Am I Sexist?

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 16, 2010 in Ethics

Look at that smug, sexist smile!

(series index)

When I post lists of sexiest atheists or sexy scientists or even call a female academic sexy, some people call me sexist.

Sheril Kirshenbaum, a sexy female scientist, gives a woman’s perspective:

2003: I’m a budding marine scientist on my first fishing boat. “How old are you?” asks the captain. “Twenty-three.” He grimaces and blows smoke from his pipe into my face. “My niece’s younger’n you and she got three kids. You got no business here, what’s wrong with you?”

2008: Now a science writer, I’ve just returned from a conference, ecstatic to have met one of my… science heroes. He somehow tracks down my number and calls the following week. How would I feel about being “his next mistress?” I remind him I have a popular science blog and warn never to call back.

So what principle does Sheril think people should follow when it comes to sexism?

Naturally, attention to physical appearance has been hardwired into our neural circuitry over a few millenia, however, you better believe it’s never acceptable judge anyone based on appearances and number of X chromosomes.

Here is the kind of comment that bothers Sheril:

…as a living breathing male of the species, I look forward to any article with Sherils picture attached.

One reader gave a response to Sheril much like one I would have given:

The problem is not that… I compliment Sheril’s appearance. The problem is that people like you take issue with it, as if somehow that compliment is “lesser” than a compliment on someone’s intelligence. [Let's] move on.

Sheril disagrees:

I disagree, so let’s not ‘move on‘ immediately. You see, all of this does matter. Surely it contributes to the reason so many of us wonder about the dramatic gender gap in science, policy, and much of society.

…[I wonder] whether a woman can really be taken seriously as a writer for her ideas, if on some level she is first perceived as female.

…I’d rather not be labeled a ‘woman in science‘ at all. I have far more dimensions than the ones assigned by base pairs and profession.

So maybe I’m not helping by listing sexy female scientists. But let me write from my own perspective and see if I can reach out to Sheril’s camp to see if we can understand each other, and maybe even adjust our views.

My perspective

I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. I can guess, but I’ll never really know.

I do know what it’s like to be a man. Frankly, it’s pretty awesome. I’m a tall white male born in the USA in the late 20th century. I pulled nearly the best lottery card available in the history of Earth’s biosphere. As for the male part of that, it’s rather convenient to be a member of the sex that has dominated the planet throughout history and built up thousands of privileges for itself that persist throughout the age of female empowerment. Also, I very much enjoy not bleeding from my genitals for several days each month.

But hey, I’m a progressive. Obviously, I want women to have the same rights, opportunities, and respect that men enjoy. Even as a young evangelical Christian, I asked my mom what “feminism” meant the first time I heard the word, and when she said it meant that women should have the same rights as men, I said, “They have a word for that?” To me it was like having a word that meant “not believing in unicorns.” Isn’t it just obvious?

Feminism goes wrong, of course, when it allows ideology to trump truth. Feminists who say there are no biological or neurological differences between men and women are simply wrong. But that claim was mostly a 70s thing, as far as I can tell.

What I think is happening

Here’s what it looks like to me. It looks like Sheril and company have experienced genuine sexism and misogyny (no surprise!), and perhaps they interpret those who compliment female beauty as if they also were the type who don’t take women’s academic work seriously or can’t see past their beauty.

Consider a comment about how Sheril is sexy. Some readers, I’m sure, do not consider anything else about Sheril or her work. Some readers may assume implicitly that because she is a beautiful young woman, she can’t be a serious academic. Some may think she ought not pursue a career, but instead get married and raise kids. All that must be annoying as hell, and is perhaps what Sheril has in mind when she says people should not be judged based on appearance and gender.

But here’s the thing.

Many men who comment that Sheril is sexy don’t have any of those notions in mind. I can only really speak for myself, but I doubt I’m the only one. I think it’s perfectly fine to “judge” someone as attractive. Why wouldn’t it be? A problem only arises when we allow a person’s appearance to dictate how we judge the rest of their attributes.

So when I say Sheril is sexy, I don’t see the problem. She is. And I’m not a “Neanderthal” (as Sheril puts it) for saying so. I didn’t tell Sheril she should abandon this “boys’ game of science” to get married and raise kids. I didn’t prejudge her academic merits, or the merits of her ideas. I didn’t identify her as nothing but sexy – as a sex object. I didn’t say her appearance was the most important thing about her. All I did was say she’s sexy.

Think of it this way. When I named Erik Wielenberg as “one of the most handsome living philosophers,” did this imply that I’m a Neanderthal? That I have preconceived notions about what he should do with his life because he’s a man? That I prejudge his academic merits, or assume a certain respect for his ideas? That I identify him as nothing but sexy: a sex object? That his appearance is the most important thing about him?

No. Of course not. All I said was that he’s handsome. And hey! He took it as a compliment, and so did his wife.

So here’s my point: When I call a woman sexy, and make no assumptions about her other qualities, it is precisely because I am treating men and women the same.

And I think this is where many other progressive men are coming from, too.

And that’s why some of us don’t take Sheril’s criticism very well. We’re thinking, “Hey! We’re not Neanderthals just because we said you’re sexy! Don’t bundle us in with sexists and misogynists! Don’t assume we consider you a sex object just because we say you’re sexy!”

So what should we do?

Hopefully “Luke’s camp” and “Sheril’s camp” understand each other a bit better now.

I think it’s clear that lots of men who call women sexy are not sexist or misogynistic. But perhaps it’s also the case that as a utilitarian matter, writing so much about how certain female academics are sexy doesn’t help women overcome millennia of oppression and disrespect and misogyny. So what should we do?

I don’t know the answer to this.

I do know that we men who call women sexy are not all sexist or misogynistic. I do know that even in the West, women are far from achieving equality with men. I do know that even we progressives may still be implicit sexists in the same way we are (unavoidable, perhaps) implicit racists.

But what should we do about all this? I don’t know. What do you think?

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{ 353 comments… read them below or add one }

Josh July 16, 2010 at 11:37 am

I think that there is a critical difference between you (a straight male) calling a man handsome and calling a woman sexy. First of all, calling the man handsome is somewhat of a novelty thing, which can cushion the remark in irony and/or subtle humor.

Secondly, and more importantly, there is the cultural context. It’s somewhat similar (though not identical) to issues about “the n-word”. Women have been historically kept down from positions like science and have had the majority of their worth judged based on appearance. This is still prevalent today, from things as small (and maybe not ill-intentioned) as what you did to the fact that the media and market paint a picture of a world where a successful woman HAS TO be sexy and stylish in order to go far.

Now, how do we deal with this? I don’t know. We certainly can’t ignore it, in much the same way as we wish society to be “color-blind”, ignoring the problem just ingrains it further. For instance, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that when I see a woman in power (e.g. as a faculty member at the university where I am pursuing graduate studies) I judge her in part on how she looks. To pretend like that doesn’t happen would simply be to engender the response more deeply.

Nonetheless, I think we can make some progress by at least explicitly avoiding situations that objectify women, e.g. your previous post. It’s basically equivalent to posting “The most nigger-like things Obama has done while in office!”

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piero July 16, 2010 at 11:37 am

I agree with Luke. Why don’t people object to being called “smart”? Isn’t intelligence as discriminatory as beauty?

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 11:39 am

I think its all about context. When someone has gone through the effort of educating themselves, doing countless hours of research, developing findings into a coherent and novel argument, writing and publishing books and papers on the subject, speaking at conferences, etc… I would think it would hella annoying if the response was “hehe, you’re purdy”. Especially if, as you acknowledged, there has already been a history of sexism and misogyny.

This kind of reminds me of my two sons. The older one frequently does things that annoy the younger one, and can’t seem to understand WHY it annoys. I tell him, it doesn’t matter why, it’s not a big deal, you don’t really need to be doing it, it’s a big deal to your brother, so just stop – what’s the problem?

So, why not just stop? What’s the problem?

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Lukas July 16, 2010 at 11:50 am

Here are my thoughts:

1) Posting a blog post with a title like “The N Sexiest Scientists” and then only listing females reinforces stereotypes (e.g. it’s important for females to sexy, but not for males). Your intentions are rather irrelevant, the fact is that you’re not only not helping, you’re actually causing harm.

2) You write: “I think it’s perfectly fine to “judge” someone as attractive. Why wouldn’t it be?” The answer to this question is that you’re judging people for something they can’t really change, something they were born with. It’s like judging somebody’s race as “better” than somebody else’s race. Obviously, we’re all human, so we naturally judge people as more or less attractive, but that doesn’t mean that we have to write blog posts about who we think is attractive, and who (by exclusion) we think is not, especially if some of these people are (predictably) uncomfortable with the idea of being included.

3) You write: “When I call a woman sexy, and make no assumptions about her other qualities.” Good for you. But you’re not the only one reading this blog. All *I* see is a blog post of “sexy scientists” that only contains pictures of females. I’m interested in what these people have to say, not how they look. Google tells me that there are exactly two blog posts where you mention Sheril Kirshenbaum: the “sexy scientists” one and this one. How am I supposed to interpret that? What she said was never interesting enough to mention, but what she looks like is?

The implicit message of the “sexy scientists” blog post is that it is important how female scientists look. Otherwise, why bother writing the blog post? But here’s the thing: It shouldn’t be important. Scientists should be judged on what they do, not how they look, regardless of their gender.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 11:51 am

Terry, suppose a woman complained: “Why do you keep referring to my academic achievements? Can’t you see I’m sexy too?”. How would you react and why?

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Ralph July 16, 2010 at 11:53 am

Josh: “It’s basically equivalent to posting “The most nigger-like things Obama has done while in office!”

Not at all. Not even bothering with the baggage that the word “nigger” holds, nothing in Luke’s previous post prejudged Sheril on the basis of her gender. It simply mentioned his aesthetic judgment. That’s all. I don’t see how it can be offensive to anyone except for the offenderatti among us. Here’s how it’s supposed to work according to Sheril: Me: “You’re beautiful.” Sherril: “You chauvinist pig!!!” Seriously.

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The Nerd July 16, 2010 at 11:54 am

The problem with bringing up your opinion of her appearance would lie in the context. Is it in the comments to anything written by or about her on a topic about anything other than her appearance? Then you have no business bringing it up, because you’re implying that it’s at all relevant, and it’s not.

Is your only transgression including her in a list of Sexy Scientists? Then you’re perpetuating a larger belief that somehow sexy scientists deserve more celebration than other scientists. Again, context matters. If this were a blog all about sex, and you had various themed lists, I could see how it fits in. But this is a blog about atheism. Do you have lists other than “sexy”? I see favorite blogs, favorite quotes… But I don’t see any lists that celebrate any other of the diverse range of qualities a person can possess.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:58 am

Lukas,

My post is not titled ‘Sexist scientists’.

It’s false to say people can’t change their attractiveness. See here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INM831vX6dI&feature=related

Also, we judge lots of other people based on what their born with. I call homosexuals “homosexual” even though they are born that way, apparently.

As for point (3), that’s fine if you care only about what people say. Different parts of me care what someone looks like and what they have to say, and I don’t see a problem with acknowledging that. Nor do I see a problem with celebrating it.

I agree that scientists should be judged AS SCIENTISTS for their scientific work. But I see no problem with judging them AS BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE for their beauty.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:58 am

piero,

Exactly. Good question.

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 12:04 pm

piero, again it depends on context – if I was at a scientific conference in breakout session I would think it was inappropriate and try to ignore the comment. If I was on a date, I would take it as a good sign and start paying more compliments on her appearance. But this is a hypothetical problem that just doesn’t really exist in today’s world – at least in my experience.

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Leah July 16, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I certainly don’t object to being called pretty, but neither do I want to be known as being only pretty. I also think there’s a time and place for expressing our opinions on someone’s attractiveness. If I were, say, presenting a paper or running for office, it would bother me if my appearance was the central issue. A blogger putting me on a list of bloggers he thinks are hot wouldn’t bother me at all. But I think Terry has a very valid point: Whether or not we understand why something annoys the other person isn’t all that important. If they are annoyed, the considerate thing to do is stop.

A friend of mine wrote a great piece a few years back about questioning what does and does not constitute objectifying women.

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 12:06 pm

LOL, I think you’re way out of your depth on this one, Luke. Sheril is right, and I don’t think it’s a simple matter of opinion. My ex-wife was a scientist and a diversity coordinator, and my current wife of 12 years is also a trained scientist working in a male-dominated field. Knowing the real challenges of real people tends to change your attitudes.

While you may not ever have the chance to be an attractive female scientist, you can certainly educate yourself about gender issues. I don’t think you can really understand the issue without, at a bare minimum, understanding deeply the idea of “male privilege”.

Check out this post about “Schroedinger’s Rapist” (written by the daughter of a physicist). It’s really relevant to some of the attitudes I see expressed in the comments to your post. The post is great, and the comments are really good.

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Hendy July 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I side with Sheril on this… Some questions that might help everyone:

Did you ask for permission to include these individuals in your post with their pictures?

When I try to imagine being a female and seeing my picture listed on your post… I could see being flattered, but I could also see an effect akin to being chosen for a position in Playboy’s 2010 calendar when I didn’t really want my picture associated with it at all.

If you didn’t ask for permission, perhaps if you did the individuals could have requested that particular details be given about their accomplishments?

So why do the post at all?

I know you already provide a somewhat surface-skimming answer in the form of, ‘What’s wrong with pointing out the truth?’, but I’m asking if there are any deeper reasons.

In other words, what do you gain by saying: ‘Hey, look everyone, science has hot girls too!’ as if it actually adds any additional value or worth to the scientific field?

And this is perhaps the problem. They’re scientists because they’re learned and worked hard to get there, not because they are attractive. Trying to boost respect or infatuation with the field overall because, as with the rest of the population, higher-than-average beauty is present in science too seems weird. Weird… though males fall for it and think that if there’s ‘hot girls’ who have X beliefs or Y qualities… X and Y are probably awesome.

Did you think about how these comments are typically made?

We’re sexual creatures and most less tactful posts that begin with, ‘Check out this girl, she’s hot…’ tend to end with ‘I would totally love to hit that.’ So… even if none of the above is even partially accurate (simple observations and no other reasons), the associated [though unintentional] implied meaning of the ‘observation’ might strike a negative chord. It probably has the effect of feeling peep-showed and eye-oggled from across the web.

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Joel July 16, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I think this is clearly a case where people are being blinded by stereotypes. Sherril’s side is over-reacting to what they assume is being thought by individuals commenting on her aesthetic qualities, based on previous experience. Luke’s side is not taking into account the history of experiences for women in science.

Anyone who is claiming that one side is right and the other is wrong is not looking at the whole picture. Sherril has been victimized by her gender in her professional field, and so wishes to avoid overt connection to same. Luke, as a man, finds her attractive in a physical sense – and sees this as positive PR for scientific fields. They are both correct, and both incorrect.

Luke, as a male, I admittedly identify more with your position. Like you, I’m perfectly willing to enjoy a woman’s aesthetic qualities without judging her character. However, in this day and age women are overly sensitive about being labeled based on their physical appearance. As a result, any mention of “sexy” really ought to relate to their academic/professional achievements primarily. Sherril may well be sexy, but if you write about it, you should focus primarily on her scientific work.

Sherril, you’re an awesome scientist, AND a beautiful woman. It would be nice if you could accept both of those factors. Complimenting you on your physical appearance is a way to express our appreciation of you, and putting it on the web works as PR material for scientific fields, trying to draw more interest in the younger folks (Look young ladies, you can be a scientist and still be sexy if you want. Check it out guys, there really are beautiful women who are scientists.) While you may have had bad experiences in the past, not every man is a “sexist, chauvinist pig”. It would be awesome if, even if you can’t find it to accept the compliment on face value, if you didn’t start calling us names because we happen to have a genetic imperative. Most of us aren’t overtly judging your worth by your looks, and the non-overt judging will happen with or without our commentary.

Maybe if everyone can work on this, we can work past it.

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Martin July 16, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Geez! What a touchy subject!

Can’t we all summon our inner Don Draper once in a blue moon?!

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 12:30 pm

@Joel – I’m sure you feel that you’re being even-handed and fair, but your comment made me wince with embarrassment for you. I would recommend that you read Virginie Despentes “King Kong Theory”. It’s a quick read and very entertaining.

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Eric July 16, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I see nothing wrong with it. You’re expressing genuine feelings you have, feelings that are perfectly human. This is your blog, the context is you and what you want to say. You obviously weren’t saying or implying anything negative about the women in the blog post. If anyone took offense then they are the ones implying negative things that you didn’t intend or suggest.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Leah,

Hmmm. Thanks for your thoughts. I like the ‘Letters from a Broad’ article, too.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 12:40 pm

JS Allen,

My post explodes with acknowledgement of male privilege. Which part, specifically, do you disagree with? What’s your response to the paragraph that begins, “Hey! We’re not Neanderthals…”

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Hendy,

No. I almost never ask permission to post personal photos that people have themselves put up on the web. Is that expected? I figure if they put the photo up, it’s something they don’t mind being seen…

And actually, my intention with the sexy scientists was part in fun, like my sexy atheists post, but also to REMIND PEOPLE that science is not just for dudes.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 12:49 pm

“And actually, my intention with the sexy scientists was part in fun, like my sexy atheists post, but also to REMIND PEOPLE that science is not just for dudes.” Strong implication being that, dude, if you go into science, you can surround yourself with SEXY BABES!

*facepalm*

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I think permission should be asked if your obvious intention for the pictures is for dudes to ogle them. Otherwise, that’s hella creepy (not to mention exploitative, etc).

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Seriously? I would not mind at all if somebody put my picture in a list of sexy atheist dudes or something like that.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Yeah, that’s cause your a dude. Privilege, remember?

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Hendy July 16, 2010 at 1:05 pm

@Luke:

Thanks for the response. I could see it both ways on the pictures… they are ‘out there’ come up on Google images, but perhaps there is a difference between a self-posted picture accompanying one’s credentials for a means of identification vs. ‘Hey, look! Sexy girl and here’s here pic to prove it!’ (I realize this is an exaggeration of your intent but it does illustrate how context can influence receptivity). Though, again to the other hand, maybe it should encourage notes like ‘To reproduce this picture, please contact me at…’?

If the point was to encourage others’ awareness of females in science, why not just write up a summary of their accomplishments? To use the ‘sexy’ qualifier might come across as using hot women to sell laundry detergent.

I dunno… maybe just balance the scales with something like, “Some of the greatest achievements by [past/modern/contemporary] women scientists” or something and do enough research to know what those were. Or find one female scientist each month to write a guest post on your blog. There seem to be more effective and less controversial (seriously, will this post ever reach a unified conclusion?) means of spreading awareness about female scientists. Just some thoughts.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Now a science writer, I’ve just returned from a conference, ecstatic to have met one of my… science heroes. He somehow tracks down my number and calls the following week. How would I feel about being “his next mistress?” I remind him I have a popular science blog and warn never to call back.

I don’t know the circumstances, but why wasn’t a simple “no” enough?

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 1:07 pm

@lukeprog – You might be using the phrase “male privilege” different from the way feminists do. For example, your entire post here could be seen as a defiant exercise of male privilege.

I have tremendous respect for your ability to study issues deeply and learn. You seem to have the requisite scholarship, tenacity, and humility to build up a lot of wisdom in this area. So I regard your post as sort of tongue-in-cheek, and by no means your terminal position. You have many years of experience ahead of you. Maybe ten years from now, you’ll have to ask your wife for permission before posting something like this :-)

If you’re really interested, I would recommend reading the Despentes book I mentioned. It really is a quick read. Reading all 1,200 comments at the “Schrodinger’s Rapist” post would be quite a chore as well, but several of the comments are illuminating. Neither will make you an expert on feminism, but they are my two favorite introductions.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm

piero: I’d guess that it’d be because of the power imbalance (due to him being a male “hero”). She needed to demonstrate that she had the power to expose/resist his inappropriate behavior, otherwise she’d be less likely to being taken seriously (as demonstrated by his choice of the word “mistress”).

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Brad July 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Luke,

To answer the question, “Yes, you are sexist.” Unintentionally sexist, but still sexist.

Your attempts to explain away the sexism by saying your intent wasn’t to suggest that the women listed can’t be a serious scientist (or whatever) ring hollow. All that shows is your ignorance of the history of the marginalization of women. The fact that your post was a list of women (with pics, of course), beginning with a half naked woman in doggie-style position on a counter and saying nothing else about them may not have been intentionally sexist on your part. I don’t doubt that for a minute. But intention has little to do with sexism. Your list fits in perfectly with the historical pattern of misogyny in our culture and that is what makes it sexist. Most sexism today is unintentional.

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Eric July 16, 2010 at 1:16 pm

If someone for whatever reason objects to having their picture on the blog then I would take it down as a courtesy. That doesn’t mean I’d agree with the sexism thing though.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Sorry Luke, I realize that snarky one-liners aren’t very constructive.

The reason this matters is that these kinds of things contribute to a culture that treats women as sex objects in a way that you will never experience. No matter what your intentions are, that’s what happens, and that’s what it means to have male privilege. And that’s why people will criticize you and call you “sexist.” I really think your intentions are good, I just wish, as someone who really respects you and has learned a lot from your writings, that you would try to have a little more sensitivity in these areas, and really try to understand the feminists criticizing you.

JS Allen: Well said, and thanks for the link, checking it out now.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Hendy,

But you’re missing the point. This is a list about sexy women who happen to be scientists. Their sexiness is the point, hence the photos. If I was writing about scientific accomplishments, then I would list scientific accomplishments. Piero’s question remains unanswered: Why is it somehow not okay to list sexy women as sexy and ignore (for the moment) their other achievements, but it is okay to list scientific women for their scientific achievements and ignore (for the moment) their sexiness? This is just plain a double standard unless you can justify it with argument.

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ildi July 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm

(Why no men? Because I unavoidably find women more sexy, of course!)

This is an American male thing, or a gender difference? Dude, it doesn’t make you gay to notice whether a man is sexy or not. I happen to think that Scarlett Johansson currently has the sexiest ass on the planet, but I don’t get the visceral reaction to it as I do pondering the six-pack abs of Hugh Jackman. However, I’ve had male friends ask me if I swing both ways for commenting on said ass. Conversely, I can see all the sphincters tightening on these same men if I ask their opinions about the looks of another male.

When I see a title that says ‘sexy scientists’ I expect both genders to be represented, especially when I’m thinking the point is to dismantle the stereotype that scientists cannot be sexy.

Also, what is sexy? Isn’t their active and agile minds one of the things that make scientists sexy? Wasn’t the look of awe and wonder on Carl Sagan’s face as he talked about the cosmos one of the sexiest things about him? Is it still true that even supposedly enlightened men don’t find intelligence in a woman sexy?

As an example, it would have been a no-brainer to post a pic of Brian Cox as a counterpoint to Serena Kamber. I’m disappointed that you seem to miss an opportunity to claim sexy back when you perpetuate these old-school stereotypes.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm

JS Allen,

Lol, what? How is this post a defiant exercise of male privlege? Are women not allowed to express their opinions on blogs?

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Brad,

You, too, have ignored the actual content of my post. You say I’m ignorant of the history of marginlization of women. Did you not read the part about how we men have dominated all of history, building up privileges for ourselves that persist into the era of female empowerment? Once again, my critics fail to engage what I actually wrote.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 1:29 pm

The Crocoduck Hunter,

But why are we who do NOT treat women as sex objects being criticized as sexist?

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piero July 16, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Crocoduck Hunter:

piero: I’d guess that it’d be because of the power imbalance (due to him being a male “hero”). She needed to demonstrate that she had the power to expose/resist his inappropriate behavior, otherwise she’d be less likely to being taken seriously (as demonstrated by his choice of the word “mistress”).

Point taken.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 1:32 pm

ildi,

You’re complaining that you misinterpreted the title of my post, and then once you actually read my post, you insist that it conform to your initial impression of what it would be based on the title, rather than conforming your expectations to what I explicitly say the post is about in the post?

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Brad July 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Luke,

I did read that part. The last half of my comment explains why I wrote that you are ignorant. Care to engage with what I wrote?

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Eric July 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I think the culture that oppresses women is more rooted in sexual repression than “objectification”. Telling men they’ve done something bad and should feel ashamed for expressing sexual feelings toward women is contributing to sexual repression which just makes matters worse. It’s like a kind of neo-puritanism.

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Rick B July 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Luke –

I think you’re making rational comments trying to defend your position, but you don’t realize you’re speaking from a position of entitlement. There are not only power structures playing in here, there are historical and cultural factors that make it difficult to understand why your comments can be so ‘misunderstood’ and taken as an insult, when you only mean to compliment.

Entitlement – the sense that one has a right to expect certain treatment or behave/speak in certain ways. Luke, you you’re a white male in the US in the 21st century. This is a position of utmost entitlement, and most white males don’t even realize this is so. It’s merely how they’ve been treated, and how they’ve learned they’re expected to act.

Decontextualization – you focus your objections on how you would feel if someone made a similar comment about you or another male. But this misses the point. Women in the US are taught from the time they are born, what their proper place in society is, what their role as a woman should be, and what they will be valued for as a woman. Western society places great value and pressure on women to be, above all, beautiful. Being a woman is not a secondary attribute, or generally something they can hide. In fact, the advantage to hiding a woman’s sex is to be perceived as a man – and to receive the entitlements most men receive. To take a comment directed at a woman and attempt to strip the entire context of the woman’s experience *as a woman* out of its reception is intellectually bogus. But if you’re speaking from a position of entitlement, it’s an extremely easy trap to fall into.

Essentialization as a woman – by portraying Sherril as a ‘Sexy Woman Scientist’ (yes, that wasn’t your title, but it was the point of your post) you put the qualities of sexy and woman before her passion, which is science. It’s saying to the world, ‘this person is valuable as a woman because she is sexy. Oh, and she does science.’

Pornography – I’m sure you chose the most attractive photos you could. But some of them, including the first photo, are designed to titillate *men*. They’re soft-core, to be sure. Yet most pornography sexualizes the subjugation and/or abuse of women. In this context, is it any wonder a woman might not want to find her name and picture on that list?

Women in the workplace, and especially those in male-dominated fields, are subjected to standards that simply don’t apply to men. Not only is their work undervalued, it’s usually of higher quality than their male counterparts. Not only do women work longer hours, their time is not recognized as being of as much value as that of their male counterparts. Women are not allowed to fight for their ideas or salaries the same way as men are – women who do so are labeled ‘bitches’, ‘dykes’, or simply too masculine. Finally, on top of all this, women are expected to maintain feminine standards of weight, attractiveness, social deference, AND go home, cook dinner, clean the house, and take care of the family.

