A Nobel Prize Winner and a Tattoo Artist Walk into a Bar and All the Women Start Crying

This week during my usual slate of time in which I do my best to lose all faith in humanity by perusing the Internet news, I read a blog post by Jane Marie who was denied a neck tattoo and, to put it mildly, was unhappy about it. In fact, she was so unhappy about it that she wrote a scathing rant against the artist, Dan Bythewood, in the tone of, “Can you believe this dickish man wouldn’t ‘let me’ have a neck tattoo?”

The crux of her displeasure is that she, being a near 40 adult female is perfectly capable of making her own decisions as to what to do with her own body. In this she is, of course, absolutely right. Where she is wrong is the assumption that her adult decision and a fistful of dollars entitles her to a tattoo. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t, and the belief that it does draws a line in the sand between the casually tattooed and the culturally tattooed—that is to say, those who treat tattoos as an accessory and those who treat them as a lifestyle.

Now here’s the thing: tattoo artists, being as diverse a group of people as anyone else, each have different ideological lines that they are willing to cross. This particular artist does not like to work on visible areas (hands, necks, faces) of people who are not already heavily tattooed, those who are not clearly invested in tattoos as a lifestyle. Which is fine, this is the position of lots of artists. There are also artists who are willing to cross that line in certain circumstances, as Jane Marie herself admitted. (She later went to an artist who had apparently worked on her before, who agreed to the neck tattoo after giving her a similar caution to the one Dan tried to express.)

Jane Marie wanting a neck tattoo as a casually tattooed 40 something isn’t a problem. Dan denying her the neck tattoo isn’t a problem. There wouldn’t have been a problem at all if the exchange had ended there. But instead of acting like the autonomous adult that she wishes to be respected as, Jane Marie took events to the next level.

She cried sexism:

Dan: “A neck tattoo on someone without a lot of tattoos is like lighting a birthday candle on an unbaked cake.”

Stunning analogy, right? I wonder: Does Dan know what an analogy even is? And then suddenly I’m fighting back tears because, as Dan has already correctly assessed, I’m just a feeble-minded, hysterical girl. And then I ask the next thing that pops into my head.

Me: “Would you say this to a guy?”

Dan luh-hiterally paused, looked askance, and said with a slight nod, unconvincingly, “Yeah.”

Then he asked if we were ready to get started on the other tattoos, and I was so infuriated I cannot remember exactly what I said but it was something to the effect of, “Are you fucking kidding me? I’m not going to give you money after that, let alone have you touch me or put art on my body!” And then we walked out.

Pause for face-palm.

Ok, I understand being upset and disappointed about not being able to do something you’re really excited about. We’ve all been there. But for a woman whose whole argument for getting the thing she was denied is that she’s a big girl who can make her own decisions, she sure doesn’t act like it.

The real kicker though is the tacit accusation of sexism, which is a stretch to say the least. Unless I’m missing something in both Jane Marie’s and Dan’s accounts of how this all went down, nothing was said to suggest that Dan was acting in malice against her sex. By using sexism in her argument, Jane Marie highlights the massive frivolity with which feminism is sometimes employed, which further discredits the spirit of the movement at a time when social justice backlash is becoming aggressively and viciously vocal.

Her stunning overreaction also cements the notion that we women are unable to contain or control ourselves, an idea that is still so prevalent in society that Nobel-Prize winning biologist Tim Hunt felt it would make a good joke for a dinner gathering hosted by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations:

 …let me tell you about my trouble with girls…Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.

Pause for second face-palm.

 Hunt’s official and unofficial statements are in conflict, of course. In one account he says he was nervous and said the first, ill-advised thing that came to his head. In the other he says that he was speaking more from truth than in jest. Whichever version you believe has more weight, the more pressing problem is the worldview that not only incubated this, but allowed it to continue to thrive into the 21st century, a time when women are still vocally calling for recognition and equality. Even if this was nothing more than innocent, jittery word vomit, something in what he said apparently didn’t seem at all sexist to him, otherwise why in the hell did he say it at a gathering hosted by female scientists? That he was apparently so blind to how his comments might be taken shows a flabbergasting level of societal disconnect and male privilege that is heartbreaking from a feminist perspective.

Women have taken immeasurable pains in the past and present to be recognized as humans and professionals whose thoughts and opinions matter, especially in STEM fields and still, still we find ourselves as the butt of some bro-scientist’s sexist joke about Lady Emotions.

If ever there was a time to fling around indignant feminist rage against someone being offensively patronizing, this was it. Yet, in contrast to Jane Marie’s rant, female scientists responded in humor with the #distractinglysexy Twitter campaign, proving that some of us can control our raging Lady Tears, even when others choose to make a mockery of us.


