Sunday, July 18, 2010

Please note: Creating a “Photos of sexy women” post does not make one a skeevy sexist creep

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“Sexy female scientist”
Over-the-top, but such is the point

Note: (07/19/10 1:55 PM) – There are several instances, below, where I mistakenly conflated “public domain” with “publicly available” and the likes, so mea culpa on that one. I’ll leave the post as-is, though, if only because I’m disinclined to modify it at this time.

I predict I will once again be crowned a sexist or something (or worse, a “mansplainer” … *shudders* [1]) for making this sort of post, but I feel that it must be done. Once again, a mountain of outrage is being made out of a molehill – only in this case, as with others of the sort, there isn’t even the faintest molehill to begin with. Luke at Common Sense Atheism posted a list of 15 female scientists whom he personally (in his capacity as a heterosexual male) thinks are sexy, pasting a bunch of photos from public sources with proper identification. It’s a rather common practice, of course; humans tend to find other humans aesthetically pleasing, and therefore, some of us enjoy looking at pictures of physically attractive individuals of whichever gender we’re attracted to. Hard to imagine anything more mundane than that.

Now, who these ladies are and whether I personally find them attractive or not will not be noted here as it’s irrelevant to the point of this post. What the point is, is that as per usual, the forces of righteous indignation have fallen upon Luke in the form of cries of “sexism!” and “creepy!” and any number of similar catcalls. I came across this little affair through Pharyngula, where PZ Myers wrote up his complaints about the post, basically saying that women have the right to choose whether to be stared at for their physical appeal, and that Luke’s post basically eschews the ladies’ intellectual and scientific merits in favor of their biological appeal. I then spent a while reading through the comments under Luke’s post, and I just felt that I had to leave the following comment with an apt description of my reaction to the whole affair:

Reading some of these comments makes my brain herniate.

Looks like Luke is yet another of those creepy guys who posted photos of women whose physical beauty he appreciates, which obviously means he’s a total sexist pervert – or something. So, for the heck of it, let’s examine what he did, shall we?

What did Luke do?
Posted public domain photos of female scientists that he personally thinks are physically attractive in a post at his personal blog.

What did Luke not do?
In any way demean their intelligence or accomplishments, imply that they were sluts, mock them, single them out for being women, or anything else that could realistically count as objectifying or sexualizing them.

How does one manage to be insulted at being called (or having other women be called) pretty? There is a very clear line between objectification/sexualization, and just saying, “I think this lady/these ladies is/are sexy”. It is a compliment, nothing more and nothing less. If you cannot comprehend said distinction, then the problem lies with you, not Luke. And calling him or his post skeevy, creepy, pervy or any such thing is just fucking ridiculous. Saying that the aforementioned women are pretty does not in any way deride their intelligence, accomplishments, or any other form of worth as human beings.

Sheesh, how some can be so easily offended over nothing at all. Don’t look for sexism where none exists. If saying that someone is physically pleasing is somehow skeevy/pervy/whatever, then every commenter here is a skeevy perv, because every human does it, whether by mentioning someone in a crowd, buying a drink for a pretty person in a bar, or compiling a short, tepid list on a personal blog. It’s the same principle, just a different setting.

Oy vey.

I probably came across as a bit combative in that comment, but in my defense, I was (and still am) rather exasperated at the sort of hyperbolic reaction that only a few sexy photos had incurred. The above is pretty much all that I have to say on the matter, though in retrospect, there is something I should’ve added with regards to PZ’s complaint about how these women ought to be allowed to choose whether to be stared at or not. I think such a point is rendered utterly moot by the very fact that these photos are public domain – ie. that they can be seen by anyone and used in any way, by their very nature as public domain content. It’s a lesson in what I like to call “Welcome to the Internet”: When you post content online, be it text or photos or music or whatever, then you pretty much lose any right you have to stopping it from being seen and shared around. Is this a particularly fair thing? No, it is not. But it is how it is. Thinking that you should be able to post photos of yourself online, from panty shots to mere nondescript facial portraits, and not have anyone else share them when they’re readily available, is, at best, highly naive (and asinine at worst). In the end, the hard lesson is: Don’t want your pics to be shared publicly? Keep them to yourself and don’t post them online. Period.

Now, it may sound like I’m saying the equivalent of “Well, so what if they don’t wanna be ogled at? It’s their damn fault!”, but such is not my intention. It’s the same as saying that “playing with fire will get you burned” is not harassment towards burn victims. It’s just common sense, nothing more. If you post your photos online, then if you are in any way an intelligent person, it indicates you fully understand and accept the fact that they will be shared around and stared at, and that you’re okay with it. It’s how the system works, and I’m sorry to say, but you don’t get to make special demands of it. Deal with it.

In conclusion, in an appropriate counterpoint to the over-the-top “sexy female scientist” photo at the top of the post, here you go:

Beefcake abs
[source: Ventura County Reporter]
Beefcake firefighter
Beefcake ass
[source: Open Salon]
Ooh, sexay

The human body is a beautiful thing, people. Stop getting your knickers in a twist just because people have the gall to acknowledge their pleasure at reveling in others’ physical prettiness. Get yourself a cheerleader or beefcake calendar and ogle all you want. Or, if you were born after the 80s, use the Internet.

[1] I decree that anyone caught using “mansplain”, or any variation thereof, should be condemned to walk in shame for the rest of their lives for violating the English language with such a stupid, genderally prejudiced and wholly superfluous term.