I think there’s great latitude in understanding how being included on a list like yours could be an insult.

To answer your question, ‘Am I sexist?’ I don’t know. But I do know that you’ve expressed sexist views, stereotypes and essentialized women *on your blog.* So I’d say you write a sexist blog, but I’m not in a position to say who you are.

I am glad, though, that you refrain from calling yourself a feminist. After these last couple posts, I believe calling you a feminist would be an insult to quite a few of us.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Brad,

But here’s what I’m not following: How is it sexist to show sexy photos of women? Is it sexist to show sexy photos of men? Is it prejudiced to show women in ‘scientificky’ positions while ignoring their sexuality? Is it prejudiced to show photos of women painting lovely pictures while ignoring (for the post, at least) everything else that they do and are? I’m still waiting for an argument for why this is not a double standard on the part of my critics, rather than vague references to the history of misogyny. Trust me, I’m aware of the history of misogyny, and how in so many ways it is not, sadly, “history.”

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Wes July 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

My adviser is a well-known feminist. A while back, she related to me a story about when she was at UC San Diego, and Francis Crick made a (very awkward) pass at her. (Apparently it was along the lines of grabbing her hand and saying, “Wanna come back to my place” without so much as buying her a drink.)

My immediate response was to ask whether he was just as much of a misogynistic prick as Watson (notoriously) was. She replied no, he wasn’t. He was just a “horn dog” (her words). He was actually very attracted to smart women, and spent quite a bunch of time trying to get in bed with any smart woman he could find. She apparently holds no hard feelings against Crick and doesn’t consider him to have done anything more than just being inappropriate.

There is no universe in which feminism requires one to interpret even rather intrusive sexuality as “chauvinistic” or “marginilizing”. Or at least, the feminists I know don’t interpret it that way. Sometimes it might be, and sometimes it’s not.

As many of the rather self-righteous prudes in this thread have pointed out, context matters. On a personal blog it is expected, and socially appropriate, to express one’s personal tastes and opinions. It does no one any harm to comment about someone’s attractiveness in a context where personal opinions and tastes are appropriate.

As for those who say he should have posted “sexiest men”, I would like for you to clue me–a straight man–in on just what exactly is so sexy about Robert Pattinson from the Twilight movies. The girls are all swooning over him, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why they find him so handsome. It makes me think that I’m probably not qualified to talk about which men are sexiest, and I doubt I’m the only straight man who finds himself scratching his head when it comes to trying to understand what’s so sexy about certain male sex symbols.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Rick B,

I’ll bring up Piero’s point again.

Let’s say I made a list of female scientists and listed their scientific achievements.

Would I then be accused of ‘essentializing’ these women as scientists, while ignoring their other qualities, such as sexiness?

What exactly is sexist? Is it sexist to call a woman sexy without talking about her other qualities? Is it sexist to call a man sexy without mentioning his other qualities? Is it prejudiced to mention a man’s scientific achievements without mentioning is other qualities? Is it prejudiced to mention a woman’s academic achievements without mentioning her other qualities? It is prejudiced to praise people for one quality they happen to share, while barely mentioning their other achievements? Again, I’m only seeing a double standard being applied.

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 1:48 pm

@Luke – You’re presupposing that we can effectively debate the issue when you have nothing more than a superficial and distorted understanding of feminism. I don’t agree with that presupposition.

If your purpose was to call up your posse and get a bunch of people on your own friendly blog to agree with you, so you could feel more right, then more power to you. But if you were sincere about adjusting your views, I’ve already given you enough to chew on.

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ildi July 16, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Luke: the title of that post is:
14 Sexy Scientists (with pics, of course)

I’d be misinterpreting if your title said 14 sexy ladies in the sciences or 14 SILF or some such.

The entire text of that post is:

I previously posted 16 Sexy Atheists. Now it’s time for the scientists! Click each photo for details. Don’t forget to tell me who I’m missing!

(Why no men? Because I unavoidably find women more sexy, of course!)

What exactly am I misinterpreting? You may have ‘splained yourself in this post, but that’s not the same thing, is it?

I’m noting that it doesn’t make you less of a hetero to list men who are sexy, even if you find women more sexy. I’m telling you that you’re missing a) men and b) sexy scientists who have more going for them than just T&A.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 1:51 pm

I’m still waiting for an argument for why this is not a double standard on the part of my critics,

If it’s any consolation, I’m waiting too.

I’m waiting for a reasoned argument that clearly explains why we should not praise beauty, but we should praise other innate traits such as intelligence or gentleness.

Still waiting…

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noen July 16, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Sheril is correct. Focusing on a woman’s physical appearance is the very definition of sexism.

“So maybe I’m not helping by listing sexy female scientists.”

That is correct, you’re not really helping defeat sexism by being sexist.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. I can guess, but I’ll never really know.”

Not actually true. Gender is a social construct so yes, you can know what it’s like to be a woman if you really wish to. People switch gender roles all the time.

“Feminism goes wrong, of course, when it allows ideology to trump truth. Feminists who say there are no biological or neurological differences between men and women are simply wrong.”

Feminists do not say there are no differences. Feminist say that gender essentialism is, like racial essentialism, an unscientific concept.

“When I named Erik Wielenberg as “one of the most handsome living philosophers,” did this imply that I’m a Neanderthal?”

Men and women are treated differently and held to different standards in our society. Men do not generally get their self worth or social status from their physical appearance. That’s not true for women.

When you single out women in science for their attractiveness and place their photos together so that everyone may ogle their beauty you are being sexist.

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Revyloution July 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

nail and head. Perfect shot.

If I hit on an attractive girl, it doesn’t make me a pig. If I hit on a girl while being married (assuming my partner thinks were monogamous), then I am a pig. If a famous scientist likes to have intelligent and sexy girlfriends, then thats his personal turn on. If Sheryl didn’t like it, all she had to do was say ‘no’. I think she was way out of line to threaten him with exposure.

On the same token, if Sheryl wants to ask Luke out on a date, she should be more than entitled to ask. It doesn’t matter if her motives are sexual or intellectual attraction. And if Luke says no, then that’s the end. The misogyny, or (wait, there is no specific word for man abusers…) comes when people act in cruel or abusive ways when they are rejected, or when people are deceitful. I don’t see the problem about people being open and honest about their attractions to others.

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corn walker July 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

@Brad
Wait, did you seriously just make the argument that intent has little to do with sexism?

What exactly is sexism, then?

My understanding is that sexism concerns itself with beliefs and attitudes, not effects and outcomes. If there are no women in my company, or blacks, does that make our company sexist and racist?

To me it seems that the reason for there being no women or blacks in my company does matter. If it’s because we’re a small company in a town that’s 97% white and no blacks have applied, that might explain the lack of blacks. If I work in an industry that traditionally has favored males, and no women have applied, that might explain the lack of women.

If, on the other hand, it’s because we don’t have positions open for janitors or secretaries then that would indicate a belief or attitude about the types of jobs appropriate for blacks or women, betraying either overt or subconscious racism and sexism.

At my previous company we had a position open for a technical position, and another for office assistant. Several men applied for the technical job. The one woman who applied for the technical position was offered the job (appearing to be the best qualified), but declined. Only women applied for the office assistant job. That we hired a man for the technical job and a woman for the office assistant job may say something about the ingrained beliefs and attitudes in our culture, but to extend that to the company would be to paint an inaccurate picture of the company attitudes and beliefs.

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Hendy July 16, 2010 at 1:56 pm

@Luke:

I don’t think I missed the point… in responding to my original post, you wrote:

And actually, my intention with the sexy scientists was part in fun, like my sexy atheists post, but also to REMIND PEOPLE that science is not just for dudes.

I did respond to your goal of reminding people that science is not just for dudes and suggested some alternatives.

But now you seem to have veered slightly off that first response to this:

This is a list about sexy women who happen to be scientists.

So now it seems like it’s inconsequential that they are scientists except that it happens to be something that you think is great. The important part is the sexiness.

I don’t have all the answers – I’m just contributing to the discussion! I will say that it struck me that you posted on women for being sexy who happened to be scientists when they had nothing to do with the former (genes) and everything to do with the latter (education, perseeverence, etc.).

Maybe it’s just not the attention some of these women wanted, in which case we’re back to my reasonable suggestion of asking for permission. Seems like someone women love the attention and others just don’t. Who knows exactly why but insisting that they about-face on their emotions/reactions seems a little unrealistic. Given that, it would be easy to:

- move on in the spirit of respecting differences
- take the lesson of learning to ask for permission in the future
- continue discussions about these reactions… but preferably not in the wake of something that just churned up these exact reactions

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 1:56 pm

JS Allen,

How, precisely, is my view of feminism superficial and distorted? Given that I spent very few words on it, it’s no surprise that my understanding of feminism as expressed in this blog is minimal. But you keep making vague accusations and I’m having a hard time finding something precise to respond to. I need specifics, please.

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Brad July 16, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Luke,

After your brief history lesson and revelation that you are a progressive dude that of course thinks women should be equal to men, you went into “but here’s the thing” mode and proceeded to explain that you weren’t actually being sexist because you had good intentions (i.e., you weren’t saying they were just sexy objects). That was your argument … “I didn’t intend to objectify these women, I was merely pointing out that one of their many attributes is that they are sexy. Don’t bundle me in with those intentional Neanderthal sexists!”

Would you agree with me that one can be unintentionally sexist? If so, my claim is that your entire defense in this post is unsound since it rests on you not being intentionally sexist. Now that in itself doesn’t mean the post was sexist. All it means is that if you think this post is a good justification for why the post wasn’t sexist, you’d better think again.

I have to take off but I will answer your questions as to how exactly it is sexist later. I just wanted to get this out the way because when I do show you why it is sexist, I really don’t want you to come back with another comment saying, “Yeah, but here’s the thing … I had good intentions so I’m not really sexist.”

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 1:57 pm

ildi,

Yes, I am missing men. They are not the subject of my post. I don’t the problem, here.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Luke, piero, it’s not a double standard because of the historical and cultural context that surrounds “beauty.” You don’t seem to understand how that concept has been largely shaped and defined by the sexual desires of men, and therefore by praising a woman’s “beauty,” you are essentially saying “I consider you more valuable than others because you live up to an arbitrary standard defined by a culture dominated by my desires.” There’s also (historically as well as currently) the huge imbalance between the sexes in the extent to which a person’s societal worth is defined by our looks.

“Innate” traits such as intelligence or gentleness don’t have such a messy track record, and they are universal between the sexes.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm

corn walker: Sexism as defined here would probably mean “contributing to a sexist culture.” That can certainly be unintentional. I know I do it every day despite my fervent desires to the contrary.

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noen July 16, 2010 at 2:06 pm

corn walker
“What exactly is sexism, then?”

Fucking words, what do they mean?

“If there are no women in my company, or blacks, does that make our company sexist and racist?”

Yes actually, it does. In a discrimination lawsuit that fact that a corporation has not hired minorities can be use as evidence for the intent to discriminate.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Bwah. “Using word in definition” fail. One way to define “sexist culture” would be: a culture in which one sex experience privilege at the expense of the other.

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ildi July 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Wes:

As for those who say he should have posted “sexiest men”, I would like for you to clue me–a straight man–in on just what exactly is so sexy about Robert Pattinson from the Twilight movies. The girls are all swooning over him, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why they find him so handsome.

Is that just true for Robert Pattinson, or any man at all? You don’t recognize the qualities in men that would make them sexy? Gorgeous hair? Bedroom eyes? Hero qualities? Wit?

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Ryan M July 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Noen, must such a company be sexist and racist absolutely? Or does the lack of both black persons and females make it simply more likely than not?

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Wes July 16, 2010 at 2:11 pm

“Innate” traits such as intelligence or gentleness don’t have such a messy track record, and they are universal between the sexes.

You’re fucking kidding, right?

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Wes,

No, just communicating poorly. I meant to say something like “The ways we determine the level of intelligence or gentleness of a person do not depend on the person’s gender.” Possible exception might be “gentleness,” though.

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raichel July 16, 2010 at 2:14 pm

so disappointed

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm

The Crocoduck Hunter,

I understand that line of thought. Here’s my response. Perhaps you have a good reply to this:

When I praise a woman’s beauty I am not saying I consider them more valuable as an entire person than people who are not as beautiful.

Also, beauty is not 100% culturally defined. Much of it is evolutionary defined. For example, a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio is desired by men in every culture on earth, even cultures totally isolated from each other.

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Wes July 16, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Is that just true for Robert Pattinson, or any man at all? You don’t recognize the qualities in men that would make them sexy? Gorgeous hair? Bedroom eyes? Hero qualities? Wit?

Well, I chose Pattinson just to take a jab at a movie series that I especially loathe.

But, to make the point clearly and without gratuitous pop culture references: It would be disingenuous for someone like me to make a list of “sexiest men”, because I’m not sexually attracted to men. It would rather be a list of things I think straight women or gay men should or might find sexy in men. Honestly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. And, experience tells me that I’m frequently wrong about what people sexually attracted to men should or might find attractive in men. Hell, if I had it my way, sexiness in men would mean being tall, scrawny, nerdy, awkward, lacking any fashion sense and possessing hair that refuses to stay combed longer than a few minutes. But that wouldn’t be because I find those things sexy–it would be because I want other people to find those things sexy.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Crocoduck Hunter:

I think you are missing several points here.

The concept of female beauty has been shaped by male desires, just as the concept of male beauty has been shaped by female desires. Where’s the problem?

Also, it is true that I consider a beautiful woman more valuable as a sexual partner than a not-so-beautiful one. But women do exactly the same. That’s why couples are usually of a comparable level of attractiveness: you get as much as you can afford. Is that discrimination? Of course it is. Ugly people as discriminated against as sexual partners, and there is little we can do about it. Yes, you can talk about changing standards of beauty, or the social construction of gender and so on till you are blue in the face, but the fact remains that some people are beautiful and some people are ugly at a given time in a given social context, which is all that really matters. I might have been a paragon of male beauty in some obscure extinct civilization; why should I care?

I also consider an intelligent person (man or woman) more valuable for scientific research than a not-so-smart one. Is that discrimination against dumb people? Of course it is, and for good reason.

It seems to me that the whole discussion can be reduced to whether hipocrisy is a good thing. Do you object to finding some women attractive or to telling them you do? Is it really the case that, when faced with a stunningly beautiful woman, you treat her just as you would a plainer one? If you do, do you have to strain every nerve in your body, or do you really see deeper than skin-deep?

Finally, the fact that intellectual discrimination is more or less unisex does not make it acceptable. Or does it? If women have been oppressed throughout history, dimwits have been oppressed even more. Unfortunately, dimwits have not, for obvious reasons, managed to build a “dimwits liberation movement”, and so their oppression is still accepted. Why?

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm

raichel,

Would you care to be more specific? If I’m saying something wrong, I’ll need it explained to me.

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Wes July 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I meant to say something like “The ways we determine the level of intelligence or gentleness of a person do not depend on the person’s gender.” Possible exception might be “gentleness,” though.

If that’s what you meant to say, then historically you are mistaken. If you look at the history of thought on “intelligence”, you will see that it was, throughout history, used as one of the most sexist ways to distinguish between men and women. Men were rational and intelligent, women stupid and emotional. This goes back at least to Aristotle, and didn’t really start to fade until over the last century. It was one of the reasons given for excluding women from important jobs and placement in Academia. It was one of the frequent reasons stated for why women shouldn’t have important leadership positions.

Subjective judgments of people’s intelligence can easily lead to sexism. Intelligence is no less fraught with sexist peril than physical appearance. (It is also fraught with racist and ethnic prejudice as well.)

Also, determining “beauty” doesn’t, rightfully speaking, depend on gender either–at least as far as I can tell. It depends on sexual orientation, emotional reaction/arousal and personal tastes/preferences. Gender determines sexual beauty only insofar as certain people are sexually oriented towards that gender.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Luke,

I would just say that whether or not you truly consider them more valuable for their beauty (to determine that would require a really messy analysis of what we mean by “valuable as an entire person”), that is largely how our culture determines a person’s value if she is female. It’s the same response you’ve been getting for a while on this post: whether or not that’s what we want to communicate by calling someone “sexy,” that’s what’s coming across.

Sure, “beauty” is not totally culturally constructed. But a lot of it is, especially things like makeup and poses designed to titillate (Rick B has already pointed out the dominance/submission elements in the first photo). Regardless of whether it’s cultural or evolutionary, it’s still a value defined by men. You’d be right to say that by this standard, female objectification is wrong, though, so I think my main point is the imbalance between the value our respective sexes derive from sexiness.

I’d also like to make a distinction between “beautiful” and “sexy,” which often can’t help but mean “how well you live up to my sexual fantasies.”

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 2:34 pm

piero,

I’ll point you to my response to Luke. I should have made it more clear: it’s not how whether or not “sexiness” is determined by men or women, it’s that how much value we derive from that judgment is unequal. I’m a little uncomfortable with sexual objectification all around, just because it seems like another way to make individuals unequal, but I probably wouldn’t complain as much if men were objectified as much as women.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 2:35 pm

The Crocoduck Hunter,

Okay, so the claim seems to be that no matter what I actually (the content of my sentences) say and what I actually intend (the content of my desires), making a list of sexy women is (blameworthily) sexist or misogynistic because other people will interpret it as objectifying women? Do I have you right?

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piero July 16, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Croco:

I’ll point you to my response to Luke. I should have made it more clear: it’s not how whether or not “sexiness” is determined by men or women, it’s that how much value we derive from that judgment is unequal. I’m a little uncomfortable with sexual objectification all around, just because it seems like another way to make individuals unequal

I’m sorry, I don’t follow you very well. Could you expand?

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Luke,

I think that’s mostly what I’m trying to say. The obvious disagreement is over how your post should be interpreted, and I think it could be seen as an expression of male privilege to say, “Hey, this is how you should interpret this.”

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 2:55 pm

piero, agreeing with Luke: “I’m waiting for a reasoned argument that clearly explains why we should not praise beauty, but we should praise other innate traits such as intelligence or gentleness.”

Sheril has put herself out there on the internet, as a scientist. She is explicitly asking us to judge her for her work as a scientist. Luke’s response in this case was to say “you’re sexy”. Its not that we can’t praise beauty, its that it was inappropriate and unwanted praise – in this instance – and predictably unwanted at that.

I suppose that if a swimsuit model had put herself out there on the internet with revealing pictures, having spent a lifetime working on her beauty, and then some brainophile had responded with “you’re a genius”, she may be offended. But this doesn’t really happen in the world we live in, does it?

What I’m saying is, there is no double standard. Only unwanted and inappropriate attention. It just so happens that almost all of that attention is directed at physical, rather than intellectual traits.

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm

How, precisely, is my view of feminism superficial and distorted?

I already explained how you can educate yourself, should you ever decide that’s worth doing. It’s hard to even start, because your post is such a trainwreck parody of the sorts of male interactions described in the introductory sources I recommended to you.

Let’s take it from the top.

First, you start with a post about “sexy female scientists”, which is a trainwreck all by itself. The thrust of the post was purely about sexual attractiveness, as you proudly admit, and was evident from the sorts of photos you chose. You feign surprise that women were offended, but it’s hard for me to believe that anyone could be so dense. Some questions:

1) Beauty and sexual attractiveness live at opposite ends of a spectrum. Think of the difference between a marble statue of Athena and a porn photo shoot. You’ve acted as if “sexy” or “provocative” is the same as “beautiful”. It’s not. Do you really believe that any woman should be flattered at being told by a horny single stranger that she is “provocative as hell”?

2) Now imagine that the same stranger picks 10 women at random out of a room and announces to the world that he finds them all “sexy as hell”. Yes, each one of them should feel very unique and special, and even beautiful.

3) Now imagine that all of these women are involved in a tremendously competitive male-dominated meritocracy that values brains over beauty (and both over “sexiness”). In fact, they are in a meritocracy where sexiness is often frowned upon, punished, or regarded supspiciously. Do you think they will welcome this stranger’s “compliment”? Is this the sort of “recognition” that is going to improve their lives?

4) Why does this stranger feel compelled to call out 10 women by name and publicly declare their “sexiness”? What exactly is he signalling? Is he signalling that he is doing it with their permission, or signalling that his balls are so big that he can do it whether they damn well like it or not?

OK, now let’s look at your follow-up post. The introduction sets the tone. You single out a woman who has just complained about being singled out for “sexiness”, and say:

Sheril Kirshenbaum, a sexy female scientist, gives a woman’s perspective

But let me write from my own perspective and see if I can reach out to Sheril’s camp to see if we can understand each other, and maybe even adjust our views.

I see. Female scientists who you find “sexy” will be called “sexy female scientists”, even (or especially) if they have explicitly protested. You’ll do whatever you damn well please, and they’ll learn to like it! This does not inspire confidence in your ability to respect boundaries.

You explicitly frame this as a debate between the women’s camp and your camp, with some sanctimonious comment about how maybe we (and by “we”, you clearly don’t mean “you”) can “adjust our views”. Even the most ignorant, inexperienced man on the planet is just as qualified to talk about women as a woman is.

As for the male part of that, it’s rather convenient to be a member of the sex that has dominated the planet throughout history and built up thousands of privileges for itself that persist throughout the age of female empowerment. Also, I very much enjoy not bleeding from my genitals for several days each month.

OK, so “dominating the planet” is a male privilege that women would like to share with men. And a big part of male privilege is that we don’t “bleed from our genitals”. I get it. If the women can’t take the menstruation jokes, they should man up and stop whining like sissies.

But hey, I’m a progressive. Obviously, I want women to have the same rights, opportunities, and respect that men enjoy. Even as a young evangelical Christian, I asked my mom what “feminism” meant the first time I heard the word, and when she said it meant that women should have the same rights as men, I said, “They have a word for that?” To me it was like having a word that meant “not believing in unicorns.” Isn’t it just obvious?

Yeah, that makes it OK, because you’re different from those other guys that ogle the “sexy female scientists”. You’re progressive, and you truly want women to be equal — as long as it doesn’t infringe on your right to public single them out as “sexy” whenever you want.

Plus, your evangelical Christian mother taught you what feminism means, so you’re safe.

Feminism goes wrong, of course, when it allows ideology to trump truth. Feminists who say there are no biological or neurological differences between men and women are simply wrong. But that claim was mostly a 70s thing, as far as I can tell.

OK, so now we can see that you are fair and balanced, because you can point out the flaws in feminism. Who better than a young, single white man to soberly judge what’s right and wrong about feminism?

It looks like Sheril and company have experienced genuine sexism and misogyny (no surprise!), and perhaps they interpret those who compliment female beauty as if they also were the type who don’t take women’s academic work seriously or can’t see past their beauty.

Some may think she ought not pursue a career, but instead get married and raise kids. All that must be annoying as hell, and is perhaps what Sheril has in mind when she says people should not be judged based on appearance and gender.

Here we find that Luke is not like those other bad men who have wronged the sexy females, and Luke proceeds to tell us what the sexy females think. Because, you know, the females are busy bleeding from their genitals and can’t be trusted to relay their own thoughts clearly.

I think it’s perfectly fine to “judge” someone as attractive. Why wouldn’t it be? A problem only arises when we allow a person’s appearance to dictate how we judge the rest of their attributes.

You’re conflating “attractive” with “sexy” again, and changing the subject. Personally finding someone to be attractive is not the same as telling that person how you feel about them. It’s not the same as singling them out in public an making a big deal about your feelings. It not the same as publicly arguing for your inalienable right to call out their sexiness publicly.

No. Of course not. All I said was that he’s handsome. And hey! He took it as a compliment, and so did his wife.

The fact that he took it as a compliment, and Sheril doesn’t, should’ve been a clue that the two situations are not equivalent. This isn’t a philosophical matter, it’s an empirical matter.

Here’s the huge hole in your thought process. You think that women and men should react the same at being publicly singled out as “sexy”. When they empirically don’t react the same, you immediately assume that the women are just confused, brainwashed, or misled. You assume that you, in your experience and wisdom, can just write a blog post explaining why the women should “take it as a compliment”. This is a textbook case of “male privilege” — a young single male who has the audacity to assume that he knows better than the entire female gender what they should think.

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Luke, it seems that you think you should be able to make these posts/comments in a vacuum, without cultural or historical context – like none of that should matter or inform anyone’s opinion of your post. That’s just not the way the world works.

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Brad July 16, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Luke,

Luke, does your last comment suggest that you disagree with me that sexism can be unintentional?

Crocoduck,

I would disagree with one part of what Luke wrote – whether or not other people interpret the post as objectifying has little to do with whether it is sexist or not. If we lived in a society with slaves but nobody interpreted it as racist, that doesn’t mean no racism is occurring.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 3:05 pm

piero,

Sorry, I think I’m kinda bad at this whole “writing clearly” thing. My point is that the way our culture determines the value of a person depends on whether that person is a man or a woman. Would you agree that “sexiness” seems to be far more important in determining the overall value of a woman than the value of a man?

I was then trying to refer to the fact that sexual objectification of men is becoming more and more common in our culture. I think this is overall a positive trend, since it shrinks the imbalance a little bit. However, I’m still uncomfortable in assigning too much value to physical attractiveness, whether male or female. Since it’s not something we can control very well, it seems like just another way we can make life unfair for each other.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Terry:

Sheril has put herself out there on the internet, as a scientist.

I disagree. She has published a picture of herself. That’s not her as a scientist, but as a person. If she did not want to be judged on her looks, why would she post a picture of her looks? As a scientist, all she needs to reveal about herself can be put in writing.

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I disagree. She has published a picture of herself. That’s not her as a scientist, but as a person. If she did not want to be judged on her looks, why would she post a picture of her looks? As a scientist, all she needs to reveal about herself can be put in writing.

True, female scientists should wear burqas if they don’t want to be publicly singled out as “sexy”. Posting a picture of yourself is practically begging for men to comment on your sexuality.

And if Mel Gibson’s ex didn’t want to get raped by a pack of N****rs, why did she get breast implants and dare to leave the house with tight clothes on?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6o_xUe2ZFAY&feature=related

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 3:15 pm

piero:

So her choice then, according to you, is to hide her face from the world, or submit to public pronouncements of her sexiness? And if she wishes to avoid cat calls on the street, should she be forced to wear a burka? Give me a break.

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The Crocoduck Hunter July 16, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Good catch Brad, I wasn’t sure how to say it.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Croco:

I don’t see how male objectification is a good thing while female objectification is not. Would you approve of Jews killing Germans in order to shrink the imbalance?

