Following an incident involving European space Agency scientist during a live TV interview, November 2014
‘The fact that a scientist of any gender, but especially a man, would think it’s a good idea to wear a shirt covered in naked women while representing a major space agency and a significant research project is appalling; and clearly, he had no idea that he was engaging in exactly the kind of casual sexism that drives women away from STEM, writer Susan Smith about Dr Taylor’s error of judgment.
During an interview about the landing, Dr Taylor had branded the comet landing ‘the sexiest mission there’s ever been. ‘She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.’
Rosetta Space Mission or a Stone Thrown in the Air
It looks so cool, so colourful, so arty, and on top of that, it is associated to landing a space craft on a comet. How grandiose and epic; it looks so liberated, so out there, so open and free. It is only a Miami style shirt covered in sex toys…I mean, girls pretending to wear clothe… From here, we go deeper, like the probe around Saturn, and other aspects of the apparently enticing image come to view. We analyse it, as one should when confronted with new pieces of evidence to elucidate this ‘of kilter syndrome’…It tells a different story, we feel uncomfortable, it does not match our first impression, and we realise the medium is not the message after all, we read the sub layer, and its language carries a conflictual subtext, it completely contradicts the notion of progress so vehemently demonstrated by the audacious space mission and those who made it possible. Most comments make a point on the ‘acceptable level’ of sexism oozing from the design. I am not quoting, we have come to accept the unacceptable in many facets of social life, because we have lost the plot. But I will quote Jennifer Hoffman : “One small shirt for a man, one giant sexist remark for mankind”. The word ‘small’ is extremely relevant, as much as “casual”. This is how and why sexism can no longer be identified as such with exceptions, such as a blunder of a magnitude equal to that of the scientific prowess the landing of a human tool on a moving rock in outer space showed to a captivated audience. Sexism has become insignificant, daily routine, mundane, passé, depassé ( overtaken), or thrown on the backs of far Eastern clerics, underdeveloped societies, primitive natives…but here in affluent democratic cities, all is well, so long as we ignore the tumor in the back of our mind.
After all said and done, we ended up replicating an erroneous set of embellished democratically moralised barbaric modes of gender relations, and in effect, sent it billions of kilometers into deep space, into some inescapable future, where the same psycho-sociological structures are already being engineered to welcome us…and how amusing it is to hear person after person repeating like a mantra, that not so far from now, we , in a few generations, will be more like robots than humans… then in a flash, a vision rises from this premise, and we suddenly contemplate a scene Charlie Chaplin could have dreamed of; robots, cyborgs, replicants in a quasi unlimited amount of editions, but, looking like caricatures of males and females, emulating the same old habits, imitating good old traditional values, programmed into their semi organic brains, despite a non reproductive status, ordering prosthetic limbs online, although this would demand more precision as bodies would come out of the 3d printer located in the re-creational cellar of their dwelling, we are referring to coded anatomical compatibility following strict static dualistic rules, to which the digital binary code is ironically suited…A comical development indeed, demonstrating another trait of humanity… our complete lack of imagination and courage when concerning life among mortals , life between humans , the freedom to be , beyond the tyranny of reductive sexualisation, and this state of what I might call ‘natural humanism’ feels so absolutely out of reach, so far from us, as we exist here and now on earth, it dwarfs the distance covered by Rosetta, those billions of miles, a mere 10 years journey, since even after 10.000 years, we have not moved the breadth of a hair. At this juncture, many citizens would disagree, yet, as we have observed, the balance has already tipped in favour of a return towards archaic behaviour patterns justified with endless references to our imperfection, to the instincts of our species, to the safeguard of a social framework, to the honoring of centuries old traditions, to the demands of media saturated networks, to the benefit of either wise confused children who no longer can imitate the correct model and so forth, ensuring laws towards our eventual liberation can be overturned in a flash, and that what was once a state of indecisive democracy can be ravaged in a night by a state of absolute religious militancy. But in our western civilisations, the water heats up so slowly most of us doze off , and revolutions in any case did nothing to reverse this trend, they merely gave credibility to another form of enslavement.
The Rosetta stone offered a breakthrough into the decrypting of Hieroglyphs, although the content of the text was anything but unconventional, honoring the protocol of the day, which in itself would not be of much interest, if it was not for its new affiliation with space exploration in the 21st century; we must wonder what lies behind this choice of name, and we should read the text again with this new material in mind. On one hand, the stone symbolizes the advent of a monumental decoding, on the other, the significance of the scripture points to the vindication of the priesthood, that of Amun in particular, revealing the power of the Ptolemaic political system poised on the alliance of the gods and the initiates, their human counterpart, thus establishing a field of peace indispensable to the expansion of power. This stands as a personal interpretation. Nevertheless, Rosetta derives from Rashid which in Arabic means guide, rightly guided or servant of the right minded , right minded being one of the 99 names of the Muslim god, thus providing yet another metaphorical clue to the mission. The concept of the guide was of grave importance to ancient Egyptians, as it led the soul of the departed to travel safely through the night of death into the day , a fitting association with the ‘mission’ of the Rosetta spaceship, although it was not the light of a new day but a comet. It is also primarily the name of a port where the stone was discovered. And so it is, for we have reached the end of the Nile, as it opens its seven mouths to the sea, and although we have projected ourselves partially, mainly across her surface, her depth fails to surrender, a somber reflection of our inability to surrender to our own. And what is a comet? Some metallic Anubis was sent running across 6 Billion kilometers of non emptiness to hunt and grab a bite of a mini solar system body made of gas, dust and rock particles traveling at 135 thousand miles per earth hour, looking like a morphing lion from one angle, a faceless bust from another. No matter how tantalizing it appears, and what knowledge it afforded us however, Rosetta, not so unlike comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, will remain a stone, and may one day also hurtle in the great ocean of the cosmos, long after our dissipation. It is for each of us to decide whether it is worth turning the stone into water. The most important gateways can only be traversed alone, which also means, devoid of prejudice or preconceptions.
Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2014