15 thoughts on “A Nobel Prize Winner and a Tattoo Artist Walk into a Bar and All the Women Start Crying

  1. Can’t argue with any of this; well put. Those other ‘leading scientists’ who defend Hunt are as depressing as Hunt himself. I have yet to find anyone who thinks he should have been kept on. When I started my career in the 70s and 80s the endemic sexism was appalling and until the residue is eradicated there needs to be a tough line with this sort of thing. Ditto any form of discrimination

    • I understand that he’s not explicitly trying to keep women down. He’s not that kind of sexist, but to deny that he doesn’t have sexist views in light of comments like this is ridiculous. His wife even said something to the tune of “He was born in a different age.” Well, fine, but he’s not an ice man. He wasn’t frozen in the 50’s and suddenly thawed out in the new millennium. At some point you have to look at the world around you and question whether or not the values you’ve grown up with are really in keeping with human progress.

    • I want to blame it on the ‘entitlement generation’ but she’s almost 40. I don’t even know. A part of me wants to read the whole thing as satirical commentary because I have a hard time believing anyone would act like that. And then to go on and make the generalization that all artists tend to be assholes was just the icing on the cake, and says way more about her than Dan.

  2. Great post. Not every comment or denial is sexist because it is spoken to a woman and she doesn’t agree with it. Hunt’s comments were so condensing that I can’t see why people defend him. Had so many conversations with male colleagues about “cmon, he was just joking”. Yet he defended his position adamantly when first confronted. How is that joking? Ugh.

    • That’s what bugged me about her suggestion that she was denied because she was a woman. Even in her account of things, Dan didn’t say or do anything that seemed sexist. At best it seemed to be all in her own mind. I know tattoo artists. My whole family is tattooed. None of them will work on visible areas unless the person has multiple tattoos already. It’s got nothing to do with a person’s sex.

      Recently a joke was made in a group I frequent about how women are frivolous and prone to changing with the wind. When someone pointed out that he was being sexist and off topic to boot, he and other guys were quick to jump in with, “Wow, you don’t have a sense of humor, do you?” and “Hey, stop reading into it, it was just a joke.” The problem is that it’s easy to ‘joke down’ when they’re sitting at the top of the pecking order. They don’t see the effects their jokes actually have on the people under them. They don’t even see that there ARE people under them, because in their minds, what was achieved by first wave feminism was the end of it. Women were granted full equality and what are we even whining about now?

  3. So glad you wrote about and posted the two links to the article about the neck tattoos, NJ, as I’ve been so buried in writing these last few weeks I’ve been out of the loop and kept head scratching at the references after hearing them twice. Now I know.
    I think you wrote about the situation eloquently, and that of Hunt’s debacle as well (that one I did happen to catch straight out of the gate). I’ve always enjoyed hearing your take on women’s issues as I’ve found your voice to be one of balance and reason, or maybe simply because it mirrors the one I hear in my own head and, therefore, believe it to be balanced and reasonable. Regardless, you made some hit home points.
    Some weeks it’s just a mess of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ when it comes to actively pushing the ongoing campaign of women and the square deal we deserve.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy them. I always get a bit nervous writing about political issues, because my mother always told me “Never talk politics, religion or money” and stepping into the internet, you really see why!

  4. Hadn’t come across the neck tattoo hoo-ha but found the Hunt thing absolutely incredible – even if he really thinks that, which it appears he does, has he been living under a rock for the last few decades if he thinks he can get away with saying it? I love the Twitter response, humour is a great way to go. Reminds me of the reaction to some political dinosaur referring to our First Minister (a totally awesome woman) as a wee lassie with a tin hat on – a reference to the perceived rigidity of her hairstyle. Cue lots of #tinhat tweets with women wearing saucepans or colanders on their heads. I wish I’d thought of that.

    • Oh man. Don’t even get me started on women in politics. All women in a position of power are judged first on their appearance–usually in the negative–before anything else. It’s as if by attacking a woman’s ability to be beautiful they are undermining the person underneath the face. It’s appalling, and you almost never see it with men.

  5. I’m all conflicted here because part of me (a great big part) wants to now make some kind of joke. Fortunately, I’m not thinking of anything worthwhile.
    Instead, I could talk about my daughter and her softball stuff, but that would take too long.

  6. Of course anyone has a right to get a tattoo where ever the hell they want to. At the same time though the tattooist has a right to refuse jobs he/she doesn’t want to do. Maybe it was sexism or ageism, maybe it wasn’t. At the end of the day a tattooist is judged on their work and if they know a certain tatt is going to look bad for whatever reason, obviously they aren’t going to do it
    Popping by on the A to Z Road Trip

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