I know we cannot control physical attractiveness. But it is a fact that people are judged on their attractiveness, at least for some purposes. I agree that physical attractiveness should play no role in judging other abilities, but that’s not in dispute here. We can all agree that choosing a candidate over another based on physical attractiveness is, in general, wrong (unless physical attractiveness is an essential requisite). It is also a sad fact of nature that some people can kick a ball better than others, that some people can paint better than others, that some people can do maths better than others, that some people can play the piano better than others, that some people can drive a car at 200 mph better than others, etc.

In my view, the problem is simply that people (men and women) value sex above everything else. Nobody cares much about being a good driver, but everybody wants to be attractive. That’s just evolution. Women tend to object strongly against discrimination based on appearance because they too value sex above everything else, so they feel far worse if you call them “ugly” than if you call them “all thumbs” or “inarticulate”. Men do too, but they do not express their humiliation in those terms; rather, they disguise it with overachievement.

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corn walker July 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Fucking words, what do they mean?

“Sexism, a term coined in the mid-20th century,[1] is the belief or attitude that one gender or sex is inferior to, less competent, or less valuable than the other.”

Hey, there are those “belief” and “attitude” words that I used.

“If there are no women in my company, or blacks, does that make our company sexist and racist?”
Yes actually, it does. In a discrimination lawsuit that fact that a corporation has not hired minorities can be use as evidence for the intent to discriminate.

That someone can sue my company says nothing. I can sue you for any old thing. I can even prevail. Doesn’t mean I was right.

What it would take for someone suing my company to be “right” would be to demonstrate that we unfairly recruited, targeted, or gave preference to men or whites in our hiring process. And that is all about intent, not about outcome. As I said, it’s a small company. If I were running P&G and there were no blacks or women that would be one thing. In a company of five, the lack of blacks or women isn’t all that telling. In fact, just randomly picking people from the population would lead to an 86% probability of there not being any blacks in the company.

Fucking words do mean something. People toss around the sexist word without any care or concern about what that word means and how we might judge something or someone as being sexist. For example, people often say someone is a “sexist pig” when what they really mean, if words mean anything, is “objectifying pig” or “lecherous pig” or perhaps even “degenerate pig.” They may very well be sexist too, but that judgement is made based solely on the behavior exhibited.

Back to my company, the lack of blacks or women might lead one to think our hiring practices are racist or sexist. But given the mitigating circumstances, it’s more likely than not that they are a result of our location and culture. If I said that one person was Chinese and another Native American does that change the racism charge? If I said we pursued a woman because she was smart and driven but she declined to join because we couldn’t pay her enough, would the sexist charge still hold? After all, the end result is the same: no blacks and no women. Or is it possible that attitudes and intent do matter when considering charges of racism or sexism?

I don’t see evidence of Luke being “sexist” here. Perhaps insensitive or indifferent as to how his post might be received or perceived, but the evidence falls short of sexist.

I reject Brad’s view that intent doesn’t matter. Sexism is all about the attitude or belief that women or men as a class hold some particular attribute that is less than one’s own sex. For Luke’s post to be sexist I would expect there to be something indicating that he believed (consciously or not) that women scientists – or women atheists per his previous list – were as a class inferior/less competent/less valuable than men scientists or atheists. I didn’t get that from his post. What I did get is that he finds buxom white (mostly – he did include an asian scientist) women to be attractive, and perhaps prefers that they be intelligent and share his theological viewpoints as well. His lists may be puerile, but I don’t concur that they are sexist.

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Rick B July 16, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Luke,

Your objections to my post are phrased as questions, but I think you mean them rhetorically.

Your post was sexist in part because it perpetuates the power imbalance between the two accepted genders of US culture. Do you agree there’s a power imbalance? Do you agree that women should be recognized first and foremost for their accomplishments, rather than for their personal appearance?

If so, then I’d submit that you’ve ignored the women’s intelligence, hard work, aptitude, courage, and accomplishments in favor of one attribute, sexiness, which apparently means physical traits (The Crocodile Hunter said it well: T&A) along with an association with science. This is the same rubric by which women have been judged in US culture since its inception, and it’s the same attitude that prevents most women from reaching their highest potential – the concept that femininity bounds attributes such as intelligence, rationality, genius, ambition, aggressiveness (or even assertiveness). Or at least restricts the application of those qualities into gender-appropriate activities, such as childbearing, housework, or nursing.

Luke – your message was very clearly soft-core pornographic in nature. Pictures of female scientists, with names below in small type, chosen with regard to the amount of skin the women were baring. Whatever your intent, you succeeded in objectifying those women. You did so without their consent, and without a word as to their achievements, field, degree, or story. You cannot claim to have actually said anything about those women besides ‘sexy.’ Not only that, but all the women are undeniably young, so you’ve succeeded in writing ageist, sexist blog entries.

piero – The double standard being applied here is that women are praised and judged for their beauty first and foremost, when there exists no correlation between women’s beauty and other qualities for which men are valued independently of their physical attractiveness. There is certainly nothing wrong with finding a woman attractive/sexy, but I don’t imagine you would be particularly happy to be judged primarily by changing cultural aesthetic standards, regardless of your occupation or passions.

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Brad July 16, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I never said intent doesn’t matter (if I did, I misspoke). I send intent isn’t necessary for sexism exist. If intent was necessary, then there would be no such thing as social/structural sexism. And quite obviously there is such a thing.

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Rick B July 16, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Revyloution – the term you claim doesn’t exist is misandry.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Terry:

On the internet, I can choose whether to let people know what I look like or not. I’ve chosen not to. Nobody has put a gun to my head forcing me to publish my picture. If I did, I know what the consequences would be, and I know I would expose myself to being called “mugface” or worse. It would be my choice, informed by my knowledge of what reality is like.

Wearing a burka is a wholly unfair comparison. People have to expose themselves everyday, because that’s a requisite for interaction. If I had a blog, it would be my choice to let people know what I look like (unless I blogged about what I look like).

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piero July 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Rick:

piero – The double standard being applied here is that women are praised and judged for their beauty first and foremost, when there exists no correlation between women’s beauty and other qualities for which men are valued independently of their physical attractiveness. There is certainly nothing wrong with finding a woman attractive/sexy, but I don’t imagine you would be particularly happy to be judged primarily by changing cultural aesthetic standards, regardless of your occupation or passions.

I’ll take your word for the lack of correlation between beauty and other qualities. I haven’t seen any statistical studies in this respect, but it is certainly plausible.

I would not be happy to be judged by changing cultural aesthetic standards. But as I’ve said before, I don’t care about historical standards; I care about the here and now. If today I were to be judged a total hunk, I’d be more than happy. I’d be ecstatic. I certainly would not be posting here, busy as I would be screwing all day long.

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm

piero:

Let me get this straight. You are defending your claim that she asked for it? And she “asked for it” by posting a professionally appropriate photo of her face on the internet in the context of a profile page on a scientific blog?

Do you consider yourself to be a sexist?

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Josh July 16, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I’m coming back to this party a bit late, but I want to address something that was directed at me earlier:

Ralph,

“Not at all. Not even bothering with the baggage that the word “nigger” holds, nothing in Luke’s previous post prejudged Sheril on the basis of her gender. It simply mentioned his aesthetic judgment. That’s all. I don’t see how it can be offensive to anyone except for the offenderatti among us. Here’s how it’s supposed to work according to Sheril: Me: “You’re beautiful.” Sherril: “You chauvinist pig!!!” Seriously.”

For reference, this was in response to me saying that Luke’s post was essentially equivalent to posting “The most nigger-like things Obama has done while in office!”

I admit that maybe my language was a bit harsh, but the point still stands, I believe. Maybe a better example would be like “Top 10 things Obama has done to be a credit to his race”.

I think it goes without saying that that is a racist thing to say. But your intentions were good, right? You just meant that black people are always down living in the ghetto and that if they all acted like Obama, things would be great!

As has been repeatedly stated, the problem is CONTEXT. There is a fundamental difference between a sexiest male scientists post and a sexiest female scientists post—especially one that starts out with the picture that you started with. A heterosexual male making a sexiest male scientists post is, if anything, somewhat ironic and perhaps even kind of humorous. Hell, even if a straight woman were to do it it wouldn’t be the same as what you did (if you can’t see why, then you need to go back and read JS Allen’s posts about 10 more times).

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Hendy July 16, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Re. the picture thing… I think it’s a bit far fetched to say that if someone puts their picture on their academic website they’re begging to have it show up publicly elsewhere for a wholly different purpose as well.

Check the post HERE. To Luke’s credit he reprimands the sexism, but just note how a picture from who knows where posted on a blog immediately drew comments about how badly individuals were salivating over copulation fantasies… It was not intended, but that’s the response elicited from the masses.

Luke, the only rational thing to do is to start a totally new post with a desirism analysis on this! It would be quite interesting!

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piero July 16, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Terry:

Your strategy of trying to make me appear as a bastard who would condone rape is below you.

Yes, I submit that anyone who voluntarily posts his or her picture on the net is liable to have his or her looks judged. That’s just a fact of life. If someone really believes his or her relevance is wholly independent of his or her looks, why post a picture?

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Crocoduck,

But is this really an expression of male privilege? I think everyone writing a blog, male or female, is trying to say to say something and wants it to be interpreted in the way they intended. I don’t see where the ‘male privelege’ comes into it. Besides, if people read my actual words I’m not sure what’s offensive. What’s offensive is what other people are adding to it. Can I be held responsible when other people put words into my mouth that I never spoke?

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Haukur July 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Am I Sexist?

Here’s another question you can ask yourself: Am I considerate? She’s explained that she doesn’t want random people calling her sexy. But you’ve just doubled down and called her sexy again. Why are you doing this? It would take no effort on your part to stop calling her sexy, why won’t you humor a fellow human being on something like that? Even if you think it is somehow a frivolous wish on her part? How about at least not doing it for the duration of this conversation? That would signal awareness that you might change your mind.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Terry,

That’s an interesting thought. Let me see if I understand you. The principle you’re advancing seems to be something like: ‘One ought not praise someone for something they don’t want to be praised for.’ Is that what you’re saying?

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 4:01 pm

@piero – When you say “she is liable to have her looks be judged”, can you elaborate on what that means? A young woman might want to know what kind of risks she is recklessly taking by posting a picture. Certainly people can privately form opinions about her looks. But does it mean that she’s asking for them to post sexual compliments about her on that same site? Is it permission to post about her on other sites? Is she giving permission to put her picture alongside 9 other provocative women in a harem of “sexy female scientists”?

How about if men print out the photos and bring them to her workplace, or her kid’s bar mitzvah, to “let her know” how sexy she is? Just curious about where you draw the line.

If a woman doesn’t want unwelcome sexual compliments directed at her, what is your advice? Never post a photo at all? Paint a burqa over the photo?

Is there a difference between a facial photo and a full-body photo? Does a full-body photo give men rights to make even more explicit unwelcome sexual compliments?

What if the woman posts something explicitly saying that she doesn’t want people to single her out for sexual compliments? Is this a case of “when she says no, she means yes”, because her published photo is proof that she “wants it”?

Where can young women learn all of these rules about publishing photos? Or should they just trust that whatever a man does must be right, since anytime a man overrides a woman’s boundaries, it is proof that “she wanted it”?

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 4:06 pm

piero:

I didn’t mention, and wasn’t intending to suggest that you condone rape. The “asked for it” canard has been used to refer to much more than just rape. Cat calls, butt grabbing, oogling, and lewd comments for example. All of which are violations.

But I admit I’m rephrasing your assertion in a more blunt way to make a point. Here’s another go:

A woman’s professional profile picture posted to her science blog is hijacked and used to publicly label her as “sexy”. She feels violated as a result. But its OK because she asked for it by posting the picture, even though it was in a professional context.

Am I misrepresenting your position here?

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Hermes July 16, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Wes, very good post about your well-known feminist advisor.

I had a parallel but quite different experience years ago with one of my feminist profs. and a class that dealt with primarily feminist topics. The number of people in this thread that don’t get it is amazing. It’s like they’ve never been on a date.

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Jeff H July 16, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I think the issue here is consent. An individual who has spent many years in higher education to develop a career as a scientist clearly wants to be known (to the public, that is) as a scientist. If she wished to be known as sexy, she’d post photoshoots of herself in a bikini. If she wanted to be known primarily as a mother, she would put up pictures of her kids and have a blog about life as a mother.

To use professional photos for purposes of labelling someone as “sexy” means something done without their consent. It’s unwanted attention given to the wrong characteristics of themselves.

It’s certainly difficult for men like us to understand the idea of unwanted attention. Heck, I’d be more than pleased if a woman came up to me and said I was sexy. But if a woman does not feel the same way, that is her right. To give somewhat of an analogy, perhaps there is someone you just cannot stand. If they said you looked sexy, you might just smile and say thanks to be polite, but then if they continue to say, “No really, you are just unbelievably sexy and may I add that you are in my sexual fantasies every night and if we were alone together I would totally…” Now by this time, since you can’t stand the person normally, the whole situation is unwanted – they are using your looks without consent. And it makes you feel less than human. You become an object to them.

It’s not a double standard to say that women shouldn’t be judged for their sexiness but that they can be judged for their intelligence, because it’s a matter of consent. If they are alright with being treated like a sex goddess, fine. But for a list of women who are in a domain where they clearly face challenges due to their sex already, I think it’s safe to say that in general, these women would not consent to having their images used like this. Other than perhaps Serena Kamber and her bikini photo, since that’s clearly not a photo for a professional setting.

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Haukur July 16, 2010 at 4:12 pm

If someone really believes his or her relevance is wholly independent of his or her looks, why post a picture?

Huh? I have a picture of myself on my academic webpage. It’s not so that people can muse about my somewhat differently sized eyes, somewhat oversized nose and somewhat unsightly space between my two top front teeth. It’s mostly so that:

a) People who have met me can easily confirm that this Haukur on the website is the one they know.

b) People who’ve seen the website can recognize me if they meet me in the flesh.

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Kyle July 16, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I’d like to make a point that isn’t to do with sexism, but is being discussed here.

Some people are claiming that if another person puts a photo on the web, then it is in the public realm, and you are free to use it how you like.

This is not generally how things are viewed in law, for example. Data law has three strands: Privacy, data protection and copyright.

If you sneak up to a person’s house and take a photo through the window, you are violating their privacy. If you take a photo of them walking about on the street you are not. Similarly, with photos on the web; if you hack into someone’s computer and take a photo that violates their privacy, taking it from the blog does not.

But data law does not end there. Data is protected from certain abuses, such as selling the data on without permission (even if it was obtained legitimately).

However, just because you have not violated a person’s privacy does not mean that you have not wronged them.

I’m not suggesting that Luke has broken the law, and I’m sure that people will disagree about whether or not he should have used the photos without permission. But proving that Luke was in the right requires more than just pointing out that the photos were publicly available.

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Palaverer July 16, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I am honored that I sparked this thread, and I appreciate your willingness to discuss the topic rather than write me and other women off as ingrates. I don’t have time at the moment to read other comments so I’m just responding to the main post.

I’d like to reiterate the point I made on the other post, that it is not sexist to find someone sexy. The problem comes from the way women are treated on a cultural level. We have the message coming at us, from every conceivable source, 24 hours a day, that we are nothing if we are not attractive. This spurs most of us to attempt attractiveness, but not because it feels good; we do it because it’s so desperately awful to NOT be attractive. So complimenting us for achieving attractiveness is like complimenting us for not spilling hot coffee all over ourselves. It may be counterintuitive, but your compliments make women more anxious about their looks, not less so.

As I said, women are viewed culturally as having no value, regardless of abilities and ideas, unless they fit a rigid standard of attractiveness. Maybe your post was not intended to assert that trope, but I can’t tell the difference between it and the many, many sources that are. It’s just one more negative message on the pile.

That’s why it’s different from a post about men, or a mixed post of men and women, or even a post of just women without the judgment of their looks. Men are not given the message that we are, which is why you were able to jokingly post a picture of PZ Myers on your list. Men can be unattractive by mainstream definition but still valued for their talents. To say a man is handsome is just icing on the cake. To say an woman is attractive IS the cake.

You say, “When I call a woman sexy, and make no assumptions about her other qualities, it is precisely because I am treating men and women the same.” But that’s not true. You don’t make comments about men’s attractiveness the way you do with women. Just because you may make one comment about one man once in a while does not equal the way you judge women’s looks.

The fact that you’re heterosexual doesn’t enter into it. I’m bisexual. I enjoy looking at women I find sexy. But they don’t need me heaping on the pile of anxiety about how they look or reminding them that who they are as a person is irrelevant so long as they continue providing me with a pleasurable view. Again, that may not be the message you intend to send but that is the message received, and your message is indistinguishable from it.

These men may not intend to be sexist, but that’s the way their actions are taken. It’s ok to compliment a friend whom you know will appreciate it. It’s okay to enjoy a woman’s sexiness in silence. But it’s sexist to compliment a woman you really don’t know on her looks and expect gratitude for it.

Now that the readers of this are informed on the subject, what they can do is respect that their personal reaction to a woman should be kept personal. If she invites comment on her looks, whether directly or implicitly, he is welcome to do so. Otherwise can we please move on from judging women’s looks like we’re all in some kind of perpetual dog show?

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Rick B July 16, 2010 at 4:19 pm

piero:

Your position that women are asking for unwanted attention by posting a photo online is intellectually dishonest and logically untenable.

If you post your photo online and identify yourself as a member of a particular group, does that entitle others to seek you out, make threats to your health and safety, or stalk you in real life? No. Such thoughts are infantile. Such behaviors are criminal.

Unfortunately it’s not criminal to do the same to women, who cannot help but identify themselves as women in their photographs. Yet you claim women should be subjected to humiliation, ridicule, and misuse of their personal likeness for others’ sexual gratification if they post their photo.

An unfortunate corollary of this position is that men cannot control their actions to prevent committing injustice. If you imagine yourself to be so impotent as that, I pity you, and suggest a good therapist.

In another vein, regarding a your reply to my earlier post, I’m surprised by your shallow answer. In western culture, the standard of beauty is attainable by a scant fraction of a percentage of women. Yet the standard is applied to all women unrelentingly. I’m asking if you would want to live in a world where you had no hope of achieving such societal value, because your facial structure or bone mass or height simply wasn’t quite right, or because you had a slight asymmetry. Then when you were good and neurotic in your attempts to escape this ineluctable pressure, someone brings it all to bear yet again. I think that world would be torture, but it’s the world you’re asking all women to live in, and you’re creating it for them by your actions.

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Luke:

Yes, something like that applied in a practical way. It was fairly predictable that at least some of the women on the list would object to that kind of praise. It’s also fairly predictable that praising a random woman’s physical features on the subway would be unwelcome. So most of us don’t do it.

Now, if you knew the objections were likely, but didn’t care and posted the list anyway – that makes you inconsiderate (as someone else said).

But if you knew the objections were likely, but didn’t care because the objections were coming from women and they don’t really know what when its proper to object, and posted the list anyway – that make you sexist.

Or maybe you were just naive?

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piero July 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Terry and JSAllen:

As I said in an earlier post, it all boils down to whether you think hipocrisy is good or bad. I happen to think it is bad.

Suppose you found a picture on a science blog and thought to yourself: “Cor! She’s a cracker!” (my apologies for the British slang). Now, you can keep quiet and publicly pretend all you care about is her scientific contribution. You would be a hypocrite, but stay out of trouble. If, instead, you made public your appreciation, then you would not be a hypocrite, but you would be labelled as sexist and possibly a pervert. The choice is yours.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 4:23 pm

RickB:

Calm down. I am nor condoning violence, stalking, rape, harassment or what have you. So far we’ve been discussing whether saying that someone is sexually attractive is acceptable or not.

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Rick B July 16, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Palaverer – well said. Thank you for your perspective and for your advice. I only wish it were easier for more men (myself included) to realize when positive comments about a woman’s appearance are welcome.

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 4:26 pm

piero:

Treating people with respect despite the thoughts going on in your head doesn’t make you a hypocrite, it makes you a good person. As do the little white lies we tell the people we love to make them feel better. You know this.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Rick B:

In another vein, regarding a your reply to my earlier post, I’m surprised by your shallow answer. In western culture, the standard of beauty is attainable by a scant fraction of a percentage of women. Yet the standard is applied to all women unrelentingly. I’m asking if you would want to live in a world where you had no hope of achieving such societal value, because your facial structure or bone mass or height simply wasn’t quite right, or because you had a slight asymmetry. Then when you were good and neurotic in your attempts to escape this ineluctable pressure, someone brings it all to bear yet again. I think that world would be torture, but it’s the world you’re asking all women to live in, and you’re creating it for them by your actions.

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but that’s the world we live in. Not liking it won’t change it.

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Josh July 16, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Piero,

“Calm down. I am nor condoning violence, stalking, rape, harassment or what have you. So far we’ve been discussing whether saying that someone is sexually attractive is acceptable or not.”

Ah but you are TOTALLY missing the point. Taking from your previous post:

“Suppose you found a picture on a science blog and thought to yourself: “Cor! She’s a cracker!” (my apologies for the British slang). Now, you can keep quiet and publicly pretend all you care about is her scientific contribution. You would be a hypocrite, but stay out of trouble. If, instead, you made public your appreciation, then you would not be a hypocrite, but you would be labelled as sexist and possibly a pervert. The choice is yours. ”

Is it really just about saying something? Absolutely not. For example, you certainly don’t comment on everything about a person when you see a picture of them. Hell, I would bet that 90% of the time you don’t think anything of a picture of a person, especially if it’s a guy. But this is about referring to someone ONLY by their looks, ESPECIALLY someone in a historically marginalized group (and it’s not just the fact that it was historically marginalized, it’s that the same things are happening TODAY). I don’t see how you don’t see this.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Are men qualified to talk about women? Yup. Just like women are qualified to talk about men.

And yeah, I really am open to changing my mind. And no, it’s not women vs. men camps, and that’s not how I set it up. There are women who have defended me on these points on my blog before, and then are men who have attacked me. It’s not men vs. women.

If women can’t take menstruation jokes… Um, yeah. ‘Get over it’ is precisely my opinion on this. I don’t call women names when they make cock jokes.

“You’re progressive, and you truly want women to be equal — as long as it doesn’t infringe on your right to public single them out as “sexy” whenever you want.” Yup. I reserve my right to call women sexy. I’m still not clear on why this is a bad thing, though I appreciate your efforts to explain it to me.

JS Allen,

Thanks for the detail.

Maybe for you ‘beauty’ and ‘sexiness’ are on the opposite ends of some spectrum, but that’s certainly not how I use the words, and I doubt it’s standard. Beauty and sexiness are both qualities people generally compliment, and qualities that women themselves strive for – to attract mates they want to be with, and also for their own self esteem. These are both positive terms, usually highly correlated, and certain describing highly overlapping sets of specific traits.

As for calling people sexy without their permission, I’m not seeing the problem yet. When do we ever ask permission to give compliments? There are certain occasions, but it’s certainly not the norm.

As for my mom teaching me what feminism means, I’m not clear what the significance of that statement is.

“Who better than a young, single white man to soberly judge what’s right and wrong about feminism?” Hey, I already admitted I can’t know what it’s like to be a woman. But that doesn’t make scientific facts inaccessible to me. If feminists make claims that are empirically false, yes I am in a position to say so.

“Here we find that Luke is not like those other bad men who have wronged the sexy females, and Luke proceeds to tell us what the sexy females think. Because, you know, the females are busy bleeding from their genitals and can’t be trusted to relay their own thoughts clearly.”

First, I explicitly said ‘perhaps’ this is what Sheril has in mind. It sounds plausible, but I’m saying right there I’m not a mind-reader. As for the genitals thing, that’s straight-up strawman. I never said any such thing, that women can’t be trusted to think clearly because of hormones or menstruation or whatever.

‘attractive’ and ‘sexy’ are highly overlapping to me when describing women, and I think that’s true for everyone. That’s what those words mean. They’re nearly synonyms!

Why do I not have a right to call out someone’s sexiness publicly? This is very odd.

Anyway, that’s a paragraph-by-paragraph response to your post, but your wrap-up was the clearest to me:

Here’s the huge hole in your thought process. You think that women and men should react the same at being publicly singled out as “sexy”. When they empirically don’t react the same, you immediately assume that the women are just confused, brainwashed, or misled. You assume that you, in your experience and wisdom, can just write a blog post explaining why the women should “take it as a compliment”. This is a textbook case of “male privilege” — a young single male who has the audacity to assume that he knows better than the entire female gender what they should think.

No, I don’t think women and men “should” react the same to being publicly called “sexy.” People can react how they want to. And where did I say women were confused or brainwashed? Again, strawman. I’m not saying women should take it as a compliment. I’m just not seeing why I am bound to ask permission before offering compliments, or why I’m not allowed to give my opinion about someone in public.

I don’t think what I’ve said above shows that your argument is wrong, but what I am trying to do is to explain what I don’t understand about your argument yet. Hopefully you can clarify for me.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Terry,

No. My post explicitly discussed the cultural and historical context. I’m just waiting to hear why it’s wrong for me to call someone sexy when I think they’re sexy. A few people here are giving arguments, and I’m trying to get them clarified so I can understand the arguments.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Terry:

Yers, white lies have their place. You can fool your dying child or your dying parent and make them believe everything is OK. That’s considerate and helpful. On the other hand, grown-ups usually know very well whether they are attractive or not, and your white lies will be transparent. Again, your choice.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Brad,

No, sexism can definitely be unintentional. That’s what I mean by ‘implicit sexism’, written in my post above.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 4:33 pm

BTW, everyone:

This is a bit much to ask, and I don’t expect it of anyone, but if any of my critics could offer an argument as to why my original post is bad – in numbered premises – that would be really helpful. But I know those are tough to construct…

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luigi July 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm

All of this makes me reflect on how to respond to a touchy, smart, beautiful sciency woman.
First, never tell her she’s beautiful [you can do it after you've made it with her, if you ever do]. In fact, don’t make any comment on her physical appearance until way down the line. Let your eyes speak for themselves – but be subtle about it, don’t by any means leer or gawp [though, depending on the woman, a nerdy, inadvertant gawp might be flattering], just kind of look twice as if you honestly can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. When you start speaking, it’s not a bad idea to stutter and dither a bit, but for god’s sake don’t let it go on too long, or she’ll get right irritated. Pull yourself together and start talking confidently and cleverly about your scientific interests [and if you can't do that, give up now]. Encourage her to talk about her own scientific research, and if you have the nous to get away with it, say ‘really? I’ve been interested in that area of research for years… isn’t that sexy, uhh, i mean fascinating…’
Good luck!

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Rick B,

I know tone doesn’t communicate through text, but actually my questions were not meant rhetorically.

