue. What I'm describing is something more like... Men will say that women are uptight, when the freedom men are asking for is one that women don't enjoy. Depending which men, the next step might involve men saying that it's just not in women's nature to want whatever it is.

I realize I'm being vague, but the "issue" could be anything on the spectrum from ogling to - to keep with the Dan Savage motif - "monogamish." Men will call women prudes, when what these women are actually protesting (albeit discreetly) is that whichever freedom is only being demanded for men. And men won't see this, either because it will be inconceivable to them that women would want equivalent freedoms, or because - and ding, ding, ding, this explains the level of anger among some Twitter-types - it's far too threatening to imagine that women might want the same things as men. Men would rather the issue be that women are humorless scolds than for the alternative interpretation to be true.

As for women's nature, we know that no woman would even think to own a scantily-clad-men shirt. Except, wait a moment. I'm a woman, and guess what? I own such a shirt! (Google "Rufus Wainwright" and "Marc Jacobs.") I'd forgotten about this shirt precisely because it's not a thing that one can wear. Certainly not to, like, work (well, maybe to some work...). I bought it many years ago, as a collector's item or home decor, not as clothing.

So! Maybe I do have a new angle on #shirtgate, after all. I say yes to the inappropriate shirts, but make the privilege gender-neutral, and not limited to rocket scientists. The cost-per-wear on Naked Rufus is abysmal, and it's time for that shirt to... come out of the closet seems the thing to type, but I believe that, technically speaking, that shirt is in a drawer.


The #gate continues, and I'm starting to think there's a YPIS angle as well. While it's absolutely reasonable that the idiotic shirt should be called out, the problem is what happens when the entire world seems to be calling something relatively trivial out in unison.

The question remains, however, what options exist that don't amount to a pile-on. Everyone's commenting simultaneously, and each of the individual comments are measured... but then what happens is, minor annoyance times however many thousand ends up sounding like OUTRAGE. While it could well be the case that obliviously wearing a sexy-women shirt at an important press conference is the very definition of unchecked privilege, the eternal YPIS problem is that privilege-checking has a way of quickly becoming bullying.

That said... I think there's a big difference between pile-ons whose inspiration is an ordinary citizen observed mid-misstep, and a public figure of some kind. This scientist is maybe borderline-public-figure, but let me put it like this: If he had, say, worn the shirt to some departmental meeting, and a photo of him wearing it had leaked, and that had been the inspiration for all manner of tweets and think-pieces, then yes, that would have been a problem. The shirt would have still been a mistake, but a social-media calling-out would have been a far greater one. That would have been bullying. But it's not as if this shirt-wearing were surreptitiously brought into the public record. 

Also: Hadley Freeman sums everything up nicely, as usual. And I will of course be tracking down this book about public shaming that she speaks of...

No comments: