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AAS Issues Statement on "Shirtgate"/"Shirtstorm"

Thursday, November 20, 2014 - 08:54

The following statement was issued on 19 November 2014 by the Executive Committee of the American Astronomical Society on behalf of the AAS Council:

The past few days have seen extensive international discussion of an incident (known online as #shirtstorm or #shirtgate) in which a participant in a European Space Agency media conference wore a shirt with sexualized images of gun-toting women and made an unfortunate remark comparing the featured spacecraft to a woman. Viewers responded critically to these inappropriate statements, especially jarring in such a highly visible setting (one in which very few women appeared), and the scientist apologized sincerely. But in the meantime, unacceptable abuse has been directed toward the critics, from criticism of “over-active feminism” to personal insults and more dire threats.

We wish to express our support for members of the community who rightly brought this issue to the fore, and we condemn the unreasonable attacks they experienced as a result, which caused deep distress in our community. We do appreciate the scientist’s sincere and unqualified apology.

The AAS has a clear anti-harassment policy, which prohibits “verbal comments or physical actions of a sexual nature” and “a display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures.” Had the offending images appeared and comments been made under the auspices of the AAS, they would be in clear violation of our policy.

We also note the important sentiments that preface the policy:

As a professional society, the AAS must provide an environment that encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas. In pursuit of that environment, the AAS is committed to the philosophy of equality of opportunity and treatment for all members, regardless of gender, gender identity or expression, race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, veteran status, or any other reason not related to scientific merit. All functions of the Society must be conducted in a professional atmosphere in which all participants are treated with courtesy and respect…

The AAS Council reaffirms the importance of the Society’s anti-harassment policy to our mission to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. Only when all astronomers feel welcome and supported in the profession can our discipline realize its full potential for excellence.

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)