I agree there’s a massive power imbalance. I’m not sure if I agree that women should be recognized first and foremost for their accomplishments. Could you clarify what this means? For example, should men also be recognized first and foremost for their accomplishments? Does that mean it would be wrong of me to post a list of the best rock climbers among male philosophers, because I’m not focusing on their philosophical accomplishments? Would it be wrong for me to list women who are the tallest, because women should be recognized ‘first and foremost’ for their accomplishments, not for something they were born with?

Yes, I’ve ignored the other qualities of these women, except for naming their field of scientific prowess. Is this wrong? The title of the post is ‘sexy scientists’ not ‘most academically accomplished scientists.’

You say I’m objectifying women because I picked photos of beautiful women, some of them with little clothing. Does any presentation of sexy women as sexy mean I am ‘objectifying’ them? Is this also true for the calender of ‘skepdudes’ that somebody else linked to? Does that calendar objectify men?

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demiurge July 16, 2010 at 4:47 pm

A couple of points:

Men are equally objectified as women, probably more.

The definition of sexism has been posted, to those calling Luke sexist or his post sexist, I have yet to see a convincing argument that either he or the post is sexist.

I would characterize most of the attempts to label this post sexist, as fallacious and over-wrought with propagandistic feminist hyperbole.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Josh:

Is it really just about saying something? Absolutely not. For example, you certainly don’t comment on everything about a person when you see a picture of them. Hell, I would bet that 90% of the time you don’t think anything of a picture of a person, especially if it’s a guy. But this is about referring to someone ONLY by their looks, ESPECIALLY someone in a historically marginalized group (and it’s not just the fact that it was historically marginalized, it’s that the same things are happening TODAY). I don’t see how you don’t see this.

Im am a heterosexual male. One of the main impulses that keep me going is the sexual drive. I offer no apologies for this: I did not choose to be a primate. So of course I don’t care about pictures of guys.

When I see a picture of someone I know nothing about, what else can I judge but his/her looks? The first time I visited Pharyngula, I thought PZ Myers looked like a walrus, albeit a rather nice one. The kind of guy you would happily have a beer with. A couple of years later, I have a much better picture of PZ, and my appreciation of him has grown. Was it wrong for me to think he looked like a walrus at first? Should I have curtailed my thinking and punished myself for having such a shallow thought?

When I see a picture of Sarah Chalke (sorry, but she is the most beautiful woman ever, and anyone who disagrees can fuck off right now) I admire her beauty. I know nothing about her. She might be a despicable human being, but I know nothing about her. What else can I judge from her picture? Should I look at her picture and think, “I shall refrain from judging her looks until more information about her value as a human being is forthcoming”?

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ERV July 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Why are you all focusing on Sherils negative reaction, and not mine (or other female scientists) who embrace our femininity, sexuality, *and* brains?

People flirt with me at conferences all the time, and I flirt right back, and then we get into arguments (or brain orgies) over our science. Old men, young women, old women, young men, whatever. You take a bunch of Type A geniuses and surround them with people who actually understand and appreciate their ideas (and are kinda hot, sometimes sexy accents) and people start flirting.

I dont view it as ‘sexism’ at all, because the same shit happened at Nerd Camp in 6th grade (“OH MY GOD YOU DONT THINK IM WEIRD FOR LOVING CALCULUS??? LETS MAKE OUT!!”). But maybe HIV Research World is different. The most ruthless researchers in our field are women. Maybe ‘our’ men know that dismissing a woman for her gender is nothing but an opportunity for her to go to a rivals lab and eat you alive. But flirting at conferences is just silly fun, like some bloggers list of ‘SEXAH SCIENTISTS!’

Sheril is entitled to her opinions, but acting like her opinions are those of all Females In Science is insulting too.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Thanks for your input, ERV.

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Josh July 16, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Piero,

Can you say missing the point?

Did I say it was wrong for you to make judgments about people? Of course not. I said that it is wrong to perpetuate a cultural climate in which women are valued so much on their looks.

And, as I said before, judging how a man looks is completely different. For instance, you judged PZ as “looking like a Walrus”. Now, I don’t know what world you’ve lived in, but last time I checked there were not commercials targeted at men about looking or not looking like a Walrus. There are not magazines devoted to men looking like Walruses. Hell, there are essentially no magazines devoted to how men look AT ALL.

If you don’t think there’s a tremendous imbalance between commenting on how a man looks and how a woman looks, could you please go to the grocery store and look at the magazines in the check out isle? Or go to the movies and see how women are portrayed versus how men are portrayed? Or watch TV and see who all the cosmetics and clothes ads are targeted at?

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Josh,

I think piero and I agree that there are cultural differences that bear on commenting how men look vs. commenting on how women look. We’re just not clear what the argument is to infer from these cultural differences that we ought not call women sexy when they are sexy, or whatever it is that’s being claimed.

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demiurge July 16, 2010 at 5:20 pm

To those complaining about the post as being an objectification of woman, then a comparable objectification of men would be what, an evaluation of a man’s earning power? Do we have examples of this? Yes, they are everywhere. Should men be equally outraged at being judged on their salary alone?

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piero July 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Josh:

I’m not missing the point. First, the fact that a cultural climate exists in which women are valued on their looks cannot make me forget that I too value them on their looks. The fact that female breasts are used to sell soap does not in the least diminish their attractiveness to me. Should I abhor breasts because they are being used to sell soap? How could I do that?

There are no adverts targeted at anyone suggesting that men should look like walruses. But there are no adverts targeted at anyone suggesting that women should look like walruses either. What would your reaction be if Luke posted a picture of a famous female scientist with the comment “Hey, she looks like a walrus”? Most probably, you’d flame him. Why? After all, he’s not reinforcing any stereotypes. Why are you not angry at me because I thought PZ looked like a walrus?

I’ve been to the grocery store. I’ve seen the magazines. I’ve also seen the men portrayed in adverts for Armani, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Calvin Klein. I’ve seen the films with Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig, Robert Buckley, George Clooney… need I go on?

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Josh July 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Luke,

“I think piero and I agree that there are cultural differences that bear on commenting how men look vs. commenting on how women look. We’re just not clear what the argument is to infer from these cultural differences that we ought not call women sexy when they are sexy, or whatever it is that’s being claimed. ”

The issue at hand is perpetuating those cultural differences. A post like yours certainly did so.

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Josh July 16, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I have to run, but one more quick comment:

demiurge,

If you seriously think that that is as big of a deal as how women are treated, lrn2history

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Josh,

I think we’re making progress. So your point is that women are often evaluated only in terms of their physical appearance, and are often objectified. My post, while not pretending that women are only valuable for their appearance (indeed, I list their scientific achievement under each photo), still helps to perpetuate the evaluation of women solely on the basis of their physical appearance, and is thus bad. Is that what you’re saying?

Would this mean that it’s wrong to publish lists of men based on their earning power, or based on their career achievements, because that’s how they are so often evaluated according to our culture, and such a post would only perpetuate the differences in how men and women are typically evaluated by many people? (Actually, I would argue all this has a great deal to do with evolutionary psychology, but that’s irrelevant to the question I’m asking here.)

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Everyone: BTW, when I ask questions about what seems to follow from your objections as I’m interpreting them, I’m not (yet) offering a reductio ad absurdum of your view. I’m just trying to be clear about what your view is. So my questions are not rhetorical. They’re actual. I’m trying to understand the objections being made, and the assumptions on which they are based.

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Wes July 16, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Hermes wrote:

Wes, very good post about your well-known feminist advisor.

I had a parallel but quite different experience years ago with one of my feminist profs. and a class that dealt with primarily feminist topics. The number of people in this thread that don’t get it is amazing. It’s like they’ve never been on a date.

It’s nice to see someone else who has some sense.

I can’t help but notice that the people who have responded to me so far have completely ignored my central point: That being a feminist has nothing to do with prudish reaction to other people’s sexual expression, even when that expression might be personally offensive.

People want to pass moral judgment on others for their sexual expression. This is true for people on the left and on the right, or anywhere else in political space. It’s just as true for Christian fundamentalists as it is for the pseudo-feminist prudes whining in this thread. Sex makes people feel icky, and people often turn their personal icky feelings into an ideology.

I consider myself a sex-positive feminist. I don’t see why critiquing patriarchical culture and fighting for women’s rights should entail moral outrage over other people’s sexual expression. I oppose the prudes in this thread for exactly the same reason that I oppose homophobes. The moral outrage is unjustified, and the purported damages done to society by the sexual activity in question are nonsense. Let people express themselves sexually. There are few things more obnoxious than a prude, whether fundamentalist or feminist.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Josh:

The issue at hand is perpetuating those cultural differences. A post like yours certainly did so.

I wholly disagree. The fact that heterosexual men find women attractive and viceversa (and that homosexual men find men attractive etc.) is not cultural, but biological. If your claim is that sexual attraction is cultural, then you should join the religious nuts who want to “re-educate” homosexuals.

If your claim is that women have been culturally subdued, then of course that’s true. But Luke’s post is just a comment within a blog. Luke is not in a position to force any of those women to have sex with him, or to influence their careers in any way.

Again, the point is: should we deny our biological make-up for the sake of political correctness?

Is it morally acceptable to say “Pleased to meet you” and think “whoa, those are some serious tits”?

Is it morally acceptable to say “African-American” and think “nigger”?

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Hansen July 16, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Erm… Luke, was this brought on by my short comment on the previous thread that linked to Sheril’s blog post?

If so, then I think it’s worth pointing out that her post was made over a year ago and thus not directly related to you calling her sexy here. Strictly speaking we don’t know her reaction to this, do we?

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Avery D Andrews July 16, 2010 at 6:08 pm

The discipline of linguistics has been managing this issue quite well for decades, I think by *never* discussing attractiveness (of either sex) in any sort of professional context, or even semi-professional ones such as a bunch of linguists going for a weekend bushwalk for some reason. This does not stop there from being a lot of marriages etc. between linguists.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Cunning linguists!

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Hansen,

No we can’t know, that’s why I said ‘perhaps’ a lot.

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Avery D Andrews July 16, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Indeed. And this custom of non-discussion did not stop some of the pre-AIDS LSA summer institutes (not to be confused with SIL) from being (rather egalitarian) love camps.

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 6:31 pm

@Luke – Thanks for responding. You say:

I’m not saying women should take it as a compliment. I’m just not seeing why I am bound to ask permission before offering compliments, or why I’m not allowed to give my opinion about someone in public.

You’re a man, and no woman can stop you from doing what you want. This is how a power dynamic works.

But you will certainly admit that there are lines that can be crossed. For example, some men have reasoned that it’s very flattering to a woman to masturbate in front of her without her permission. I trust that you agree that this is crossing a line. What about posting a Web page of “sexy scientists I’d love to boff”? Is that a compliment? Where, exactly, do you draw the line, and why?

In my opinion, this is an empirical matter. You can do a survey of professional female scientists and ask whether they would be flattered by being featured in a Web site about “sexy women”. Some may like it; others may feel violated. The fact that you thought it would be OK shows that you were either ignorant, or didn’t care.

In my opinion, you unquestionably crossed a line when you responded to Sheril in the way you did. She very clearly set a boundary, and you deliberately and publicly smashed that boundary to put her in her place. How else can you explain it, other than a defiant exercise of power? This action, plus your apparent disregard for any boundaries on the part of the women in your original post, looks very bad.

We live in a male-dominated society, with power and violence always bubbling beneath the surface. When I’ve had a stressful day at work, I logon to MW2 on Xbox Live and play several games with only a knife. It’s very satisfying to get out my aggression by knifing terrified noobs in the face. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I sometimes like a rough game of 1:1 on the basketball court, or a brawl with my brothers.

However, while it’s socially acceptable to dominate other males, we live in a culture where it’s not socially acceptable to dominate females — especially at the higher echelons of society. Guys may do it, but only in secret when they think their phone calls aren’t being taped. This is the culture that brought you “Twelfth Night”; Anglo-Saxon gender relations are very “nuanced”.

I’m not accusing you of being ghetto, misogynistic, or anything like that. I honestly theorize that you’re pushing on this issue because you see it as a matter of principle, and you want to understand the logic. But longer term, you don’t want to end up being “that guy” who flagrantly disregards women’s boundaries to feel powerful (or make a point or whatever) and then tells the women to “go ahead and make cock jokes if you don’t like it”.

You don’t want to be labeled as the guy who isn’t smart enough to thrive in a nuanced environment where female boundaries are respected. While it may be an insult to Neanderthals, this is generally what women mean when they call a man a “Neanderthal” — they mean that the man disregards the woman’s wishes and does what he wants. If you scan the “Schrodinger’s Rapist” post I linked, you’ll see what I’m talking about. People observe one another and make judgment calls about one another; and the way that you navigate the male/female power dynamic is one of the biggest mechanisms by which people will judge you.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 6:34 pm

JS Allen:

If a Muslim threatens to kill you because you drew a cartoon of Mohammed, would you consider his/her behaviour acceptable?

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 6:47 pm

If a Muslim threatens to kill you because you drew a cartoon of Mohammed, would you consider his/her behaviour acceptable?

Why? Are you threatening me?

I did have a Muslim shopkeeper in my old neighborhood once explain to me that American women were unreasonable bitches because they demanded not to be propositioned, even when they weren’t wearing head scarves. True story. He was charged with three attempted rapes a couple years after I moved away. Apparently the bitches “asked for it” by wearing skirts into his shop. It must’ve been very oppressive for him to live under threat of rape charges for so long, when the women were making such unreasonable demands.

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piero July 16, 2010 at 6:52 pm

J S Allen:

Actually, my question concerned this statement:

In my opinion, you unquestionably crossed a line when you responded to Sheril in the way you did. She very clearly set a boundary, and you deliberately and publicly smashed that boundary to put her in her place. How else can you explain it, other than a defiant exercise of power?

Can boundaries be arbitrarily set by anyone? Have I the right not to be offended?

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Justfinethanks July 16, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Should men be equally outraged at being judged on their salary alone?

“Jesus Christ Warren Buffett is a rich bastard.”

“Is that all men are you to? A BANK ACCOUNT???? Did you even ask Warren whether or not he would like to be characterized as ‘rich’???”

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 7:16 pm

JS Allen,

Okay, so right now one thing I’m not understanding is what this has to do with male power dynamics. I’m expressing my opinion on the matter, and giving a compliment without permission, but what does my being male have to do with it? On your view, would it be just as bad for a woman to compliment me for my career achievements without first asking my permission, and would you respond “Shame on you, girl. You’re just putting it out there; no man can stop you from doing what you want”? I don’t take my right to free speech from my maleneses, but from being human. And I support women’s rights to express themselves, too, and I don’t see this as a ‘power play’ on their part.

Also, do you think somebody has a right to tell people what compliments or judgments others are allowed to make of them? If Kent Hovind objects to my calling him a bigoted idiot, does that mean I have no right to call him a bigoted idiot? If Bill Gates objects to my complimenting him about his generosity to African children, am I not allowed to compliment him in this way? Maybe that’s not what you’re saying, but I’m confused about what principles you’re trying to promote.

You say it’s socially unacceptable to dominate females. Is the implication here that my calling a woman sexy is dominating them in some way? I’m not following you there.

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 7:21 pm

I think this point has been made a number times now, but when a man tries delegitimize a woman’s reaction to an unwanted comment or compliment by talking about how he (a man) would react to a similar comment, he is defacto proving the point that he is sexist. He is in effect saying that if a woman’s reaction is not the same as a man’s, it’s wrong. Yet over and over in this thread, men have resorted to that tactic. Are you just not thinking about what you’re saying?

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Can boundaries be arbitrarily set by anyone? Have I the right not to be offended?

Of course boundaries can be set by anyone. And the person with the most power always has the option to ignore those boundaries. That’s the meaning of “power dynamic” and “male privilege” in feminism. Across the human race, these power dynamic is most often manifested in sexual contexts.

Females can only ask that boundaries be voluntarily respected, it is men who have the power to respect those boundaries or not. Even in the case of illegal activities like rape, groping, exposure, and so on; it is still men who hold vastly disproportionate power.

A man’s respect for female boundaries is often entirely voluntary, which is why people find it such a useful gauge of character. A man who gets off on dominating a female is only respected by the sort of men who you really don’t want respecting you.

I might add, by fixating on the woman’s “right to set boundaries”, you’re falling into a trap and missing the larger social context. These issues about boundaries are often a conversation between men. The higher class man has the luxury of being more “nuanced”, and gets what he wants without ever violating the woman’s boundaries, while the lower class man misses the point and gets crushed in the gears of the system without knowing what happened to him. Think of the sorts of people that society labels as being particularly bad with women, and think about how they fare. Read what Virginie Despentes says about black people, for example.

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Justfinethanks July 16, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Lukprog: Also, do you think somebody has a right to tell people what compliments or judgments others are allowed to make of them?

That sounds like what the detractors in this thread seem to be getting at. Characterize someone as sexy without explicit permission?

Bigot.

When you said:

The reason Craig wins all his debates with atheists is not because his arguments are sound, but because he is a masterful debater.

You characterized Craig as a “masterful debater” without explicit permission. And therefore: bigot.

You are not allowed to assign any properties to any human being unless you get the thumbs up from the person you are speaking about. Get it?

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Hermes July 16, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Wes: It’s nice to see someone else who has some sense.

[tips hat]

Paid for with hundreds of hours of feminist discussions, and being entirely outflanked strictly based on my gender. (Or so my class mates and prof. were happy to tell me.) The irony of that was not lost on me, even when I considered myself pro-feminist and even a bit fawningly deferential.

Lots of nonsense and one-upping flourishes here that is really just PC bullying. Much along the lines of the no-win ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’ question of years gone by.^^ The simple thing about sex is that it is based on personal preferences and at the same time it is both irrefutable and unavoidable. How many anti-homosexual groups and efforts are lead by people who hide their own same-sex preferences?

As such, why ignore or avoid it? It’s a part of who we are as individuals, so why not be forthright about it?

Getting back to Luke’s list, that these people are into science means that they are probably smart if not brilliant. I can desire a woman who is sexy, but if they are dumb as bricks they are useless to me as I simply don’t want them in real life. They are all icing and no cake.

In all seriousness, I’d prefer a smart woman who is plain to ugly over a dumb one who is stunning.

I’m dealing with that a bit now, actually. I was told recently that a friend of a friend wants me to ask her out, but every conversation I have with her is stale. I can’t tell how smart she is, though I suspect that she is at best average. But, she won’t talk much. Is she silent and awkward around me because she’s nervous, or is that her just being herself? I can’t tell — or more like it, I seriously suspect that she’s not smart. She is good looking, just not compelling enough conversationally to even spend time or money on as a bet to figure out if she’s smart as well. If she looked like any of the women on Luke’s list that wouldn’t make much of a difference. In either case, it is nice to be flattered with attention.

^^. I wouldn’t put it past some of the folks here to ask me if I’m a wife beater now — and they’d probably ask such an absurdity in an accusing tone without a tinge of irony!

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Ben July 16, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Holy shit, I cannot believe this conversation continued on after Sheril herself (Palaverer — do a search on the page for it) posted here and was practically entirely passed over with only one short message from another blogger! The woman you are talking about posted right here, with a lengthy but very relevant response, and you just pass right over it.

And you still have the nerve to debate what constitutes male privilege? This post and it’s comment section is a perfect example of it: men talking about women without asking their opinions, and ignoring them when they give it unasked.

Jesus.

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Avery D Andrews July 16, 2010 at 7:38 pm

This discussion mostly seems to miss the point that what is said is said in a context for some sort of reason, and it is inherently denigrating (in our society) to say something about how sexy somebody is when they’re presenting intellectual content, or most other professional contexts, since you’re trying to divert attention away from what they’re trying to do, to something irrelevant. There could be societies where it was actually rude not to make a remark about how attractive somebody was when you encountered them, but we don’t live it one.

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Justfinethanks July 16, 2010 at 7:39 pm

JS Allen: Of course boundaries can be set by anyone. And the person with the most power always has the option to ignore those boundaries.

I see. So when George W. Bush says:

Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

He has set some pretty explicit boundaries. That is, he set the boundary of “You can’t criticize the US,” otherwise you are pro terrorism.

And when I ignore those boundaries by pointing out that this is a false dichotomy and one can be critical of the US without agreeing with terrorists, I do so because I have more power than a president of the United States?

Awesome.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Terry,

I think I understand what you’re saying, but what if we flip this around? By saying that we should treat women with something more like ‘kid gloves’, isn’t that demeaning to women? I feel like I respect women when I don’t apply special standards to them just because they are women. But maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?

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Palaverer July 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm

I’d like to thank the allies and feminists in this thread. There have been some beautiful arguments made. It is disheartening that they seem to be having little effect.

I find this to be very similar to arguing with creationists who keep trotting out old gems like “a hurricane assembling an airplane” or “then why are there still monkeys?” It is tiresome to have to keep repeating answers to the same arguments with people who are quite content in their world view. The article Luke linked to earlier seems very apt here. People are not inclined to change their minds when they’re holding on to comforting beliefs, no matter how compelling the arguments against it are.

You are unlikely to get a scientific response to your questions Luke because this is a matter of people and how they feel about things, which is difficult, if not impossible to quantify. Terry had it right in one of the original responses: if it bothers other people, and you don’t need to be doing it, why not stop?

This isn’t like trying to disprove religion; it is immaterial to anyone but you. Telling women they’re sexy is purely a narcissistic act, which you’ve already admitted. As I said earlier, it’s your blog. You’re entitled. But you need to decide if that’s worth your while. How badly do you need to express your judgment of women’s looks vs. alienating readers and atheist allies? We tell religious people all the time, I don’t have the right to not be offended, but I can conclude that you’re an idiot and ignore you. Is that how you want to be viewed, or are you willing to accept that others have different feelings than you that are perfectly valid?

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Justfinethanks,

That’s what it sounds like to me, but I suspect my critics would phrase it more persuasively. Hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of this eventually. This is way, way too complicated for me to try to run the desirist calculations on the situation.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Hermes,

If you could give a succinct statement of your thoughts on all this, what would that look like?

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demiurge July 16, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Terry

“I think this point has been made a number times now, but when a man tries delegitimize a woman’s reaction to an unwanted comment or compliment by talking about how he (a man) would react to a similar comment, he is defacto proving the point that he is sexist.”
No, he is merely treating the woman as an intellectual equal. Do you think a “woman’s reaction” should be treated any differently than a man’s reaction (using your phrasing)? If so why?

“ He is in effect saying that if a woman’s reaction is not the same as a man’s, it’s wrong. “
No, he is suggesting that the reasoning is flawed irrespective of the sex of the interlocutor.

Might I suggest you play another card, the victimization one is getting worn and old.

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Mark July 16, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Do you realize that post you’re quoting from Sheril was written in early 2009?

You should also be fair and provide context on she bothered to address this issue at all. If I remember right, she was among the last to do so after many others on the blogs were writing about her appearances when she joined the Discover network.

I don’t think we know what she would think about this.

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Palaverer July 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Ben, I was very confused by your comment. I was looking for a post by Sheril–but then I wondered if you were referring to me. I’m not Sheril. I took credit for inspiring this post because it seems to be in response to my complaint upon the post that started all of this, and I was specifically asked to reply on this one.

Though I have to say, I do feel ignored. I think my response adequately explained the problem that many women have with this kind of “compliment.” Whether anyone finds that compelling reason to desist from such behavior is another matter. You can’t force anyone to respect how others wish to be treated.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Response to Palaverer.

You say good arguments have been made here for your position. If they have, I’m not clear on what they are. Hopefully as I continue to probe the arguments will become clear to me.

You say: “Telling women they’re sexy is purely a narcissistic act, which you’ve already admitted.” This is bizarre to me. Where did I admit this? Narcissism = excessive love and admiration for oneself. Calling women sexy = admiration for women. So how is calling women sexy narcissistic? Also, if narcissism is always bad, which to my understand it is by definition (that’s what ‘excessive’ means), then calling women sexy is always bad???? If so, we must be speaking different languages. Do you see calling women sexy as some kind of power play, as some have alleged? I’m not following how calling women sexy is narcissistic or bad.

You asked: “are you willing to accept that others have different feelings than you that are perfectly valid?” I’m not clear on what it means for feelings to be ‘valid’, but I suspect we agree on this. If we agree that different people’s feelings are ‘valid’ in some vague way, does it follow from this that I should not compliment people in ways they don’t want to be complimented, or that I should not judge people in ways they don’t want to be judged? Is that the principle we’re operating on? I’ll try to get clear on what you do mean before responding…

You say it boils down to this: “if it bothers other people, and you don’t need to be doing it, why not stop?” This is a bit unfair, but it’s a starting place: This describes almost everything I do on a blog called ‘common sense atheism.’ So perhaps have a more specific objection in mind, something like ‘If it’s fun for some people but other people object, and it’s not a morally efficacious post, you shouldn’t post it to your blog.’ Or something like that? I’m just not clear on that assumptions of the arguments being made…

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Ben July 16, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Sorry Palaverer, I must have misunderstood the situation in my flu-induced mindset. But my point still stands about the discussion going on here as if you hadn’t even posted.

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Palaverer July 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Luke, to quote you from the other thread: “I’m not pandering to my male readership. I’m pandering to me.” That is the admission to which I refer. Obviously, I did not intend this to be a literal quote, but I think the intention is clear.

“Calling women sexy = admiration for women.” Women are the object here. They do not benefit from this expression; you do. It’s like saying “I love pizza.” The pizza doesn’t need to be flattered. It’s all about you and the good feelings you get from eating pizza and from expressing your feelings about it. That is why it is narcissistic. I wanted to make you aware that expressing your opinion on someone’s sexiness is an exercise in making yourself feel good, not the object. It is not always bad or narcissistic to call a woman sexy. If a woman asks for your opinion in that matter, or places herself in a position of being judged (and no that doesn’t mean posting a headshot on the internet; that argument is so ridiculous I won’t even address it) then feel free to share it.

I do not think that you must refrain from judging others because to do so would be inhuman. We cannot control the automatic assumptions and conclusions that our minds constantly draw. What we can control is how and whether we express those judgments. There are times when it is useful to do so and times when it only detracts from our overall message or appeal.

“If it’s fun for some people but other people object, and it’s not a morally efficacious post, you shouldn’t post it to your blog.” That’s not a bad summary. Again, and I can’t state this strongly enough, I am not attempting to infringe on your liberties. I am a firm believer in freedom of speech and the rights of people to make complete asses out of themselves (not saying this in reference to you, but in general).

At the same time I think that, in sharing this planet together, it is a useful behavior to try to get along with others, especially when it is no skin off our back to do so. This doesn’t apply to issues where discussion and debate is warranted. But expressing a purely subjective opinion in a way that serves only to massage your ego while alienating allies doesn’t seem like a useful endeavor.

