Sexxay Inequality

Here's why that Business Insider article is a putrid festering load of bullcrap nobody needs or wants:

As I've previously blogged, Ruth Oldenziel (in Making Technology Masculine) told us how and why women who love technology require an explanation, but men who love technology are just being masculine.  She's the first! She's unusual! She's an exception! But she still makes cupcakes! Or looks hawt!

And as I blogged so many years ago the link will take forever to load from an ancient blogging platform, there's a difference when dudes go beefcake on a pinup calendar versus women scientists doing cheesy cheescake pinups to "encourage" young girls in science, however the hell that mechanism is supposed to work:

What's the difference between the Flame Calendar and the IT Screen Goddess calendar?  

  • Beefy lad with long hose = Very, very macho man = Very competent firefighter
  • Nekkid lady with rose petals = Male erection = Yeah baby, I'll give IT to you all night long

And that asymmetry, my children, is patriarchy in action.  And that's why posing for fancy whore calendars is not and will never be a positive step for women in science and engineering, at least until the revolution comes.

And that, in a nutshell, is it: Business Insider Sexy Scientists adds cache to any dude scientists on the list (wow, he's an awesome scientist! and also hawt!) while stripping away the women's integrity and worth, reducing them to sex objects (okay, let's look at these babes and see if they're really all that and would I want to hit that.) It doesn't matter if you make your Sexxay Hawt Scientists list a rainbow of diversity, and gender balanced. Sexifying scientists does not and cannot function equally for men and women.

Any enterprise that aims to cash in on tropes of female sexxay hawtness as a way of "promoting" science is doomed from the start. Men can be anything and also be sexxay as one of many attributes. Women are supposed to be sexxay objects, first and foremost as their entire being. Even when they are doing something else. Like science. Singling out a subset of women to be labeled Extra Hawt & Sciency Too! is hideously damaging, insulting, and - say it with me - puke-worthy.

How many times, for how many years, will I have to write this post? I know. Forever.

12 responses so far

  • Hermitage says:

    But, but, it's a COMPLIMENT, Zuska! Why do you want these poor science wimminz to not know they can and will be sexually objectified just as hard as Charlize Theron, WHY WOULD U DENY THAT TO THEM!?!

    I'm a little ragey today, sorry.

    • Zuska says:

      Why, because I am a hairy-legged feminazi!!! I just can't loosen up and enjoy the sex-positive thrill of objectification. *Sob*

  • DrugMonkey says:

    We need you to write these because you are the best at it!

  • Nikki says:

    Nothing to add. Just wanted to say I agree.

  • Andrea says:

    And this is why I love Zuska. Articulate, appropriate rage. Thank you.

  • woodinrivers says:

    It is fine to object to the list, I do, but I think there are two problems with your article.
    1) you set up a straw man, by using the very specific example of a fireman (in your quote) in a calender to argue against all such images. There are a couple of issues with this. Firstly you assume that only brawn is important for firemen, rather than bravery, training, intelligence, etc. Perpetuating an idea that fireman are stupid beefcakes. Secondly just because for one particular profession being well built is a potential benefit to the ability to do the job it does not follow that all men benefit from being well built to do their jobs well, and that therefore images of well built men associated with a profession are not negative to men in general. By the original reasoning there is nothing wrong with a sexy calender featuring female athletes as their body shape is beneficial to their profession.
    2) you do not make a convincing argument for how this list denigrates women to a greater extent than men. The statement "Men can be anything and also be sexxay as one of many attributes" is frankly baffling. This implies that men do not struggle with body image at all and that no damage is done by idealizing one particular idea of beauty.

    I'm not saying convincing arguments cannot be made in these directions, I'm just not seeing them above.

    All such lists are pointless and potentially damaging, whoever they feature because they reinforce stereotypes. I don't think science is a special case, as that risks saying that professions which are more physical are (more) acceptable territory for stereotyping sexist imagery.

    • arlenna says:

      woodinrivers, the straw man is not arbitrary, it's the model of the patriarchical problem. Zuska writes from viewing the meta-structure of that model in situations like this. An individual's reasonable adjusted interpretation doesn't change the overall meta-model as it exists as a very real and present social construct.

      A sexy athlete calendar would still be just as much of a problem because instead of strength, skill and dedication, again the women athletes would be reduced to "would I do her?" Just because bodies are involved in being an athlete (or another physical profession) doesn't mean that body use in that profession equates to body use in sex. That's how the meta-model applies either way.

    • Zuska says:

      First, woodinrivers, your homework: Go read You may not comment again until you have read that post.

      You do get points for: "straw man", "what about the men", "everyone suffers" and "there's nothing special about science". Congratulations! All in one comment!

      Next: if you had bothered to click on my link, you would have seen that my "straw man" fireman example was a real life example, from a calendar called the Flame calendar. At the time I wrote that earlier blog post, I was comparing it to something called the IT Screen Goddesses calendar. In this post, I was just citing my concluding remarks explaining how beefcake operates in a positive way for men while cheesecake is ALWAYS belittling for women. You missed the entire point. The calendar starts from a point with all those assumptions in place - that firemen are brave, intelligent, well-trained, etc. Society respects firemen as firemen. Adding a little beefcake shot is just adding a little something extra positive to their already positive image. "Such brave firemen - and so adorable, too!" The particular IT Screen Goddesses calendar image I described in that post was an IT professional posed on and covered with rose petals as the inappropriate teen fantasy of Kevin Spacey in "American Beauty". So, (a) ewww, (b) ewww, why would you market that image to young girls to encourage them in IT, and (c) ewww, if you're going to go cheesecake, pick an adult, not some creep's teen rape fantasy. There is no effing way that pic adds anything positive to the status of an IT professional. Or helps people viewing it focus on their professional qualifications. Even the beefcakey firemen had the sense to be posed with the tools of their trade.

      But there was another calendar where IT women wrapped themselves in ethernet cable and such in erotic poses similar to Playboy cover shots. That's no better. It's still a fancy whore pin-up calendar, and places the focus squarely on their bodies.

      If you were a long-time reader of this blog, you'd know I already did a post lambasting Sports Illustrated for a cover in which they posed a downhill skier to look as much like a fancy whore Playboy cover as they could get while she was still in her ski getup.

      The problem is that women are seen everywhere, all the time, as bodies first, no matter who they are and what they do. Efforts to keep dragging our attention back to the fact that women are sex objects! wowza! are always destructive, no matter the context. Hillary Clinton is an excellent Secretary of State - but what about her hairdo? We're at the Oscars to celebrate and praise excellence in acting - but let's sing about actresses' boobs! She does cutting edge research - ooh, and wears high heels!

      So when we say here are the 50 Sexiest Scientists - the next thought is naturally going to be let's see if the women really are bangable! Because women are supposed to be bangable! All the time! And if they're calling these women sexy, then they must be super-bangable! I'll be the judge of that! Because society says I can!

      Men are not understood in our society as sex objects, first and foremost. That's not to say they are never sexualized. But men, as a group, are not understood to be objects available at any time to satisfy the sexual desires of straight women. This part of my comment can be considered the only answer I will give to your "wah wah what about the men" and "everybody is hurt" natterings.

  • chall says:

    awww... if only I could write this well. Awesome and spot on. As usual. Somehow this seems even more important after the Oscar speeches/opening..... even though it has nothing to do with science but all with women and "bankable vs bangable" vs "competence" *sigh*

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