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Ben July 16, 2010 at 8:28 pm

You say it boils down to this: “if it bothers other people, and you don’t need to be doing it, why not stop?” This is a bit unfair, but it’s a starting place: This describes almost everything I do on a blog called ‘common sense atheism.

The difference is that in this case “some people” are directly implicated in the post in question. It’s not your readers, who are free to not read such a post or come to the same conclusions as you, but a female scientist who objected to being portrayed in that way for the world to see. You gave the choice to your male readers to portray her in that way, but you didn’t give her the choice not to be portrayed in that way.

Don’t you see the inherent sexism here?

does it follow from this that I should not compliment people in ways they don’t want to be complimented

Yes. If a person does not see an aspect of themselves as particularly complimentary (not because they are displeased, but because it is, as a matter of course, something which is irrelevant to them), then you should refrain complimenting them if they ask it. In this case, you’ve been told she doesn’t want to portrayed in that way or complimented for her looks above her scientific ability (which is what you did). You’ve also been told that most women don’t want to be complemented on their looks unless they specifically ask for it.

It’s called good manners. Nobody can make you not be an ass, but they have a right to criticise you for being one.

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corn walker July 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm

I think the problem some (perhaps just me) are having is not with whether the list causes some to take offense, or is in bad taste, or sends unintended messages. The problem I have is with citing it as an example of male privilege and sexism.

Sheril has every right to be offended by Luke including her in his list. Abbie has every right to be flattered to be included in his list. But in the end, it’s Luke’s list. He’s a blogger, on the internet, with a list of people he considers hot. He’s also interested in atheism, skepticism, and philosophy, which provides context for who, among all the sexy women out there, is included in his list. He can take Sheril’s and Abbie’s opinions into consideration or not as he sees fit, and if he chooses to ignore them it’s not necessarily because he’s being “sexist” or exercising “male privilege.” We ALL have the ability to heed or ignore the feelings and opinions of others.

When labels like “sexism” are thrown around carelessly they dilute and detract from the real sexism that exists in this culture. There are people who openly and honestly think women are less than men. There are organizations (some people call them religions) that hold as a primary belief that women should be subservient to men. There are corporate board rooms where the only women in them are changing trash can liners. In those board rooms men justify paying women 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid.

Now I don’t find Luke’s lists to be all that interesting. So, a few women hit the genetic lottery and ended up with both intelligence and physical traits that conform to our current standards of beauty. I don’t find the lists offensive, or titillating; instead they seem to be a bit tired and irrelevant. But that doesn’t make the lists sexist. Labeling someone as “sexist” only alienates them as potential allies in the larger fight against institutionalized sexism. If it were a charge that were well deserved, well, that person wasn’t likely to become an ally anyway. But for those who truly feel they are egalitarian, the label just makes people defensive.

Once we stop saying “women do x” and “men do y” we’ll understand what it means to be fiercely egalitarian. I try not to say “why do women…?” but rather “why do you…?” Because women and men don’t do anything – individuals do. Once we learn to stop thinking of people as groups and start thinking of them as individuals, we’ll be better equipped to evaluate them on their own merits. Sheril has just as much and just as little right to speak for “women” as does Abbie. In the end, neither of them speak for women – the best they can manage is to speak for themselves

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 8:36 pm

@Luke – Thanks for the opportunity to continue with the discussion.

Three premises: 1) Evolution has endowed us with a reality where the man can always prevail over the woman through force or violence. 2) Our cultural and social structures reinforce this “male privilege”. 3) The primary vector of this “male power dynamic” is still sexual.

If you haven’t read the research and statistics, you’ll need to take these 3 premises as given; but IMO they are more than amply supported by the evidence.

Given these 3, we would expect a very high level of moral interest around male-initiated and male-dominated gender interactions the more sexual those interactions become. If we accept this, we would expect people to be morally obsessed about rape, but pretty noncommittal about female assessments of male wealth. This is exactly what we observe in reality.

I trust that you believe rape is wrong. And I trust that you believe “demonstrating” your admiration of a woman’s sexiness by masturbating visibly near her is also wrong. Why is it OK for women to set boundaries in these two contexts, while it is OK for a man to override her boundaries by calling her a “sexy female scientist”?

Surely it would be ridiculous for a woman to complain about being called a “fantastic mathematician”, while it would be totally understandable for her to complain about being called a “fantasy masturbatory female mathematician”. So what, exactly, is the line between meritocracy and sexual dominance? Where, exactly, do we draw the line? Give me an example of a “compliment” that you think would be just barely crossing the line. What kind of compliment would you (just barely) refuse to give?

I’m not claiming that there is an objective moral answer here. But I’m saying that we universally loathe the man who exercises his “male privilege” to take sex whenever and wherever he wants, and we tolerate and even encourage the female who expresses her admiration (and especially, her scorn) for a powerful male’s financial condition. “Power” is at the “dominating” end of the scale, and “sex” is at the “submitting” end of the scale. The closer a person tries to link his dominance with something that is overtly “sexy” or “sexual”, the more red flags he triggers.

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Palaverer July 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm

corn walker said: “So, a few women hit the genetic lottery and ended up with both intelligence and physical traits that conform to our current standards of beauty.”

I want to point out that this statement is inaccurate. Some women have a few traits that naturally match up with what’s in vogue: no woman, however naturally beautiful, completely matches it and most women put a lot of time, money, effort and mental energy into conforming the “look.” It is very draining, and it is a hardship that men generally do not have to put up with. When men post lists like this, it’s like saying to an anorexic, “You sure do look pretty and thin today. Good for you, for only eating a piece of lettuce.” It reinforces all the wrong feelings.

The fact that men don’t even realize or take into account all the work women put into being beautiful makes it all the more frustrating. Like they assume that we just roll out of bed and run a comb through our hair like they do (generalization) and magically look gorgeous, so what the hell are we even complaining for? Our lives would be so much easier and more pleasant if we could give up the hours (and keep the dollars) spent on beauty rituals we’ve been drilled to never leave the house without lest we be weighed and found wanting. Maybe women could spend more time thinking about relevant subjects then, and be less prey to religion and woo.

I don’t want to shake anyone’s hand for announcing that they think women should be treated as equals. As Luke said in the OP, that’s just basic. Sexism, like other “isms” can be blatant, or it can be insidiously encoded into behaviors that we don’t even realize. It does not detract from the efforts to combat horrible behavior by attempting to combat merely poor behavior.

I have refrained from calling anyone sexist because, at least in this case, I don’t feel like it’s productive. I would rather talk about the behavior, the effects it has, and the preferred behavior, regardless of what anyone wants to label it.

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corn walker July 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I trust that you believe rape is wrong. And I trust that you believe “demonstrating” your admiration of a woman’s sexiness by masturbating visibly near her is also wrong. Why is it OK for women to set boundaries in these two contexts, while it is OK for a man to override her boundaries by calling her a “sexy female scientist”?

That’s a loaded, and logically inconsistent, statement if I’ve ever read one.

Rape is not just another step on the continuum of “admiring a woman’s sexiness.” It is an expression of power and an act of violence. I’m not sure sexiness has anything to do with it.

A man masturbating in the presence of a “sexy woman” is not a transgression of a “woman’s boundaries” but rather outside of what our society deems as socially acceptable behavior. That is, replace the “sexy woman” with any other non-consenting individual and it doesn’t change our view of the behavior (excepting, perhaps, that in the presence of young children we find it more abhorrent and a potential sign of pedophiliac tendencies).

In both of the cases above, the behavior offends not a single individual but society as a whole. In the case of the list, however, the behavior offends some on the list and not others (and may even be welcome). What Luke might have done differently is obtained consent from each person to being publicly included on the list. But he was not obliged to do so and he did no injury to society in failing to do so.

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corn walker July 16, 2010 at 9:15 pm

I want to point out that this statement is inaccurate. Some women have a few traits that naturally match up with what’s in vogue: no woman, however naturally beautiful, completely matches it and most women put a lot of time, money, effort and mental energy into conforming the “look.” It is very draining, and it is a hardship that men generally do not have to put up with. When men post lists like this, it’s like saying to an anorexic, “You sure do look pretty and thin today. Good for you, for only eating a piece of lettuce.” It reinforces all the wrong feelings.

Seems like you’ve appointed yourself to speak for all womanhood.

Some women may feel this way.

You may feel this way.

I can tell you that in my circle of friends, some of whom are “naturally beautiful,” almost none (i.e. only one) of them invest much time and energy into it. In general they don’t wear makeup, they don’t spend excessive time and money on their hair, and they don’t log hours at the gym trying to fit into a size 4. But that’s just my circle of friends – your circle may vary.

Strangely, the few times when they will don the makeup and “sexy” clothing is when they’re all going out together without the men. I know why each of them does this – because I’ve asked. But I don’t presume I know why “women” do this.

Men, of course, do nothing to make themselves more attractive to women. Yay male privilege.

Also, in case you weren’t aware, anorexia among men is on the rise. Score 1 for gender equality in mental disorders. :(

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Luke:

I didn’t say we should treat women with kid gloves. I’m suggesting we should treat women, as much as possible, the way they tell us they want to be treated. Its simple respect – the opposite of demeaning.

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Ben July 16, 2010 at 9:19 pm

But he was not obliged to do so and he did no injury to society in failing to do so.

So we should only determine a course of action based on whether it would be injurious to society as a whole and not to any particular individual concerned?

If you consider the individual, you might never do anything because somebody is always bound to be offended/hurt. But if you only consider society you can hurt a lot of people along the way without doing any great damage to “the greater good”.

The argument is, of course, a balancing act, so it’s disingenuous to put it into such black and white terms as you have done. “Society” might not be injured, but it certainly injured one woman’s pride in her achievements (by reducing her down to a caricature). Not posting such a list would do no “injury to society” either, and it would have the added benefit of not injuring an individual either.

I guess this it what it comes down to: hurt neither society nor any individuals, or do nothing for society but hurt an individual anyway because it’s “your right”.

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Mark July 16, 2010 at 9:24 pm

How could it possibly be sexist to publicly ogle women in fields where they have to succeed in spite of their gender?

(Honestly, I don’t really know what “sexism” means in this context, but I do know that I found Luke’s list incredibly gross and tacky. Different Mark from the one above here, by the way.)

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Terry July 16, 2010 at 9:24 pm

demiurge:

Just because you called it “the victim card” doesn’t mean no one was victimized here. But we would need to ask the women on the list if they felt victimized. I won’t speak for them.

And “treating the woman as an intellectual equal” would consist of acknowledging that her life experience may have been different than his, but still valid. The “that’s not how a man would react” argument doesn’t do that.

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corn walker July 16, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I want to point out that this statement is inaccurate. Some women have a few traits that naturally match up with what’s in vogue: no woman, however naturally beautiful, completely matches it

Also, you seem to be implying that I’m making a much stronger statement than I did. Even then, I disagree with your premise. Not only did I not say any woman “completely matches it” but I don’t think there is any one “it” to be completely matched.

There are, however, general traits that we find favorable. There’s facial symmetry. There’s hip/waist ratio. There’s closeness to the mathematical average of facial feature proportions. But within these there is room for wide variation.

To deny that some women have genetic traits that are more “favorable” than others seems prima facie an absurd claim to make. I’m not sure you’re denying this, but I am quite sure I didn’t say more than this. Some women are endowed by their genetics such that they possess both intellect and beauty. What exactly is so “inaccurate” about that?

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Rape is not just another step on the continuum of “admiring a woman’s sexiness.” It is an expression of power and an act of violence. I’m not sure sexiness has anything to do with it.

Yeah, and Luke’s defiant refusal to honor Sheril’s boundaries about being portrayed as a “sexy female scientist” has nothing to do with power and violence, since it didn’t offend @cornholio’s fucked up ethics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ndpY8nDSIo

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corn walker July 16, 2010 at 9:37 pm

The argument is, of course, a balancing act, so it’s disingenuous to put it into such black and white terms as you have done.

I’m only pointing out the logical incongruity of the argument. I’m saying posting the list is not on the same continuum as rape or public indecency. You can frame it in terms of a “woman’s boundaries” but that seems to imply that one woman might set her boundaries such that rape is okay with her (and by “rape” I mean truly non-concensual sex, not role play) while another might set her boundaries at merely being mentioned as “attractive.”

This isn’t about setting boundaries, and male privilege in stepping over them or respecting them.

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corn walker July 16, 2010 at 9:42 pm

@joshua – http://gfys.org/

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Erika July 16, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I’ve only read through of third of the comments, but I will make what seems to have been a missing point so far.

The problem with a list of sexy woman scientists is that it conflates the personal and professional personas of the women involved. It is okay to compliment a woman on her appearance in situations where she is presenting her personal persona. It is okay to complement her intelligence when she is presenting her professional persona. And there may be some situations, such as a cocktail party of professionals, where the personas may both be in play.

Nearly all of your pictures link to pages where the pictured women are presenting themselves as professions. By linking those pages but focusing on their physical beauty, you disrespecting the women’s desires to have themselves considered in that context as professionals.

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Brad July 16, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Luke,

Here is why it is sexist. (Most of this has been said already.) Sexism is related to lack of equality for women or prejudice against women but ultimately sexism consists of men having power over women. JS Allen is absolutely right on this. Given the culture we live in, your post is sexist because (as I said earlier) it fits into a pattern of misogyny in our culture. “Sheril doesn’t want to be called sexy … well tough shit, I’m a man and I can do what I want. Besides, I’m actually complementing her so she shouldn’t get her panties in a bunch.” You, of course, put it in nicer terms than I just did. And this isn’t just about Sheril. It’s sexist towards all women, not just those on the list. By making a list of sexy women you are reinforcing the idea that beautiful people (in this case, skinny, light-skinned women with good complexions) are better than ugly people. It’s a standard 95% of women can’t live up to through no fault of their own. The complaint is just that you are being sexist towards the women whose pictures you posted but that you are just reinforcing attitudes that are detrimental to all women. You are also showing that you have power over not only these women, but all women since you have the final say here about who is on the sexy (no matter what Sheril or the others think about being on your list).

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Mark July 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Yeah, and Luke’s defiant refusal to honor Sheril’s boundaries about being portrayed as a “sexy female scientist” has nothing to do with power and violence, since it didn’t offend @cornholio’s fucked up ethics.

I’m not sure that Sheril’s boundaries quite extend to Luke’s blog. And the argument that Luke’s post is sexist because it’s continuous with rape and patriarchy is sufficiently nebulous to strike me as more of a rationalization of your emotional reaction than anything else. (An emotional reaction I happen to share.)

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Erika July 16, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I would also like to express my pleasure at the fact that on a blog where, amongst the commenters at least, women have always seemed to be the minority, there are a number of articulate men defending women who do not want to have their professional image subjected to their physical appearance.

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corn walker July 16, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Sexism is related to lack of equality for women or prejudice against women but ultimately sexism consists of men having power over women.

Since we get to redefine terms here on the internet, I’d like to define the word “sex” to not include any of those things I may or may not have done with that woman.

In criminal law, there is a difference between murder and manslaughter. Both ultimately consist of one person doing the killing, and the other doing the dying. The difference is intent.

Both Luke and Sheril are bloggers. Luke’s power over Sheril is in drawing unwanted attention to her based on her appearance on his blog. Sheril’s power over Luke is that she can call him out on her blog. What determines who has the upper hand in this matchup? Readership of the respective blogs? Or does the mere fact that Luke is in possession of a penis and Sheril of a vagina (both assumptions I my part, I confess) mean that in any setting Luke is always the one in the position of power?

Sometimes with all this book learnin’ people see everything in terms of culture dynamics and fail to see the personal. “Men” in general are privileged in this society over “women” in general. That doesn’t necessarily extend to any one particular “man” and “woman” or interaction between the same.

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 10:11 pm

@cornholio – Did you just accidentally out you-self?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdN0jRdOWkA. (@3:11).

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Palaverer,

Ah, I see. When I said I was “pandering to me,” that was in the context of answering why there weren’t men on the list. I was using my definition of sexy. But that doesn’t make the act of calling a woman sexy narcissistic.

Seriously? Women do not benefit from being admired, but I do? The difference between women and pizza is that women benefit from compliments, they live autonomous lives, and they don’t exist just for me to eat them.

I’m still not seeing how saying someone is sexy is just to make me feel good. Don’t lots of insecure people remark about how sexy other people are and it only makes them feel worse? I’m just not seeing the connection between calling someone sexy and the speaker doing so for purely narcissistic reasons.

Also, it seems like you’ve endorsed the position that people should ask permission before offering their opinion of someone, or before offering a compliment, or something like that? Do I have that right?

Your principle about ‘if some people are offended and it’s just in fun’ would seem to deny the existence of huge swaths of literature and poetry and film and internet and, well, life. Should the Muslim cartoons not exist because some are offended? Should TV sitcoms not exist because some don’t like them? Etc.? Etc.? This is all very confusing to me… I’m sure I must be reading you wrong.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Ben,

Thanks for your direct answer to my question. You state that I should not compliment others in ways they don’t want to be complimented. This is a very interesting principle I’d like to explore. What is the rationale for this principle? Do you also think that we should not judge people in ways they don’t want to be judged?

Also, I suspect it’s false that most women don’t want to be complemented on their looks unless they specifically ask for it. Not asking for it is what makes a complement meaningful, usually.

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Hendy July 16, 2010 at 10:27 pm

@Luke:

I tried to put some kind of logic together but just failed. If I were to do so… it would simply be to establish that due to the influx of empirical evidence that calling women ‘sexy’ is a very divisive action, one should now ask for pictured-person-permission prior to doing so.

I still think a desirism analysis of this would be awesome, taking into acount the desires of:
- person pictured
- spectators directly affected (people here and those notified)
- general population (is this somehow promoting increased insecurity among women or increased objectification in men?)
- whoever else I’m missing

Anyway, I think it’d be pretty sweet to see the desire knobs in action on this one (does that sound sick?).

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm

corn walker,

Very well said.

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Erika July 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Luke, I think this statement is false: The difference between women and pizza is that women benefit from compliments

Or, at least, the implication that compliments are always beneficial is wrong. Many women have found, through experience, that compliments on their appearance when they are trying to present themselves professionally are harmful to or, at least, distracting from their professional reputation.

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Brad July 16, 2010 at 10:33 pm

“Also, I suspect it’s false that most women don’t want to be complemented on their looks unless they specifically ask for it. ”

I’m guessing most women love to be complemented on their looks by somebody they know well. But the question is do they want to be called sexy. By you. A man they don’t know. On his website. With pics (of course).

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Erika July 16, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Luke, you say: You state that I should not compliment others in ways they don’t want to be complimented. This is a very interesting principle I’d like to explore. What is the rationale for this principle? Do you also think that we should not judge people in ways they don’t want to be judged?

When it comes down to deciding whether or not it’s appropriate to complement or judge, you have to consider the reactions of your those you are complementing or judging. These are real people who you might deeply offend with your actions. You have to weigh the importance of expressing your view with the distress you’ll cause to others. Maybe you’ll decide it’s worth the offense you cause, and I’ll support your right to make the expression. However, you should not fall into the trap of thinking “I have the right to say this, therefore others should not be offended.”

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rcn2 July 16, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Barbi is sexy. So are all the other dolls my daughter buys. And the princess’s in the books she reads.

But in the exactly two (2) books featuring female scientists I’ve managed to find for her the female is definitely NOT sexy.

Princess’ are sexy, and raise babies, and get rescued by men. They have more fun.

Female scientists are not sexy, work all the time collecting samples, and never have any fun.

So, in short, my daughter needs more role models, both sexy and not sexy. Female scientists that assume that “scientist” and “sexy” cannot occur at the same time are not helping the next generation. They’re hurting it. Young girls want to BE girls, AND they want to be engineers, scientists, and bloggers. Sheril’s attitude seems to imply she should choose one over the other. Thanks, but no thanks.

(For the record, the only strong female character that has any appeal for young daughters appears to be Xena Warrior Princess. She’s a princess, and she kicks butt. The idea that sometimes you don’t have to wear pink has been very helpful. As has the kicking butt part. Thanks Xena for being both sexy, and intelligent, and strong.)

Cheers.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 10:43 pm

JS Allen,

First, let me say I don’t know the answer here. I’m tempted to run the desirist calculation, but I don’t think I can do that. Way too complicated.

Yup, I agree with 1-3.

I’m a bit confused by your paragraph beginning with “Given these 3…” You seem to be saying that we take extra moral concern about male-dominated gender interactions because we know a man is in a position of physical power over most women? (We might add that men are far more violent than women, etc.) Is that what you’re saying?

But then you compare the act of rape to a female’s verbal assessment of a male’s wealth. There is such a disparity between these cases I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make. Wouldn’t it be more useful to consider a comparison between a male calling a female sexy and a female calling a man wealthy? Those seem more on a par. In any case, I’m not sure what that paragraph means.

Your case of masturbating visibly near a woman is an interesting one, but let’s consider two events toward opposite ends of the spectrum: (1) masturbating in front of a woman in public, and (2) smiling at her and saying, “I like how you did your hair.” Now, are you going to say that calling a woman sexy in text from across vast lengths of internet cable is closer to (1) than to (2) in terms of acceptability? I find that hard to swallow. Now, I don’t consider such thought experiments to give us an answer, but I’m just trying to get a feel for where you’re coming from.

“What kind of compliment would you (just barely) refuse to give?” This is an interesting question. I would not, for example, call someone a “fantasy masturbatory female mathematician.” But I suspect because in the way English speakers use the language, such language has moved away from playful & fun and complimentary to odd and creepy. But I don’t think it’s odd and creepy to appreciate a woman for the way her body structure and skin tone and facial features appeal to my brain chemistry any more than it’s odd and creepy to appreciate a beautiful painting for the way it appeals to my brain chemistry. Or at least, that’s counterintuitive to me.

You end by talking about power and male privilege and all that. Is it seriously a “power play” to call a woman sexy? Am I exercising male privilege at that time? I don’t see how. It doesn’t require any power at all for me to call a woman sexy, and it certainly does not require any privilege unique to males. So I don’t follow what you’re saying, there.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Terry,

Fair enough. But can you clarify for me what you have in mind? Do you mean that before interacting with a woman, we should ask her how she wants to be treated, and then treat her that way? Is this equally true for interacting with men? If I want to be treated like a king, does this mean people should treat me like a king? Or are we merely to guess at how people want to be treated, and then if they correct us, we’re obliged to treat them as they’ve asked? Or do you have something else in mind?

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Are you serious, JS Allen? Calling someone sexy is an exercise in power and violence? Calling someone sexy doesn’t require either of those, and isn’t either of those. Unless you have some really unusual meanings for those words.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Erika,

Sorry, could you explain your perspective a bit more? Would it be just as objectionable if I listed ’15 sexy male philosophers’, then? Or ’10 best ping-pong-playing biochemists’? This would be conflating personal and professional personas in exactly the same way, as far as I can tell.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Brad,

You interpret me as representing a view something like this: “Sheril doesn’t want to be called sexy… well tough shit, I’m a man and I can do what I want.”

This is the part I’m not getting. Where does my being a man come into any of this? I never assumed or said anything of the sort. I blast my opinions on all kinds of topics – and say more controversial things than that some particular scientists are sexy – but it’s not ever because I’m a man. Where does that come into it? It’s because I’m human.

The second part of your most recent post says that my post was bad because it reinforces the idea that beautiful people are better than ugly people. Really? Where did you get that? Again, people are making stuff up and pretending I said it or intended it. I’m quite happy to admit that I prefer sexy to not-sexy, but that’s just one of a great many qualities held by people. I’ve never said anything remotely like “Beautiful people have more intrinsic value than ugly people” or “beauty is the most important quality a woman can have” or “beauty trumps all other qualities for me.” In fact, I think all those things are false. If you see something like those statements in my post then you are putting them there, not me.

You say I show I have power over these women? HOW????? I’ve never met any of them. I have no control over their choices at all. Are you saying I have power over them because I have the capacity to put their photos together on a list???? In that case, every 6-year-old in the West has power over ME. They can PhotoShop a pig’s nose on me and put it on a hundred websites. If I have power over these women, it is only in the same way that anybody on the internet has power, which means your use of the word power is useless and for rhetorical effect only.

As for “having the final say” on who is sexy, this seems like another rhetorical flash. I only “have the final say” on who is sexy in that I have the final say over my own opinion. Which is the exact same kind of “power” that everyone else has. So I’m not seeing your point…

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Erika,

Sure. You can change it to “…women can benefit from compliments…”

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noen July 16, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Luke just needs to get laid.

“Is it seriously a “power play” to call a woman sexy?”

You’re alone in an elevator, she is a total stranger, you move in real close and whisper “You sure are sexy”.

Then… be prepared to be maced.

You see, what you’re missing here is the social context or what Searle calls the background. That is, the vast suite of assumptions that we all have but that remain unspoken.

The background is why it is so hard to do natural language AI and why it is hard to come up with every possible rule for every possible social encounter. The list of rules and all their exceptions is potentially infinite. So you have to rely on body language to get your social cues from.

But there is no (or very little) social context and certainly no body language on the internet. Hence all these issues simply become more touchy for people.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Erika,

That’s so vague, it’s hard for me to see what to make of it. Do you think Danish cartoonists should humbly silence themselves?

And anyway, I don’t think of this in terms of “rights”, though I may have used that word somewhere in all these comments, I’m not sure. I don’t just do things because I have a ‘right’ to do them. That’s why I’m inquiring about what should people do when interacting with each other, whatever the case may be about their “rights.”

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:10 pm

rcn2,

That’s the kind of thing I had in mind when I made the list of sexy scientists. There are way, way too few women in science right now. Part of that is because of the power structures and the old boys’ league and so on. But part of it is because young girls don’t see science as “girly” enough for them. So it’s not an option for them, psychologically.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Hendy,

Can you point me to some of this evidence that calling women sexy is divisive? Besides this post? :)

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Erika July 16, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Would it be just as objectionable if I listed ‘15 sexy male philosophers’, then? Or ‘10 best ping-pong-playing biochemists’?

If you had good reason to believe that the philosophers or biochemists would be likely to consider that characterization contrary to their professional persona, then yes, it would be equally objectionable. I personally would find the first list to be equally objectionable. The second probably not. But that’s because ping-pong is a professionally appropriate activity and conversation topic (at least in my workplace) and most things related to sexiness are not.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Erika,

Huh. That’s very counter-intuitive to me. What’s so bad about discussion one aspect of some people’s life that is different from their career? Your worry about ‘conflating’ people’s personal and professional lives strikes me as arbitrary a prohibition as the mixing of two kinds of fabrics, prohibited in Torah. It’s hard for me to see the logic right now.

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Erika July 16, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Luke, of course it’s vague. We’re dealing with human emotions here. There are no hard and fast rules. But it should be pretty obvious that a lot of people think that your list was at best stupid and at worst proof of sexism (I lean more toward the camp that thinks it was stupid).

And given that, you need to consider whether or not what you did and the way you presented it was worth the insult that you caused to some of your readers and the fact that you are violating the explicitly stated desires of at least one of the people on your list.

So I ask you, do you think that stating your opinion about which female scientists are sexy is worth the consequence of having a bunch of your readers think you are a jerk?

Do you think Danish cartoonists should humbly silence themselves?

Actually, the post I posted above was actually adapted from an email thread about the appropriateness of participating in draw Muhammed day in the workplace. In that conversation, like this one, the sentiment had come up that because the intention was not to insult, people should not be insulted. And that, therefore, the fact that they were insulted could be ignored.

My point there and here is that if you deny the importance of the impact you are having on other people, then you are not performing the correct cost/benefit analysis in deciding to take your actions.

That in no way implies that the existence of the cost implies that you should not take an action. But it is something you should take into account.

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Brad July 16, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Luke,

I hope you can forgive me for bringing your gender into this. That was totally uncalled for. It obviously has nothing to do with the opinions you’ve been expressing. Up in the comments a ways you said you understand male privilege but the more you comment the more it shows that you don’t. It is very common (you’ve done it numerous times throughout your posts and comments) to refer to “female scientists” or “female doctors” or “female lawyers.” Rarely, do we talk about “male scientists” or “male doctors.” So I’m not surprised that you don’t get where you being a man comes into this. Guess what … you’re a man! You are a male blogger who gave his male opinion about the sexiness of some scientists.

I understand that you – a progressive male – don’t think beautiful women are better than ugly women. Only Neanderthals would think such a thing. And the purpose of highlighting 14 sexy scientists isn’t to say they are better than ugly people. I understand all that. I really do. It makes perfect sense. You were just complimenting them and it says absolutely nothing about the women who didn’t make this list. I can’t wait for list of ugly women!

Again, you show your ignorance of this subject by suggesting that 6 year olds have power over you in a similar way that men have power over women. It is stupid shit like that that causes me to call you ignorant. You can deny your own ignorance if you want (most ignorant people do).

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Erika July 16, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Luke, you say: What’s so bad about discussion one aspect of some people’s life that is different from their career?

Nothing is inherently bad about it. But if you know or have reason to believe that someone does not want that aspect of their personal life brought up in their personal life, then you shouldn’t bring it up without good reason.

And, as should be obvious by now even if it was not in the first place, many women do not want their sexiness to be conflated with their professional persona. While it is commendable for you to want to understand why this is the case, in the end, it should be enough that that is the case.

For example, to continue on the Torah theme, if I know a friend of mine is Jewish, it is rude of me to offer bacon, even though I know some Jews eat bacon and even though I think the prohibition against eating pork is silly. I have reason to believe that he would be offended by the offer, and there is no substantial benefit to me doing so.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Erika,

Just to be clear: I didn’t call your post “vague” to debunk it, but to request clarification.

Certainly, my list of sexy atheists and sexy scientists was trivial, especially compared to the heavy topics I usually discuss here. I’ve done many such posts. That’s fine if some people find these posts stupid. The philosophers and philosophy grad students who read my site probably do! But lots of people find them entertaining, too.

But I don’t think my list of sexy atheists was just stupid. I’ve come across lots of posts on the web asking ‘Why are atheists so ugly? Why do they always dress poorly?’ And so on. And so my list of sexy atheists was a fun, attention-grabbing way to remind such believers that maybe their anecdotal sampling of atheists is not representative, and not all atheists are unkempt!

There is a similar purpose behind my list of sexy atheists. I saw it as a fun, attention-grabbing way to remind people that women are scientists, too – and not just ‘frumpy’ women, either! Remember, however many times people call me sexist, I want the power and privilege and opportunities between men and women balanced out, and part of that means that we need more women in academic fields, including science! I suspect there are many young girls and young women out there who just never consider science as an option because “that’s a guy thing.” But a fun, seemingly trivial list like this can hopefully put in young women’s minds that science is open to them, and there are lots of women – even sexy ones! – doing important work in science.

I’m also keenly aware that the whole atheist/skeptical/humanist/naturalist movement is a massive cock-fest, and it needs more women. Science is great training for skepticism, and scientists are generally “model” skeptics. So I want to put out there the idea of women skeptics as much as possible.

Also, academic fields tend to be very self-organized and self-driven. These careers are often ones of influence and prestige. And I want men and women to see that women can live such lives, and do live such lives. They don’t all have to be homemakers and secretaries – though they certainly can if that’s what they want! Again, I think a list like my list of sexy female scientists communicates all that necessarily.

The list also communicates that I’m a guy, and I find certain women attractive, and hey – here’s a list of some of them.

What people are ‘offended’ by is all the things my list doesn’t entail. Stuff about how women are sex objects. That their beauty is more important than other traits. And so on. All that stuff is not in my post. It is put there by other people who… well, I don’t know the motivations. But it wasn’t me who said all those things with my list. It was other people who put that meaning in there.

I hope that helps you see some of where I’m coming from.

So is all the above worth having a bunch of my readers thinking I’m a jerk?

Yeah, maybe.

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that somebody will always think you’re a jerk, especially if you say what you really mean. Then again, that’s not a license to say anything I want just because people will be offended no matter what. And I’m aware that I’m probably under-sensitive to how others might take offense because I don’t experience it myself. I don’t “get” offense the same way I don’t “get” loneliness. Just not part of my experience. So such things are potential blind spots for me, which is why I wrote a post called “Am I Sexist?”

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Brad,

Yeah, I know about how our language is sexist, too. Which part about male privilege do you think I don’t understand? Did you think it was the fact that I’m a man and I give my male opinions about how sexy certain women are?

Also; watch the strawman. I did not say that six year olds have power over me like men have power over women. I said that six year olds on the internet have power over me like I have power over random women on the internet. YOU were the one who said it was a ‘power’ move to copy and paste pictures of women onto a page on the internet. Any 6 year old can do that. This is “power” somehow? That was my point.

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lukeprog July 16, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Erika,

Thanks for your reply. Your position is gradually becoming more clear to me, but I’m not quite there yet.

What action is appropriate, then, do you think? Should nobody make a list of attractive women, at least not without contacting each of them for permission first? Should nobody make a list of attractive men without contacting each of them for permission first? Should we check with people before listing them for their career achievements? How about listing them by their pasttimes? How about making a list of men with superb moustaches?

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 12:10 am

But a fun, seemingly trivial list like this can hopefully put in young women’s minds that science is open to them, and there are lots of women – even sexy ones! – doing important work in science.

I understand where you are coming from, but I think this particular way of accomplishing this is a failure. I think this is largely because women are not consciously thinking “I am not going to go into science because none of the scientists I see are sexy women.” Rather, what they see is a lack of people that they perceive as like themselves (e.g., smart, attractive, motivated) engaging in science. The difference is subtle, and it’s too late for me to explain it better, but I think it’s important.

I would go so far as to hazard the guess that some women who consider themselves attractive might be put off by a list like this. They see a list like this and think, “Wow, if I go into science, am I going to be singled out like this? I don’t really want random strangers talking about how sexy I am just because I am a minority in my field.” I don’t know how general this feeling is, but I know women who have left my field, computer science, because they got tired of being singled out, even if it was positive most of the time.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 12:40 am

What action is appropriate, then, do you think? Should nobody make a list of attractive women, at least not without contacting each of them for permission first? Should nobody make a list of attractive men without contacting each of them for permission first? Should we check with people before listing them for their career achievements? How about listing them by their pasttimes? How about making a list of men with superb moustaches?

You have to use your own judgement. But it’s certainly worth taking into account the point you are trying to make, whether or not you are accomplishing your goal, and what the people you are using to make your point would, to your best knowledge, think about being on the list.

And now I’m going to make a point that I’ve tried rewording several times, so bear with me and ask for clarifications.

I assume that you do not want to misrepresent people. You may phrase your representation in a way that the represented person finds insulting, but you would strive to represent them accurately.

Including someone on a list like this implicitly gives the impression, unintentionally on your part, I know, that the self image of the person on the list is properly represented. Putting a woman on a list of sexy female scientists implies, again implicitly and unintentionally, that she consider herself a sexy female scientist. However, this may be a misrepresentation of her self image. It may, in fact, conflict with her self image.

You may be thinking, “but it’s not a misrepresentation. These women are sexy and they are scientists.” However, many women see being labeled a sexy scientist as very different from being labeled sexy and, separately, being labeled a scientist.

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sparky July 17, 2010 at 12:57 am

lukeprog,

You claim that a reason for your post is that there are too few women in science. Are you claiming that a woman should aspire to a scientific career so that she might one day be included in a list of scientists whom you enjoy ogling?

The problem is that your post had nothing to do with science, it was about women you find attractive who happen to be scientists. Did you write anything that indicates you have any knowledge of or admiration for these women outside of their looks? I know you included links to their “achievement,” but I notice that one of those links (Serena Kamber) is to a short article that does little more than describe her as a “busty boffin.” And the one for Summer Williams includes the quote “I’d much prefer people speak of me as an engineer.” Not a sexy engineer, an engineer. The problem isn’t that you find these women sexy, it’s that you’re using their professions as an excuse for posting pictures of them for male approval, and then trying to take some sort of moral high ground because they happen to be scientists. If the purpose of collecting these photos was your personal enjoyment, you could have kept them to yourself. If it was to promote women in science, you could have emphasized their work and allowed your audience to make their own assessment of sexiness if they wished to do so. And if you think the top picture is going to encourage young women in a positive way, you should stop insisting that you’re progressive.

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Rick B July 17, 2010 at 1:05 am

Luke et al,

I’m re-entering the conversation late, and I’m glad to see that at least Luke seems to be trying to find an understanding of why myself and others are convinced The List is sexist.

I won’t be able to post until tomorrow afternoon, but I’d like to remind Luke of other times he’s changed his mind. I’d love to see his views on sexism and feminism added to that list.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 1:09 am

Erika,

Interesting. Being a skinny white guy in IT, I certainly have no experience in being ‘singled out’ like that. I wonder what ratios of women see my list of sexy scientists in what ways…

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 1:10 am

Erika,

Oofta. So when making a list I can’t just list people according to what they are – or what they are to me – I have to list them according to their own self-concept??? That’s a damn tall order!

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 1:13 am

sparky,

No. I don’t seek out sexy scientists to ogle. There is plenty to ogle without browsing the net for sexy scientists.

Uh, yeah. The post had nothing to do with science. That wasn’t its topic.

Sure, when I want to encourage women in science I could do a better job than putting up sexy photos. But remember, much of this was simply light fun, too. Like Abigail Smith (ERV) wrote above.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 1:17 am

Rick B,

I’m still working to chisel out some clear arguments from the discussion (from either side). But that’s hard, as it’s a messy and muddled topic.

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Silas July 17, 2010 at 3:17 am

This is one strange discussion. I really don’t see the problem. If Luke were to make a list of scientists and only included pictures of sexy women, I would consider that sexist. But he wrote a blog post about sexy scientists, and explicitly stated why he didn’t include male ones. I really don’t see the problem.

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Palaverer July 17, 2010 at 4:59 am

Luke said: “The difference between women and pizza is that women benefit from compliments.”

And here we go round in circles. I have already told you why women in general do not benefit from your “compliments.” Your unwillingness to accept that makes further argument pointless.

I’ve also stated clearly what rights you have and said that this has nothing to do with them. It’s about what actions are beneficial, rather than merely your right. The fact that you’re still bringing up rights shows that you have either ignored or misunderstood what I’ve been saying. Again, making further argument pointless.

“Also, I suspect it’s false that most women don’t want to be complemented on their looks unless they specifically ask for it.”

Again, you apparently know what women want better than women do which, as JSAllen said, is a textbook example of male privilege. I honestly did not expect this reaction; for you to dig in your heels and defend your right to be a jerk (not one person here has questioned your liberties), at the same time rationalizing why you are not being a jerk. I wouldn’t bother attempting to correct someone’s view if I thought that’s how they would behave. I had more respect for you than that.

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Tristan D.I Vick July 17, 2010 at 5:09 am

So if I showed a picture of a male peacock with his beautiful plumage and glorious tale, am I being sexist because I think he is more beautiful than the female hen who is… rather brownish and dull?

I think many of the critics are forgetting sexy is in the eye of the beholder.

Smarts on the other hand… they have a test for that.

:p

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Lukas July 17, 2010 at 5:35 am

“But I see no problem with judging them AS BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE for their beauty.”

The blog post wasn’t titled “beautiful people”.

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PP July 17, 2010 at 5:45 am

Getting annoyed that men notice women attractiveness first and foremost is like getting annoyed that women bleed once a month.

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Paul July 17, 2010 at 6:10 am

Luke, you should take a class to be a volunteer mediator, you’d be great. Your re-phrasing of your opponent’s (for lack of a better word) positions and thoughts is classic mediation technique, and is also morally strong. You must climb in the other’s shoes in order to state their views, if not walk the full mile. It is a subtle but real form of respect that peace-makers like mediators encourage opponents to do. I could go on and on about the implications of doing this, and they’re all positive.

I also note that, as far as I could tell by skimming the comments (forgive me if I missed you), no one else commenting has done the same.

Kudos.

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Silas July 17, 2010 at 6:12 am

This is a good example of cognitive biases, even among oh-so-rational atheists. Do you REALLY think that the positions you defend so valiantly here are supported on rational grounds?

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 6:38 am

Do you think Danish cartoonists should humbly silence themselves?

I’m willing to bite that bullet. I think deliberately going out of your way to insult someone is not the way to go, even if you think they are silly for becoming offended. Living in a society means that it is often sensible to humor people (or groups of people) on minor issues like ‘drawing Mohammad’. See the story of The Peyote-Popping Native and the Well-Disguised Atheist.

So even if you just treat feminists as an eccentric group of people with some frivolous demands (like “don’t post pictures of me in your blog while talking about how sexy I am”) it’s still probably a good idea to humor them.

But note that there are also specific feminist reasons for why you should refrain from doing the things being discussed. I haven’t addressed that part of the argument at all, I’m only arguing from a general “don’t deliberately offend other people if you can easily avoid it” standpoint.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 6:56 am

Palaverer,

In my replies to Erika, I clarified that I did indeed mean that women can benefit from compliments, not that women necessarily benefit from compliments. In those posts I also stated that I don’t really take it as a matter of rights, but a matter of what should be done – which of course is the question that closes my post.

Finally, my claim that most women want compliments for which permission is not first obtained has nothing whatsoever to do with my being male. Sheesh. People keep bringing my maleness into this. It’s male privilege to make factual claims??? No. Women can make factual claims as well. They can even – gasp! – make factual claims about men. When women make factual claims about men, do you reply, “Sure, yeah, you understand men better than men do, huh? A textbook example of female privilege.” That’s just bizarre.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 6:57 am

Lukas,

Remember, for me an I think for most people, there is lots of overlap between beauty and sexiness. But fine. You can replace “as beautiful people for their beauty” with “as sexy people for their sexiness.”

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 6:58 am

Thanks Paul. It’s taking a lot of work for me to understand exactly what the arguments are, here. I think there are some, but there’s a lot of smoke and noise and strawmen to get through first!

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 6:59 am

Silas,

Who are you asking?

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 7:02 am

Haukur,

Did you, then, interpret my list of sexy scientists as ‘going out of my way’ to offend women? Or scientists? Or sexy women?

Also, I don’t think feminists are an eccentric group of people with frivolous demands. Like I said in my post, feminism (meaning, the idea that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men) is just basic to me.

It’s all these extra assumptions in this thread that seem suspect to me. Some people here have said that it’s an exercise in male privilege to make factual claims involving the other gender, that it’s an exercise in male power to call women sexy or to post photos of them online, and so on. And I’m having a hard time finding support for such claims.

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Palaverer July 17, 2010 at 7:15 am

Luke said: “Finally, my claim that most women want compliments for which permission is not first obtained has nothing whatsoever to do with my being male. Sheesh. People keep bringing my maleness into this. It’s male privilege to make factual claims???”

That’s not a factual claim It’s your opinion. Stating your opinion about women as though it is fact (which, based on what you just said, you apparently believe your opinions are facts) is indeed male privilege.

There is no female privilege. The term sounds weird because it doesn’t exist. Women exist in a world where we are immersed in male culture. Our culture shelters men from experiencing a feminine perspective. So yes, it’s unfair but women are generally able to understand a male perspective more easily than the reverse.

Despite that unfairness, we still have the short end of the stick. You complaining about that double standard is like complaining that, as a white person, you can’t make jokes about minorities the way they can about you, even though you’re more likely to get hired for a job, or avoid trouble with biased law enforcement. It reminds me very much of this comic: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/images/concise.jpg

Yes, the rift needs to be mended; we should all work toward total equality. But that doesn’t happen by you deciding that women should be the ones to change.

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 7:15 am

Did you, then, interpret my list of sexy scientists as ‘going out of my way’ to offend women? Or scientists? Or sexy women?

I always cringe when you make a post like this, it’s so far outside the social norms I’m used to. But the part where I think you are being deliberately and gratuitously offensive is when you say:

Sheril Kirshenbaum, a sexy female scientist, gives a woman’s perspective

I admit, however, that it’s interesting to see a philosophically sophisticated and intelligent person defend things like this. That’s a rare sight. Your position as a completely independent agent enables you to be provocative in ways you could not be if you were, say, fighting for tenure within an academic institution.

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Silas July 17, 2010 at 7:25 am

Mainly “Sheril’s camp”. Some atheists are extremely critical of religious people’s beliefs and demand of them reason, thoughtfulness, and scientific evidence. But as soon as you post something that is personal to them, they become unreasonable themselves. That’s why you can’t find any good arguments.

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demiurge July 17, 2010 at 7:31 am

Palaverer
Our culture is a mix of male and female sensibilities, to label it as exclusively male is not accurate. It is likewise not true to say that there is no female privilege in our society. The overstating of the male position in society makes your points less effective than they might otherwise be by giving the reader a sense that you are arguing from an extreme position/perspective.

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 7:33 am

Also, I don’t think feminists are an eccentric group of people with frivolous demands.

All right – for ‘feminists’ substitute ‘people who disagree with Luke in this discussion’ – let’s call them *feminists for short. I’m just trying to make the case that you should humor the *feminists even if you think their concerns are unwarranted. This is mostly orthogonal to the main argument going on here and should not be confused with it.

Similarly, I think it is reasonable to humor (some) Muslims on little things like ‘drawing Mohammad’ – that doesn’t mean we need to humor (some) Muslims on ‘full enforcement of Sharia law’ or ‘honor killings’ or ‘FGM’.

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Silas July 17, 2010 at 7:33 am

“There is no female privilege. The term sounds weird because it doesn’t exist. Women exist in a world where we are immersed in male culture. Our culture shelters men from experiencing a feminine perspective. So yes, it’s unfair but women are generally able to understand a male perspective more easily than the reverse.” – Palaverer

Palaverer responds:

“That’s not a factual claim It’s your opinion. Stating your opinion about [men] as though it is fact (which, based on what you just said, you apparently believe your opinions are facts) is indeed [women] privilege.

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Silas July 17, 2010 at 7:35 am

Should be “[female] privilege”.

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Hendy July 17, 2010 at 7:37 am

@Luke:

Not really — that was my evidence! Perhaps we need a nationwide poll asking, ‘Would you like to be put on a blog post labeling you as ‘sexy’ which included your publicly posted academic site picture’ to confirm…

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 7:51 am

Palaverer,

‘Factual claim’ does not mean my claim is fact, merely that this is the type of claim it is. I didn’t say I was right, just that I was making a factual claim. I could be wrong about the factual claim.

But now, let’s pretend I actually did state my opinion about women as if it was fact. Again, what does that have to do with male privilege? Are women now allowed to state their opinions as facts? Perhaps what would help here is your definition of male privilege. Until then, I’m probably going to remain deeply confused by what you mean in using that term.

There is no female privilege? Interesting. I wonder what you mean by female privilege. Women, for example, are not generally forcibly drafted by the military like men are in many countries. Women have exclusive ownership of vaginas. And so on. I think the power balance is WAY fucking skewed in men’s favor, but I’m not sure what it means to say there is no female privilege.

Your comparison to a white person making jokes about minorities is interesting. So are you defending the double standard? Are you saying it’s okay for minorities to crack jokes about white people (in America, say), but not vice-versa? Remember, I benefit from biased job markets and law enforcement, but I don’t support them. I specifically combat them.

And where are you getting that I generally think women are the ones who need to change? I keep repeating that men have super unfair advantages. It’s mostly men who need to change, and the structures we’ve built up in our favor. Who is saying women are the ones who need to change. Sure, women need to change, but not nearly as much as men and their structures do.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 7:53 am

Haukur,

So for you, what was it about calling Sheril a sexy female scientist – in context of a list of sexy female scientists – that made you cringe?

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 7:55 am

Haukur,

(I’m just reading each post in order and responding in turn, or else I’ll get totally lost!)

Okay, so I should “humor” the *feminists by…. what? Not calling women sexy without first asking permission? What’s the answer to the question at the end of my post: “What should we do?”, in your view?

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 7:58 am

Hendy,

That’s one question. And another question I’m trying to clarify with my critics is: If it turns out that women don’t want to be labeled as sexy, does this mean we ought not label them as sexy? The answer isn’t clear to me. If I come out and say I don’t want to be labeled sexist, does that mean everyone here ought not label me sexist? If I say I don’t want to be labeled as ‘hardworking’ or ‘charitable’ or something, does that mean people ought not call me those things? There are many people here who are certainly saying that if women don’t want to be called sexy, we ought not call them sexy. But I’m still trying to figure out what the rationale for that is.

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 8:01 am

So for you, what was it about calling Sheril a sexy female scientist – in context of a list of sexy female scientists – that made you cringe?

Oh, I cringed at the whole list. The reason is that it violates social norms that I have internalized.

But persisting in calling Sheril “a sexy female scientist” even after reading and referring to her blog post on the matter was what I felt was gratuitously offensive.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 8:04 am

Haukur,

Right, so the problem is that I called Sheril a sexy female scientist in response to her post about how she doesn’t want to be known as a “woman in science” or, by implication, a “sexy female scientist”? Is that right?

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 8:23 am

Okay, so I should “humor” the *feminists by…. what?

At a bare minimum: Not posting a picture of a woman and calling her sexy after you know that the particular woman in question objects to that sort of thing.

Somwhat more ambitiously: Not posting pictures of women and calling them sexy without explicit permission – or some sort of clear implicit permission.

What’s the answer to the question at the end of my post: “What should we do?”, in your view?

That’s a very big question, I don’t really know. I’m reasonably happy with the state of affairs in my home country (Iceland). I think my daughter has a very good shot at becoming whoever she wants to be without bumping into patriarchical hurdles. I also think that the 6 month paternal leave I got to take care of her was an informative and somewhat life-changing experience.

I’m not sure how much more social engineering can realistically do on this front. I’m also probably more on the fence about certain aspects of biological essentialism than most *feminists posting here.

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 8:28 am

lukeprog: If you could give a succinct statement of your thoughts on all this, what would that look like?

Succinct? Tough without getting overly simplistic. A few attempts from different angles;

Treat people as individuals while not ignoring yourself.

Don’t be fawning or deferential to individuals just because they are members of some category. If they demand that treatment, ignore the demand.

Everyone’s a bigot. Acknowledge it in yourself and others, make adjustments, and don’t revel in it.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 8:31 am

Haukur,

Thanks for clarifying. How, then, would you respond to the followup question I left for Hendy?

If it turns out that women don’t want to be labeled as sexy, does this mean we ought not label them as sexy? The answer isn’t clear to me. If I come out and say I don’t want to be labeled sexist, does that mean everyone here ought not label me sexist? If I say I don’t want to be labeled as ‘hardworking’ or ‘charitable’ or something, does that mean people ought not call me those things? There are many people here who are certainly saying that if women don’t want to be called sexy, we ought not call them sexy. But I’m still trying to figure out what the rationale for that is.

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demiurge July 17, 2010 at 8:32 am

Frankly I’m tired of the looming matriarchy demanding conformity and obedience ;-)

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 8:47 am

Right, so the problem is that I called Sheril a sexy female scientist in response to her post about how she doesn’t want to be known as a “woman in science” or, by implication, a “sexy female scientist”? Is that right?

Yes. With the qualification that it is a problem, not necessarily the problem.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 8:47 am

Thanks Hermes!

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 8:49 am

demiurge,

Maybe you’re being sarcastic, but I don’t see a looming matriarchy anywhere…

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 8:57 am

Responding to the very first post by Josh:

Josh, did you just say that calling women sexy is like calling Obama a n*gger?

Is this seriously the criticism being directed toward the view presented in my original post?

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 8:59 am

Demiurge, I agree. I think that others disagree with you because they read into what you wrote an extra layer of aggression or flippant disregard that is not there. At the same time, they ignore or dismiss parts where you mention treating women like intellectual equals.

To draw that out a bit, based on the evidence that men and women as separate groups are distinguishable intellectually. This is supported by the evidence, but in specific narrow ways. It also doesn’t apply universally to members of each group.

Yet, words like physiology, psychology, and even hormones and chemistry tend to get little consideration in a rush to address actual social problems. Just as physical strength and athletic ability differ, there can be differences that should not be ignored on the general level. Yet, applying universally those general trends to specific groups of individuals should be done with great care as someone will loose unfairly in the process. Many existing laws level the playing field quite well, and even to the point that other adjustments should be made to support general groups not often seen as requiring support. (Ex: Male grade school students.)

Yet, we are individuals. Suppression of our individual characters doesn’t make them go away.

As individuals we should be largely unrestricted in our chances to achieve what we want to and are able to as individuals, and we should not grant more or less to other individuals because of their category.

Part of achievement is self expression, and part of that expression is sexual. Between adults, it would be good for folks to retain their sense of humour. If not…

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 9:01 am

Thanks for clarifying. How, then, would you respond to the followup question I left for Hendy?

I would respond by referring again to the parable of the Peyote-Popping Native. If you offer an argument in apparent good faith that we shouldn’t refer to you by a particular adjective and if that request doesn’t seem to be designed to stop legitimate criticism of you or achieve any other illegimate ends then, sure, I will try to humor you, even if I think your argument is mistaken. I will even attempt to humor you (on the same conditions) if you don’t offer an argument at all, just what appears to be a sincere request.

So if you say, “Please don’t refer to me as a ‘dude’, that word just really gets my goat”, I will shrug and try to remember not to refer to you by that word. If you say, “Please don’t refer to me as handsome. Okay?”, I will certainly comply. If you say, “Please don’t refer to me as hardworking or charitable”, I would think that was a weird and not necessarily benign request so I’m not sure if I would necessarily honor that. But if you offered some sort of sincere argument for why you don’t want those words applied to you then I probably would humor you. If you say, “Please don’t refer to me as sexist, the word bothers me”, I would laugh and still call you sexist if I thought you deserved it.

Getting along with other people in a society is all about context – it seems hard to isolate philosophically pure issues and principles to consider here.

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demiurge July 17, 2010 at 9:01 am

Luke
The current college enrollment is about 60% female and trending to to hit 2/3 females and 1/3 males in the not too distant future. I think it is quite possible to see females in the ascendancy in a 20-50 year timeline.

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tom c. July 17, 2010 at 9:11 am

I haven’t read through all the now 245 comments on this post, but I think it’s safe to say a question is being raised about gender ethics and your brand of atheism. I see someone has raised the question of what your desirist ethics would suggest about gender, discrimination, privilege, etc.

My two cents here: I’m a bit perplexed as I typically enjoy your CPBD podcasts — often sophisticated yet accessible discussions of critical study of Biblical texts, contemporary philosophy of religion and psychology of religion — but posts like the previous one make me consider unsubscribing from my RSS feed to your blog. It’s definitely the kind of thing that now gives me pause in recommending your blog to students.

I can accept that you did not intend to diminish these women in your post, but whatever your intentions, it seems reasonable to me that readers of your blog could see in the post participation in the ongoing objectification of women, a practice that can easily be used to marginalize or otherwise render female voices less legitimate in the academic/scientific sphere. I don’t think I’ll unsubscribe just yet; I’m going to keep watching to see how this plays out…

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 9:15 am

Haukur,

Excellent! I think I actually understand your view. That makes you first among my critics on this thread.

Now I know this is all very fuzzy, but what do you think about my original list of sexy atheists, which was written before I was made aware of Sheril’s wishes to not be labeled “a woman in science”?

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 9:17 am

demiurge,

Interesting. We’ll see!

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 9:19 am

Lukeprog: demiurge,

Maybe you’re being sarcastic, but I don’t see a looming matriarchy anywhere…

I read it as sarcasm, though there are some narrow instances of specific groups overreaching. Overall, I don’t think the feminists do but then again for the most part neither do the libertarians!

Getting back on the religion focus, not enough Christians object to and often support theocratic moves made by Christian organizations. Unlike physiological categories, Christians are responsible for the directions that these organizations move in. I hold them individually responsible for the actions of the groups they support.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 9:19 am

tom c.,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have little doubt that my views on philosophy and psychology of religion are more mature than my views on sexism! I, too, am curious to see how this plays out. It is rather plausible that I’m wrong, for several reasons. I’m just waiting for the arguments to be made clear. Unsurprisingly, it’s mostly been smears and strawmen and obscure non-arguments so far, but I think there are some arguments here that are slowly taking form for me as I ask questions of them.

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 9:27 am

Demiurge, on that note, like Title IX in the USA for sports, the reasonable step would be to give a boost to the academic training for young males. Like Title IX, there will be losers — in this case fewer young females will achieve what they would have academically — but the groups would be better supported. I don’t think that can be done with social changes only being addressed, though that is part of the issue.

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Josh July 17, 2010 at 9:33 am

Luke,

“Josh, did you just say that calling women sexy is like calling Obama a n*gger?

Is this seriously the criticism being directed toward the view presented in my original post? ”

Yes. Yes I did. I seriously think that this is the case. Nigger has been used to keep black people down for years, and similarly sexiness has been used to keep women down for years. Just because you think that sexiness has a positive connotation doesn’t mean that it in fact does (especially in the context of our society).

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JS Allen July 17, 2010 at 9:36 am

Are you serious, JS Allen? Calling someone sexy is an exercise in power and violence? Calling someone sexy doesn’t require either of those, and isn’t either of those. Unless you have some really unusual meanings for those words.

Yes, it is. Especially when she’s told you not to treat her like a sex object. I’m surprised you still don’t get it.

You’ve cited your mother as your source of knowledge about feminism. Why don’t you tell your mother about this specific case, and see what she thinks? The facts:

1) Sheril asked not to be singled out sexually.
2) You singled her sexually, in front of ~100k readers of your blog — to prove a point, even making jokes about “bleeding from the genitals”. You made it manifestly clear that you’ll single out her sexual attractiveness whether she likes it or not.

Do you really want to quote your mom in defense of shit like that?

You keep trying to compare this to someone complimenting Warren Buffet’s wealth. If 20% of guys were regularly being raped over their wealth, the analogy might work. 1 out of 6 American women is going to be raped because some guy thought she was “sexy” and didn’t respect her boundaries. That’s why people think a guy is a douchebag when he flagrantly disregards women’s boundaries about being treated as sex objects.

Saying, “I’m a nice guy who hasn’t raped anyone yet” is no defense. It seems that you still haven’t read the “Schrodinger’s Rapist” post. Here’s a quote:

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy — you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Fortunately, you’re a good guy. We’ve already established that. Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem, you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the women with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.

To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%.

When you assert your power privilege to override women’s boundaries about sexuality, you’re contributing to a climate that is cavalier about female personal safety. And you’re contributing to an environment where women are objectified in the workplace.

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 9:38 am

Luke, here’s an argument that may lead to discussions on desirism.

* Why should anyone refrain from acting to another individual as they wish?

More narrowly;

* Why should one individual refrain from speaking or writing of their own desires for another person?

* Does the context and content of presentation alone make all the difference?

I could say more, but I’ll leave it to others to gut and reshape any of the above if they feel the need to.

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 9:41 am

Much of this conversation seems to be coming from people steeped in the post-modernist analysis perspective. It’s a poison that’s hard to eradicate.

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Josh July 17, 2010 at 9:43 am

“When you assert your power privilege to override women’s boundaries about sexuality, you’re contributing to a climate that is cavalier about female personal safety. And you’re contributing to an environment where women are objectified in the workplace.”

I seriously don’t understand why this is so difficult for people to swallow.

Would it help if I said that it SHOULDN’T be a problem for you to call a woman sexy… but due to cultural baggage it DEFINITELY is?

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 9:47 am

Excellent! I think I actually understand your view. That makes you first among my critics on this thread.

I’m flattered! Or, at any rate, pleased.

Now I know this is all very fuzzy, but what do you think about my original list of sexy atheists, which was written before I was made aware of Sheril’s wishes to not be labeled “a woman in science”?

I can answer this at some length but unfortunately I’m short on time right now. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to you soon.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 9:53 am

Oofta. So when making a list I can’t just list people according to what they are – or what they are to me – I have to list them according to their own self-concept??? That’s a damn tall order!

Um yeah, respecting other people is hard.

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corn walker July 17, 2010 at 9:55 am

I have a friend who easily takes offense. Talking to that friend is somewhat comical as I try to avoid saying anything that might possibly be misconstrued by a brain that works incomprehensibly to my own. In the end we don’t talk about much because the conversation field is scattered with eggshells just waiting to be broken.

I’m a teetotaling, non-smoking vegetarian. If I took offense every time someone offered me a drink, or a smoke, or bacon I’d be right to be ridiculed. Some people assume I’m offended when they eat meat in front of me, others tell me I don’t know what I’m missing. I don’t have the time or energy or insecurity to be offended by the things other people say or do. Ultimately I, and I alone, am judge jury and executioner. If I find their friendship not worth putting up with their behavior, then I don’t need to be friends with them.

However sometimes being purposefully provocative is called for. Just as you have a right to take offense, I have a right to say your taking offense is ridiculous. Take the example of drawing Mohammed. I think it’s important to draw Mohammed – not to be intentionally offensive to Muslims, but to make a very strong point that it is not acceptable to kill someone because they’ve offended you. I doubt there would be much interest in drawing Mohammed if it weren’t for the threat of violence that accompanies some Muslim’s umbrage. I see little distinction between it and gang members who kill each other because of slights both perceived and real – it’s immature and thuggish and ought not to be tolerated.

The picture Erika paints is truly frightening for me. I wouldn’t want to live in a society where we’re each tiptoeing around trying desperately not to offend someone. If I offend you, and you tell me I’ve offended you, I’ll likely try to avoid offending you in the future. If I think your offense is unwarranted, I’ll try to bring you around to my point of view. Moreover, I expect of my friends that they will challenge me on it – not wilt away in a heap of insecurity with injured sensibilities. I see it as an opportunity for personal growth if friends call me out, and no one is growing if we’re busy tending to each other’s bruised sensibilities.

I don’t believe feelings are necessarily valid. Emotions are reactive. They are both instinctual and learned, and they’re not always right (although confirmation bias leads us to think they usually are). By insisting that others pay deference to our emotional responses, we’re not seeking shared understanding but instead behaving as emotional tyrants. You don’t have to believe what you think and you don’t have to trust what you feel.

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JS Allen July 17, 2010 at 9:56 am

@Josh – Virginie Despentes would argue that this sort of sexual repression of women is way worse than racism. Here’s just one quote from “King Kong Theory”

Angela Davis, describing the black American female slaves, writes, “She had discovered through work that her female potential was equivalent to that of the male.”

The weaker sex — that has always been a joke. You can be as patronizing as you like when you see black women shaking their ass with disturbing efficacy in 50 Cent videos; you can pity them for letting themselves be used and degraded as women. But they are the daughters of slaves, they have worked like men, been beaten like men. Davis adds, “But the women weren’t only whipped and mutilated, they were also raped.” Impregnated against their will and left to bring up the kids alone. And they survived. What women have endured is not only the history of men, but also their own specific oppression. Extraordinarily violent.
Hence this simple suggestion: you can all go get fucked, with your condescension toward us, with your ridiculous shows of group strength, of limited protection, and your manipulative whining about how hard it is to be a guy around emancipated women. What is really hard is actually to be a woman and to have to listen to your shit.

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Josh July 17, 2010 at 10:02 am

God, I just realized that in this argument I’m siding with people I normally disagree with. Politics makes strange bedfellows…

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tom c. July 17, 2010 at 10:11 am

Luke,
Thanks for your reply. Here’s an argument (along the lines of Rule-Utilitarianism). I’m sure there are unstated premises or assumptions within; whether it is persuasive depends, I suppose, on whether one is willing to join me with those assumptions.

- When possible, we should refrain from participating in social practices that we have good reason to believe are likely to harm others.

- The social practice of objectifying women conceives of women merely as the means to the ends of sexual gratification, not as ends in themselves.

- To treat someone merely as a means to one’s own ends is to ignore or downplay that person’s dignity and autonomy.

- Ignoring or downplaying the dignity or autonomy of women causes women harm.

- Ignoring or downplaying the autonomy of women (treating women merely as means) leads to the further harm of undermining the opportunities of women to achieve status within historically male-dominated professional fields (e.g. the humanities or the sciences).

- Therefore, we should refrain from the social practice of objectifying women.

There surely are other reasons to oppose the social practice of sexually objectifying women, but I find this line of thinking to be persuasive.

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JS Allen July 17, 2010 at 10:13 am

@Hermes – Yeah, all those crazy bitches who don’t want to be sexually objectified — if it’s not because of their bleeding genitals, it must be because of the toxic poison of postmodernism.

@cornholio – True. Despentes isn’t angry because she was gang-raped and forced into prostitution — it’s because she is trusting her “feelings” too much and doesn’t recognize the confirmation bias.

We should start a Wiki to collect all of the reasons why women can’t be trusted to set their own boundaries about being sexually objectified.

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corn walker July 17, 2010 at 10:23 am

@JS Allen

Why are you acting like a troll?

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 10:27 am

JS Allen: Yeah, all those crazy bitches who don’t want to be sexually objectified — if it’s not because of their bleeding genitals, it must be because of the toxic poison of postmodernism.

I use my own words because I know what I am saying and can back it up if I so choose. If you don’t like my words, don’t re-write them to fit your own distortions of reality. It only makes you look bad, not me.

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 10:30 am

Corn walker, sadly the behaviour you note is not a surprise to me.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 10:30 am

Corn walker, you find it terrifying to live in a world where you take the cultural and historical context of what you are saying into account when deciding whether our not making some statement is appropriate? I am not asking anyone to tiptoe around sensitive feelings. I am asking that people take it seriously when people make specific requests about how to treat the them and to not _ignore_ people’s feelings.

Someone above put it really well, but looking it up on my phone is hard.

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 10:39 am

Erika: Corn walker, you find it terrifying to live in a world where you take the cultural and historical context of what you are saying into account when deciding whether our not making some statement is appropriate?

Re: ‘cultural and historical context’ – This is a long topic, and maybe I missed it elsewhere, but I didn’t see where CW didn’t acknowledge that or explicitly rejected that.

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Thrasymachus July 17, 2010 at 10:40 am

@Lukeprog

To add my voice to the chorus of disapproval.

Sheril’s (or anyone else’s) attractiveness is just irrelevant to the quality of their ideas. The main reason, it seems, why we talk about how sexy she is or whatever is latent sexism. Her thoughts and words aren’t enough to recommend her, but she’s hawt so she’ll do.

Now, if we lived in a world where comments on the attractiveness of women intellectuals/thinkers/scientists/commentators was as rare as those for male ones, then we shouldn’t be worried about calling someone sexy – in the same way we shouldn’t be worried about racial epithets if they were usually used equally refer to any given racial group.

But it’s not like that. Women put up with vast amounts of shit like this: from being inappropriately propositioned for sexual relationships, for commentary on their physical appearance (positive and negative), and, worst of all, having attitudes formed about them solely due to how they look. It is outrageous and demeaning: it expresses contempt to simply ignore any morally relevant praiseworthy characteristics (intelligence, drive, moral fortitude) and only talk about someone’s face or tits. I’d far rather someone condemn me as a moron than praise me just because I’m handsome (and expect me to be flattered!) Why? Because at least the former is dealing with me as a thinking human being.

So given these things, it’s bad to behave in this manner. It is not only bad because of the negative consequences, but bad on it’s own merits, because it treats these people with contempt – as no more than bits of flesh to be praised on how well sculpted they are, as opposed to fellow humans that should be judged on their minds and character. I’m sure most people who decided they’d report on how hot they found a blogger without engaging with anything she had to say were being thoughtless instead of malicious. However, Luke, you are considerably less thoughtless and more reflective than the average, and so higher standards of moral decision making apply. You are simply totally wrong here.

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Rick M July 17, 2010 at 10:44 am

I do know what it’s like to be a man. Frankly, it’s pretty awesome. I’m a tall white male born in the USA in the late 20th century. I pulled nearly the best lottery card available in the history of Earth’s biosphere.

Here’s hoping that at some point in the future you will be able to stop congratulating yourself for being born. It’s off-putting and immature.

Also, I very much enjoy not bleeding from my genitals for several days each month.

What are you, twelve? Jesus, what an asinine comment.

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corn walker July 17, 2010 at 10:46 am

Erika,

No, I find it terrifying to live in a world in which I have to pre-authorize anything I might say about someone with that person. Perhaps I am mischaracterizing your position, in which case I apologize.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 10:56 am

Luke to answer your question of what you ought to do in situations like this: Keep making your lists but if someone presents you with reason to believe that someone one list might object to being on the list, remove them from the original post with a note as to why, and don’t try to to marginalize their opinions by writing a post on why they ought not want to be excluded from such a list.

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JS Allen July 17, 2010 at 10:56 am

@Hermes, @cornwalker – You’re right, sorry. I got in the habit of being a jerk to Hermes and I need to stop.

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 11:03 am

Luke, here’s another addition. Succinctness is quite time consuming.

Treat people as individuals while not ignoring yourself.

Don’t be fawning or deferential to individuals just because they are members of some category. If they demand that treatment, ignore the demand.

Everyone’s a bigot. Acknowledge it in yourself and others, make adjustments, and don’t revel in it.

I will not apologize for things I have not thought or said, and would not do.

I will not treat kindly someone who requires that I must actually be as they imagine.

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 11:05 am

JS Allen: @Hermes, @cornwalker – You’re right, sorry. I got in the habit of being a jerk to Hermes and I need to stop.

[tips hat]

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S. M. July 17, 2010 at 11:06 am

//@Hermes, @cornwalker – You’re right, sorry. I got in the habit of being a jerk to Hermes and I need to stop. //

Luke, for your reference, this is a really good example of the kind of response that’s appropriate and was appropriate in this case: when a woman says that she feels like she’s being objectified / disrespected by what you’re saying, just apologize and move on. That’s a very large portion of what we’re asking.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 11:07 am

I’ve read this whole thread, and I’m still confused on this issue. Probably because so many posts are just noise; many of the arguments presented against Luke extend the discussion to irreleant issues such as rape, harassment, stalking, etc. We can all agree, I hope, that coercion and violence are wrong, and they should be kept out of the discussion altogether (unless someone is willing to argue that calling a woman sexy is equivalent to raping her. If so, I’m all ears.)

Many have argued that the ultimate criterion of respect is what the person addressed thinks respect is. I don’t think this is a workable criterion. SUppose a muslim imam refuses to speak to you unless everytime you mention Mohammed you attach “peace be upon him”. Would that be reasonable? Suppose Christopher Hitchens refuses to debate me if I call him “Chris”. Is that reasonable? Suppose I refused to speak to you unless you addressed me as “my saviour and lord”. Would I be reasonable?

Some argue that the scientists referred to have publish their picture in a professional context, so nobody should refer to them except as scientists. I don’t think that’s a reasonable criterion either. If all those scientists want to be known for is their academic work, they have no reason to post their picture at all. What they look like is wholly irrelevant to their academic achievements. Academic work consists in words and formulae, not faces. I had no idea what Alan Turing looked like until a couple of months ago, when his picture was published in a newspaper article, yet I was familiar with his work and regarded him as one of the greatest geniuses ever. I did not need to see his picture to appreciate his academic work. So when people want to talk mind-to-mind to other people, I see no reason why they should publish their picture. In my opinion, publishing one’s picture derives from the need to be known “as a person” rather than “as a mind”. It reveals the need to communicate with other people on a more basic, biological level: “I want you to see me. I’m a person, with a face and a body. I’m not a disembodied mind walking down the corridors at MIT”. And I think that’s perfectly OK, but then those who publish their picture should not complain when their looks are focused upon. Their looks are part of their “person”.

Finally, I’ve seen no compelling argument to differentiate judgements based on looks and judgements based on intelligence. Say, for example, that I had a blog and posted a selection of “Clever Top Models”. Would they be right to complain because I’m referring to an aspect of them they don’t want to be known for?

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 11:10 am

No, I find it terrifying to live in a world in which I have to pre-authorize anything I might say about someone with that person. Perhaps I am mischaracterizing your position, in which case I apologize.

You are misrepresenting my position. My position is that you should take what you consider your best guess at their feelings to be into account.

Applying that to this particular case. Many women in STEM fields are insulted by having their appearance brought up in conjunction with their profession. Some of those women have had negative experiences where such connections have ruined their career or caused them to leave a subject they loved. Anyone who knows this should think twice about posting a list like this and probably include commentary that was a bit more subtle than

I previously posted 16 Sexy Atheists. Now it’s time for the scientists! Click each photo for details. Don’t forget to tell me who I’m missing!

(Why no men? Because I unavoidably find women more sexy, of course!)

Now, if you don’t have the background to know women might be insulted, then of course you cannot be expected to take it into account before posting such a list, but neither should you then ignore that background once you learn of it.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 11:21 am

piero you say, Academic work consists in words and formulae, not faces.

This is distinctly false. For those of us outside the field, the face of a scientist does not matter. However, from within a field, having your picture up is useful and expected. As someone pointed out a long time ago, academics meet interact with each other through digital communication. It is really useful to have your colleagues know what you look like for when you finally get into a situation where you meet in person (such as a conference).

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piero July 17, 2010 at 11:24 am

Erika:
I don’t find your argument persuasive. I could easily send my picture by mail to someone I expect to meet. There is no need to let 7 billion people see it.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 11:28 am

piero, have you ever been in academia? You don’t plan who you want to meet at a conference. You just see a bunch of people and go say hi to the ones your recognize. Networking is a vital part of succeeding in academia, and if you don’t post your picture, you will have a harder time networking.

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Revyloution July 17, 2010 at 11:29 am

Rick B, thanks! I love a new word.

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corn walker July 17, 2010 at 11:29 am

I remember reading the original list of Sexy Atheists and how Sue Lagunatic pouted because she didn’t make the list. Why is this relevant?

It’s obvious based both on some of the photos and on some of the comments that some women do like being appreciated for their beauty. (Before you head down that rabbit hole, I don’t think we can truly know whether said women appreciate it because they’ve adopted culturally prescribed attitudes or if they’ve done so out of authentic desire to be recognized for their physical appearance.) It’s also obvious, based on other comments, that some do not. And I suspect that some of the women on Luke’s list simply don’t care.

The error some people make, self-identifying feminists and others alike, it to prescribe a certain behavior or feeling for an entire class, in this case women. Based on the evidence thus far presents, the only conclusion I can draw is that there is a very high likelihood that Sheril is not one who would appreciate her inclusion on the list.

I don’t know if Luke was aware before he posted the list of Sexy Scientists that Sheril took offense at her inclusion. (Luke can clarify that point) I should rather say I suspect she might take offense to her inclusion here based on her previous writings – she certainly took offense to the sexist and boorish behavior of the ship’s captain in the quote Luke relayed. She also took offense to the unwanted sexual advance of a fellow scientist, although in that case the details provided don’t suggest to me sexist behavior on the part of the colleague.

If Luke did know of her objections beforehand but included her anyway, then we can say he was either inconsiderate of her desires or considered them, but decided not to heed them. To do so is not necessarily sexist – it could be but to determine that we would have to understand Luke’s attitudes about women in general and women scientists in particular. If we are to believe Luke’s assertions about his view of female equality, I would propose that the “sexist” label doesn’t really apply.

The label I might apply for the post would be “objectifying.” However objectification isn’t always and only bad. As one woman once told me, she absolutely wants to be objectified – as long as it’s on her terms. Like the “unwanted sexual advance” it’s somewhat difficult to know when objectification is desired or not until after the fact. And so I have a friend who was distressed when her husband, trying to be a good feminist, stopped complementing his wife on her appearance and instead only complemented her on her accomplishments. Another friend, aware of the dilemma, doesn’t take offense at the “first” unwanted sexual advance but does to the second.

What Luke does with the arguments gleamed from this discussion is up to him. It’s clear he has the right to keep such a list. The question I’m uncertain about is whether he has any moral obligation to remove someone from the list if they’ve raised an objection to their inclusion.

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S. M. July 17, 2010 at 11:32 am

//I don’t find your argument persuasive. I could easily send my picture by mail to someone I expect to meet. There is no need to let 7 billion people see it.//

It doesn’t *matter*. This isn’t about justifying exactly why people post pictures on the internet. The issue here is that posting your picture on the internet is not consent for people to publicly use that picture for explicitly sexual purposes. If you’re trying to argue that a woman posting her picture on the Internet is tantamount to her agreeing to be objectified, especially when she tells you that it’s upsetting her, then you’re arguing that it doesn’t matter how the woman thinks or feels and that “no” means “yes” if you, as a man, feel like using her in that way. Which is how rape happens.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 11:34 am

The question I’m uncertain about is whether he has any moral obligation to remove someone from the list if they’ve raised an objection to their inclusion.

Yes, yes he does have a moral obligation. This list was meant to be complimentary (whether or not that was a reasonable assumption, whatever). One of the members of the list can be reasonably believed to not be complimented. Therefore, the original intention failed, and leaving her on the list is a jerkish action.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 11:39 am

Erika:

Yes, I’ve been to academia. I am an academic. Usually, you wear name-tags at conferences, so that people can recognize you.

S.M:

Here we go again. Rape. How is saying that someone is sexy an “explicitly sexual” purpose? Do you think I had an erection and masturbated over the pictures Luke published? Do you think I will now try to find those women to rape them? Is it at all possible to keep a sense of proportion here? If someone tells you “You look sexy in that dress/suit/whatever”, would you consider the remark to be “explicitly sexual”? What kind of hell would you have us live in?

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rvkevin July 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

Luke, would this reflect your message?

“If you are trying to break a stereotype, you point out, hey, there are people that don’t conform to that stereotype. If you want to break the stereotype that females can’t be smart and sexy at the same time, this shows that you can. If you want to break the stereotype that scientists can’t be sexy, here is one version showing you can (and I encourage my fellow female bloggers to do the same). To let these stereotypes fly under the radar uncorrected is a greater disservice than raising the issue in an effort to correct it even if there is a risk that a few people will misinterpret it as further propagating those stereotypes.”

If so, I can only criticize you for your lack of clarity; if not here, then in the other post.

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corn walker July 17, 2010 at 11:46 am

Erika,

What is the basis for his moral obligation? This is, I think, the heart of the matter. Certainly I think there would be no disagreement that it would be the considerate thing to do. But, to take the contrapositive, is he being immoral in not removing her picture, and if so, under what moral precept?

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 11:58 am

piero, if you’re an academic, then I’m really surprised that you do not understand the importance of pictures to networking. Yes people have name tags, but you cannot read a name tag from across the room (or, most of us can’t).

corn walker, I’m not a moral theorist, so I don’t see your distinction. Under what moral theory is being inconsiderate for no good reason a moral action?

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Now I know this is all very fuzzy, but what do you think about my original list of sexy atheists, which was written before I was made aware of Sheril’s wishes to not be labeled “a woman in science”?

All right, here we go. My short answer was: That post made me cringe because it violates social mores that I have internalized. Now I’ll try to expand on that and I’ll break the problems down into two parts:

a) Your post was problematic because you posted pictures of people without permission in a context that would be likely to offend or irritate some percentage of them. Lots of people are touchy about how their pictures are used. Let’s say someone took my picture from here and reposted it in some weird (but at least prima facie complimentary) context. Let’s say, “Top 10 linguistics PhD candidates with awesome hats!” I would not be entirely comfortable with this and I know a lot of people who are more private than me about such things.

I think just this issue alone is enough to make the post problematic. But there’s clearly something more going on too. What if you had covered all your bases and got explicit permission from all the women (and from the people who took the pictures)? Would there still be a problem. Yes:

b) Lots of people dislike things like beauty contests. Lots of people get offended when the sexiness of women is emphasized to the expense or exclusion of their other attributes. This view is more prevalent with more educated, more liberal people, such as frequent the humanities departments of universities and other social circles I belong to. So, this view is quite salient to me and I have more or less internalized it.

Now, the people in question have a whole theory with a specific vocabulary (‘objectification’ and so on) to explain why things like this are bad. Personally, I’ve never quite been able to wrap my head around this problem. It seems like there’s a good argument there but it also seems like a hugely complex issue that I don’t understand nearly well enough to make definite statements.

Now, to some extent I’m willing to defer to the judgment of people who have thought more about this than I have. And to some extent I’m willing to defer to the judgment of women on issues like this since they have historically been (and to some extent still are) an oppressed group.

Now, plugging in my principle of not offending people without a good reason we can get an argument:

1) Observation: Posts like this offend a lot of people.
2) Observation: I don’t see any compelling reasons to make posts like this.
3) Principle: We shouldn’t offend people without a good reason.
4) Conclusion: We shouldn’t make posts like this.

Now, this does of course leave it open to you to argue that there are good reasons to make posts like this.

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S. M. July 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm

//How is saying that someone is sexy an “explicitly sexual” purpose?//

a) Look at the words you’re using

b) No one’s saying that you can’t do whatever you want inside your own head (there are things here that can easily become an issue, but that’s besides the point). The issue is going from there and then publicly posting, to a large readership, a list that exists for the purpose of ogling.

Actually, let me try an example. Last year at college, the frats and male sports teams created a list called the “Pre-Season Scouting Report” of female athletes from my class. This list was a ranking of women based on attractiveness, kept in a table with associated measurements (I’m sure I don’t have to explain what exactly they were). This is exactly the same thing, although to a lesser degree. It treats women as little more than slabs of meat to be used for male judgment.

If you honestly can say “I’ve seen no compelling argument to differentiate judgements based on looks and judgements based on intelligence,” please explain to me what’s different between judging a woman on her looks alone and judging a Christmas turkey. There is a *serious* difference between these forms of judgment — recognizing a woman’s humanity is a *really big one*.

And this is, above all, a questions of boundaries and how you should respect those boundaries *no matter what, no questions asked, period*. Will you, personally, go find these women and rape them? I really, really hope not. But the logic that allows you to say “well, she posted her picture on the internet, so I get to put it on my blog and show it to everyone in a context that treats her as an object, no matter how she feels about it” is exactly the same logic that lets a rapist say “oh, she was wearing a miniskirt and was grinding out on the dance floor, so clearly she was asking for sex, no matter how she feels about it”. Is it a one-to-one correlation? No. But by using that line of thought you’re making it easier for rape to happen and for people to blame the victim, because you’re normalizing the thought that makes it happens. *That* is rape culture.

If respecting women’s wishes and boundaries is a “hell”, I shudder to think of what the corresponding “heaven” looks like.

(And I’ll gladly recommend some books if you want to actually learn about this sort of stuff. Blog comments are awful for these sorts of discussions because it’s difficult to press someone hard on the things they’re saying. So please, talk to some feminists / allies somewhere other than here and have this same argument, I guarantee it’d be over a lot faster than this.)

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Lee A. P. July 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I’d hit it.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 12:16 pm

S.M. do please recommend some books.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 12:16 pm

corn walker,

Yeah, that’s where I’m coming from. For now, anyway.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 12:18 pm

tom c.,

That’s all fairly intuitive to me, but the part I’m missing is about objectifying women. Are you saying that making a list of sexy women is objectifying them as sex objects? Would this mean that making a list of female comedians objectifies them as comedians, ignoring everything else that they are and do? Would making a list of philosophers who happen to be good at tennis be objectifying them as tennis objects, ignoring the contributions they make to academia?

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 12:20 pm

JS Allen,

It’s not women in particular who can’t be trusted to set their own boundaries about how other people treat them. It’s people in general. Once again, you’re the one who is treating women with prejudice and difference and a double standard. Aren’t you? Or do you have a justification?

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Luke, are you really saying that you see no reason to so being a jerk unless someone can phrase it as a formal moral obligation? That is how I read that statement, and it only reinforces the downward trend in my respect for the person who is (was?) one of my favorite bloggers.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Thrasymachus,

Yes, and I explicitly said that Sheril’s attractiveness is irrelevant to the quality of her ideas. If I make a list of philosophers who play tennis, will you likewise be offended, because the quality of their tennis-playing says nothing about the quality of their ideas? I guess the difference is that philosophers have not been demeaned on the basis of their tennis playing abilities like women have due to their sexiness? Is that what you’re saying?

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Luke, everytime you compare sexiness with something like being a comedian or a philosopher our with mustaches, you are ignoring the fact that, whether or not it should be, physically appearance is special because if the cultural and historical associations between unequal treatment of women and the lack of control they have had over being able to choose their own sexual identity.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Erika:

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I am an academic, and I’ve seen no reason yet to post my picture on the net. Name tags have worked fine so far. Maybe I’m not ambitious enough. That would make me a non-standard male, I guess. Or even a non-standard female, if a was a woman?

S.M.:

//How is saying that someone is sexy an “explicitly sexual” purpose?//

a) Look at the words you’re using

I believe your argument relies on an equivocation on the meaning of “sexy”. You are establishing an equivalence between “I find that woman sexy” and “I would rape her if I could” which is wholly unwarranted. As you should know, words are defined by use, not etymology.

The issue is going from there and then publicly posting, to a large readership, a list that exists for the purpose of ogling.

Can you establish by reasoned argument that Luke’s purpose was to let his male readers “ogle”? Can you establish a reasoned distinction between “looking”, “admiring”, “watching”, “observing” and “ogling”?

It treats women as little more than slabs of meat to be used for male judgment.

I’ve seen no equivalent complaint when magazines publish a list of “World Sexiest Males”. Does that mean that female sexual desire is sublime, and male sexual desire despicable? Why? Why is regarding a person as a suitbale sex mate demeaning? Why is beauty “superficial” and intelligence “deep”? So far I’ve seen no convincing reason.

is exactly the same logic that lets a rapist say…

Bye bye. I see your brain has finally decided that life with you was intolerable.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm

piero,

That’s interesting. One potential principle of parity would be this: If you put your academic work online, don’t complain when people give their opinions of it. And if you put your appearance online, don’t complain when people give their opinions of it.

I put my appearance online. I’ve had some nice comments, and some other comments that said I looked gay. I didn’t reply by saying, “How dare you spout your personal evaluative opinion of my appearance?! My appearance has nothing to do with the quality of my ideas! I didn’t put my picture up so you can critique it! You should only offer your opinion of me in ways that I permit!”

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rvkevin July 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm

In that case, then having a list of African-American scientists would be just as objectionable. But would people object, or would they see it as progress?

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 12:33 pm

rvkevin,

I’m not sure what I think of that paragraph. The problem is that there are so many other issues at play here, too.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Luke:
Precisely.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Erika,

No, I understand that female beauty is different in many ways because of historical-cultural issues. But what I’m not clear on yet is how the inference works from this fact to the conclusion that we should not make lists of sexy women but it is okay to make lists of female comedians or philosophers with moustaches. It’s the inferential logic here I haven’t yet seen explained.

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Haukur July 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Suppose a muslim imam refuses to speak to you unless everytime you mention Mohammed you attach “peace be upon him”. Would that be reasonable?

Seems harmless and inoffensive – I would humor him on that. But if all Muslims started insisting on this at all times – even in conversations between infidels – it would become somewhat burdensome, I would try to counteract that. But as an individual eccentricity it would be harmless.

Suppose Christopher Hitchens refuses to debate me if I call him “Chris”. Is that reasonable?

Yes, it is generally acknowledged that people should have a large degree of control over how they are referred to. Insisting on ‘Christopher’ or ‘Mr. Hitchens’ would be within social conventions and not at all burdensome for you.

Suppose I refused to speak to you unless you addressed me as “my saviour and lord”. Would I be reasonable?

No, that would not be reasonable. I would not humor you on that. This is very different from PBUH.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Haukur:

If appeal to social conventions was an argument, feminism would have been doomed from the start.

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S. M. July 17, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Erika: As a Literature major, admittedly my experience with long-form feminist theory tends to fall on the more abstract / complicated theoretical side, more of the stuff I’m talking about on surface here comes more from reading short-form feminist theory (feminist blogs, talking to friends), but the underlying theories of performativity and gender construction are there. Thus:

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
Judith Butler, Excitable Speech
Parts of Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology
Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Vol. 1
Parts of Rita Felski, Beyond Feminist Aesthetics

And based on how people are arguing here, it’d be important for everyone here to read:

W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy”
Michel Foucualt, “What is an Author?”

piero:

a) Questions of etymology or no, it’s impossible to not notice that the word “sex” pops up every single time someone is described as sexy in English (and in French, it’s an adopted word, not sure about other languages).

b) Can you please explain to me why the Civil Rights Act was necessary? Or Title IX? Erika already answered every single accusation of “but what about the MENZ?” above, but think about it for a little bit and you’ll work it out for yourself.

c) If you’re going to respond to my posts, please actually respond to my posts instead of just posting words under quotes from what I said.

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S. M. July 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Oh, and as an addition to the entire above list of feminist theory recommendations, anything on the Caster Semenya kerfuffle would be important to look at, too.

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ConsiderAtheism July 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm

There is something about a beautiful(or sexy) women in power that is attractive to the average male. Perhaps this is because it may be something that we as a species are not use to seeing. In the past 50 years or so, that has obviously started to change. But females are generally much more feminine if you can believe it or not than males.

When a girl calls me handsome, or cute, whatever, I am actually generally appreciative. I generally see this as progress that you are so open to what you think is sexy, and what is not. I thought for a minute that you may take your other blog post down, but you are not one to back down easily it seems ;).

Though I personally believe that her sexyness is irrelevant to her ideas(none of which I have read), she may think that it could detract from her actual ideas. Just as calling her smart would detract from her beauty. I personally can’t see the correlation in either. But I may be mistaken…

To answer your question, you are not a sexist. You are simply a male expressing your emotions. If she doesn’t like the fact that you are able to do so, then she is guilty of the exact same thing.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I plan to do a mini-book in my ‘painless introduction’ series on Judith Butler, after all the usual names from Plato through Rorty/Nagel/McDowell/Derrida/etc.

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tom c. July 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Luke,
The argument I am making rests on understanding just what objectification is and thus what is morally wrong with it. Here is where I would be inclined to consult experts in gender ethics. To that end, after a moment of searching, I came across an article by Martha Nussbaum, “Objectification,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 24.4 (1995): 249+ (available via JSTOR). I didn’t have time to read it’s 40+ pages just now, but it seems her argument is that the moral problem of objectification depends, in part, on context.

The following remark gives a good sense of what it appears she argues for in the essay:

“My hunch, which I shall pursue, is that such confusions can arise because we have not clarified the concept of objectification to ourselves, and that once we do so we will find out that it is not only a slippery, but also a multiple, concept. Indeed, I shall argue that there are at least seven distinct ways of behaving introduced by the term, none of which implies any of the others, though there are many complex connections among them. Under some specifications, objectification, I shall argue, is always morally problematic. Under other specifications, objectification has features that may be either good or bad, depending upon the overall context. (Sunstein was certainly right to emphasize the importance of context, and I shall dwell on that issue.) Some features of objectification, furthermore, I shall argue, may in fact in some circumstances, as Sunstein suggests, be either necessary or even wonderful features of sexual life. Seeing this will require, among other things, seeing how the allegedly impossible combination between (a form of) objectification and “equality, respect, and consent” might after all be possible.” (251)

The stance it looks like Nussbaum is taking in the essay seems initially plausible, indeed helpful, to me. Were I to study Nussbaum’s article closely, I might be inclined to accept it. In any case, to make a list of people who in your judgment share a common property does not seem to me to be inherently objectifying; what is morally problematic is the making into a thing that which is not a thing but a person.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Thanks, tom. I’ve added it to my list of papers to download on my next trip to the university. It’s always hard to decide how many categories to split things in when dealing with something so complex as language, but I suspect Nussbaum’s article will be highly useful to my understanding of the issue.

But now, do you think that my list of sexy scientists turned the people on the list into objects? If so, is this somehow not true of a list of philosophers who happen to play tennis, such that I only show their skills at tennis and say nothing of their ideas or achievements?

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S. M. July 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Luke, a good rule for this: if the description you’re going to use to categorize women could adequately describe a blow-up doll, you’re turning the people on that list into objects.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 1:29 pm

S. M.:

Don’t take this personally, but I’m really more interested in talking to your brain, which at the moment appears to be wandering somewhere in limbo.

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JS Allen July 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm

@Luke, @pier

In general, I’m sympathetic to observations about double standards. But you can’t evaluate this situation independently of thousands of years of male violence against women. Violence against women is qualitatively different, which is why people are giving you such a hard time. It’s a huge issue, and it’s not right to trivialize it by drawing inappropriate parallels.

Now, neither of you condones rape, but you’re still missing the point. Considering that sexual violence and objectification are *the* issues for many women, women need to protect themselves by setting boundaries. Piero says that rape is wrong, but where, exactly does he think it’s appropriate for a woman to set boundaries? Is everything allowed, right up to the moment a man begins the act of rape? Surely that’s insane. It is necessary to set boundaries that prohibit things which may be innocent or legal, since it’s too late once the rape starts.

You both keep ignoring this question. Where, exactly, do you think women should set boundaries?

Women face a serious double standard here. When they get raped, they often are blamed for not preventing it, for putting themselves in the situation, for being too provocative, or whatever. But when they try to set boundaries, they are harassed by troglodytes who say things like “It’s not my fault that you didn’t take it as a compliment when I said your ass is sexy! Your a frigid witch who’ll never meet anyone!”

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm

But what I’m not clear on yet is how the inference works from this fact to the conclusion that we should not make lists of sexy women but it is okay to make lists of female comedians or philosophers with moustaches. It’s the inferential logic here I haven’t yet seen explained.

No, you’ve seen it explained. You just do not agree with the explanations other people are giving.

However, I’ll try and add yet another perspective. Many women consider the association of their profession with their physical appearance and sexuality as harmful to their career. This is because, for many women in the STEM fields, being seen as an attractive woman has been harmful to their careers. This is a pervasive issue.

I would be surprised if none of the women on your list of 10 had ever been in a situation where their attractiveness was used against them (e.g., a colleague saying “You only got promoted because of your boobs.”). Even if not these 10 women, enough women have had these sorts of experience that associating their physical appearance with their profession is seen as insulting and potentially harmful.

As far as I know, there is no similar pervasive harm that comes from associating someone’s image with their status as a philosopher or a wearer of mustaches.

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tom c. July 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I think the (ongoing) history of sexism and the oppression of women is a critically important contextual feature here. If there had been a history of oppression of tennis players or comedians, then such lists might take on the connotation of belittlement, but there is no such relevant history.

There’s more to it than this; we should also consider the role of desire (something that doesn’t really play the same role in the cases of tennis players or comedians) as well as the way that lists of marginalized groups can become empowering under certain conditions, but like Euthyphro, I don’t have the time today to continue exploring this matter. I’ll be reading the Nussbaum piece, and if I have more that is constructive to add at a later date, I will do so.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm

JS Allen,

Piero and I are not evaluating the situation independently of thousands of years of male violence against women. We are keenly aware of this history. We just haven’t heard what the inference is from these historical facts to the claim that we ought not make lists of sexy women.

Where do I think women should set boundaries? I’m not sure. That’s what I’m trying to find out. Or, more precisely, I’m trying to find out which of people’s boundaries I should feel obligated to respect. See the ‘corn walker’ quote in “Am I Sexist? (round 2)”.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm

JS:

Why exactly do women need to protect themselves from being told they are sexy? And please, once again, can you establish a logical link between telling a woman she is sexy and raping her? I’ve told countless women I find them sexy, and I’ve never raped any of them. I’ve never touched them. I’ve never even stood too close to them.

Of course anyone is entitled to be offended by references to their attractiveness. What we are discussing is whether the offence is logically justified.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Erika,

If I’ve seen the inference explained, it hasn’t been clear to me. Which is why I continue to ask for clarification. Maybe it’s clear to you, but that’s because you’re coming to the table with a long list of assumptions that I probably don’t share – at least not yet. That’s why you don’t need the inference clarified and I do.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm

And please, once again, can you establish a logical link between telling a woman she is sexy and raping her? I’ve told countless women I find them sexy, and I’ve never raped any of them. I’ve never touched them. I’ve never even stood too close to them.

The claim is not that if you tell a woman she is sexy, you are more likely to rape her. The claim is that, for some women, being told they are sexy (especially by a complete stranger, especially by a complete stranger who is posting her picture on a website with thousands of viewers), will make them more afraid of being raped.

Because it’s not clear to the her that you wouldn’t rape her. You might want to think that it’s obvious that you would never do such a thing, but to a woman, especially to a woman who has been raped or threatened before, caution is the only policy that makes them feel safe.

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JS Allen July 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm

@Erika – Exactly. I’ve seen too much of this in real life to sit back and passively theorize about it. Luke is pretty young and inexperienced, so maybe he hasn’t seen a woman’s beauty turned against her in the workplace, hasn’t seen people use compliments to intimidate female co-workers, etc. Reality is ugly.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Luke, do you really think that this is something that can simply be explained in a comment thread on a blog post?

Talk to a bunch a real women in STEM fields. Talk to women who were formerly in STEM fields. Talk to women who have been raped or sexually harassed because of their physical appearance. Talk to some women who have felt singled out just because they don’t wear the standard nerd uniform of a t-shirt and jeans. Talk to some woman who have been denied promotion or tenure or a position on a project they wanted because of their gender. Read some books about gender issues.

You’re not going to understand where women are coming from on a blog comment thread. That’s why the best I can tell you is to take other people’s objections seriously. Assume that if they don’t want to be treated some way, they have a good reason for wanting that. Assume people are being reasonable in their requests unless you have reason not to.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Erika and JS:
I’m not young and inexperienced as Luke may be (though I would question the “inexperienced” bit). I’m 53. I’ve seen harassment at the workplace, and it’s ugly indeed. But here we are considering a totally different situation:

1. Luke has no power whatsoever over those women.
2. Those who do could possibly be harassing them, but certainly not because Luke thinks they are sexy.
3. I’ve told my boss she is sexy. She could fire me if she wanted to. She hasn’t. Is she wrong?

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piero July 17, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Erika:

You’re not going to understand where women are coming from on a blog comment thread. That’s why the best I can tell you is to take other people’s objections seriously. Assume that if they don’t want to be treated some way, they have a good reason for wanting that. Assume people are being reasonable in their requests unless you have reason not to.

Sorry, that won’t do. By your reasoning, we should accept any weird request from any fringe group, including Muslims who would have us stone adulterers.

Any argument can be expressed in less that a thousand words, and that’s far less than the current word count on this thread. Either give a comprehensible, concise argument explaining why calling a woman sexy is wrong, or shut up. Don’t expect everybody else to read all the books you have read.

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Bradm July 17, 2010 at 2:28 pm

“Any argument can be expressed in less that a thousand words …”

I’d like to see an argument for that one…

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JS Allen July 17, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I’m trying to figure out which of people’s boundaries I should feel obligated to respect

It’s not a very big list. When it comes to sexualization of women; women get to set the boundaries. It’s that simple. I’ve tried to explain why, but the “why” isn’t all that relevant. You live in America and work in a prossional field, so you’ll face a lot of social pressure to conform to this reality.

In addition to reading up on feminism, you might want to read about some of the evolutionary bases of human relationships. I think I first encountered this in Dunbar, but have read in many other places as well. In humans, females make the breeding choice — we’re like peacocks in that respect, and not like gorillas. There are some interesting studies that have shown the level to which this extends – every stage of the relationship progresses only by female permission, even from the first contact. The cues are often very subtle, but men and women do the dance by instinct. Guys who can’t read the cues generally have poor breeding opportunities, and are “defective” from an evolutionary perspective.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 2:29 pm

piero, it is perfectly fine for women to like being called sexy. However, women should have full ability to define their sexuality and their boundaries. If that means they want to be called sexy, that’s fine. If that means that they don’t want to have people post their picture on a blog and call them sexy, that should also be fine.

I actually don’t have much issue with the original list, although I personally dislike such posts. What I have issue with is Luke’s insistence in leaving Sheril on the list after having it revealed that there is very good reason to believe she would not want to be on that list. This is disrespectful of the boundaries she has set for herself.

Furthermore, given the profound impact of sexually motivated negative reactions, one should exercise caution when taking actions that might trigger such actions.

If you knew that one of these women was a rape victim, would you still be okay with Luke leaving her picture up if he knew that? What if she was just the victim of an attempted rape? What if, as in Sheril’s case, she has “just” been unpleasantly propositioned?

Just for a moment, don’t look at this from your own perspective, look at it from the perspective of a woman who has been harassed or raped or denied promotion. Then consider whether or not it still seems like an acceptable way to behave.

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Erika July 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Sorry, that won’t do. By your reasoning, we should accept any weird request from any fringe group, including Muslims who would have us stone adulterers.

No, no that does not follow from my reasoning. Because, as I have said at least twice, and will now again, I have only claimed, over and over again, that you should take the feelings of the people you are potentially hurting into account before choosing to say what you say. You should treat them as individuals who, by default, deserve respect.

After that, you should evaluate whether or not the action you are taking is important enough to you to make it worth the insult you cause. If you decide that it is, then you can take the action. You don’t have to stay silent or tip toe around anyone. But I do expect that you to respect that people have the right to set boundaries even if those boundaries sometimes need to be violated.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Erika:

Sorry, your argument is still not convincing. Should I not call anyone a motherfucker on the off-chance his/her mother might just have died? Should I refrain from calling Luke a handsome guy on the off-chance he might have just had an unpleasant experience of homosexual stalking? Should you address me as “your Highness” because I say so?

Why should I look at things from the perspective of a woman who has just been harassed or raped? Why shouldn’t I look at things from the perspective of an albino dwarf with an IQ of 23? Or an Iranian paedophile? Or an underage Chinese masochist?

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JS Allen July 17, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Piero,

Trust me, I never would’ve excused *your* attitudes by youth. You’re more than old enough to know better. You’re 53 years old and you think it’s perfectly OK to sexually single out a woman who has explicitly asked you not to. You compare rape victims to “Iranian pedophiles”. We know the type. You’re “that guy”.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 2:47 pm

JS:

Thank you. Your argument makes a lot of sense. Now I see exactly why I was wrong all the time. Thank you again.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Erika:

Sorry, that won’t do. By your reasoning, we should accept any weird request from any fringe group, including Muslims who would have us stone adulterers.

No, no that does not follow from my reasoning. Because, as I have said at least twice, and will now again, I have only claimed, over and over again, that you should take the feelings of the people you are potentially hurting into account before choosing to say what you say. You should treat them as individuals who, by default, deserve respect.

Well, it does follow. If you said to an islamist that stoning adulterers is a barbaric practice, he/she would certainly be offended. Should you then refrain from calling stoning a barbaric practice? According to your reasoning, you should.

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Bradm July 17, 2010 at 2:57 pm

WTF? Now your comparing offending a rape victim to offending somebody who stones people to death. What is wrong with you?

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 3:08 pm

JS Allen,

Actually, I’ve seen women treated pretty badly in the workplace a lot. My first job was working at library system, so nearly all the employees were female. The director was male, and it was quite obvious he had no interest at all in the opinions or suggestions of his female ‘underlings’, but he paid attention to the few of us that were male. I’ve also worked with a male boss spent much of his time in the office just flirting with his female staff.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Bradm:

WTF? Now your comparing offending a rape victim to offending somebody who stones people to death. What is wrong with you?

Is philosophy too much for your stomach? I’m sorry. But thank you anyway for making my point for me. There is nothing wrong with me (as far as I can tell). It’s just that I find Erika’s criterion unacceptable, and you’ve illustrated my reasons quite nicely.

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Erika,

I’ll reply to that much as piero did: How is it that making a list of sexy women on the internet is analogous to rape or sexual harassment or sexist deprivileging of women?

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Terry July 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Luke, piero, and some others:

You seem incapable of nuance in a social context. You’re looking for empirical “if a then b” rules to govern yourselves by, and if any exception can be found the entire ruleset is invalidated. At least that’s how it’s coming across. This has become an academic exercise in hair splitting and arguing in circles. It frustrating and a little painful to see an otherwise smart person such as yourself, Luke, with such a huge blindspot when it comes to gender issues and human respect.

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piero July 17, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Terry, Erika, Bradmin and others:
It seems that the discussion will continue on a new thread:

Am I sexist (round 2)

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lukeprog July 17, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Terry,

Like I said before, I’m not expecting a valid deductive argument with well-defended premises. I know this is quite nuanced. I’m just hoping for some clarity.

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Haukur July 18, 2010 at 2:39 am

If appeal to social conventions was an argument, feminism would have been doomed from the start.

Not in the way I am appealing to social conventions. But if feminism had only relied on what was an ‘argument’ it would have been doomed from the start – it takes a lot more than arguments to build a movement for social change.

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lukeprog July 18, 2010 at 7:18 am

In case you missed it:

The discussion continues at round 2.

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Rocket Scientista July 18, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Since I never quite left a comment over here (and instead responded on Sheril’s post, and my blog), I figured I’d belatedly repeat my point. I think you did this in a bit of a sexist way. I can’t dare try to guess your intentions (though I suspect by your subsequent posts, over sexism wasn’t your goal), but I think you could have done it in a more “classy” way, for sure.

I think my biggest two problems with the post were a) the ridiculously posed scantily clad ladies sandwiching the pictures of actual scientists looking normal and b) the lack of permission gotten from the ladies. I try very hard to do my best to control where my name winds up on the internet (hence the pseudonym)– I have very few, if any, pictures of myself attached to my name, too. If someone used a picture of me without my permission, I’d probably get upset no matter the use.

That said, I think the idea behind making such a list is a-ok. It’s good for people to see that we atheists and scientists can be not-freakish looking.

Anyway, I think you’ve done a nice job trying to explain your mess and analyze it. As I’m not one of the women on your list, I can’t fathom how they feel, one way or the other. While I can get behind the idea of a sexy scientist collection, I just don’t agree with how you’ve implemented it.

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Nichole July 21, 2010 at 2:44 am

Luke,

Because you are often the farthest thing from ignorant in so many areas, I think folks are understandably shocked when you expose an area of ignorance regarding something most would consider to be so obvious.

In my eyes, your post simply shows your ignorance with regard to how many women interpret being called “sexy.” Sure, to some it is a compliment. To others, it may be considered insulting and demeaning, especially since many women struggle to make and keep reputations based on other skills, talents, achievements, etc..

So, now that you know the term “sexy” isn’t always considered a compliment by all women, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to consider that fact before publicly posting these types of posts. That will determine whether or not you can be considered “considerate” (a term most of us can agree carries a positive connotation).

:)

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lukeprog July 21, 2010 at 6:47 am

Thanks for your comment, Nichole.

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