Feminism, skepticism and boobies

What, being hawt whilst also brainy? Can't have that!

I was honestly expecting a big ol’ shitstorm over this post, wherein I defended the Boobie Wednesday Twitter campaign despite, I thought, the obvious feminist objections against showing breasts (whether male or female) to raise awareness about cancer. I believed people would crawl out of the woodwork to shout me down over considering acceptable the objectification of women, the “sexification” of breast cancer, and that I was going to be accused of merely wanting to save “my playthings” rather than people’s lives. You see, because I’m a guy — a heteronormative guy, at that — and boobies are therefore obviously far more important to me than the brains situated a foot and a half above them.

I was surprised that no such outrage happened. And I have to suspect that it’s because it merely wasn’t widely read enough, considering the sudden and strange attack on Skepchick over at Greg Laden’s blog.

Skeptifem, whom I’ve seen in the past making pointed comments on such topics, evidently takes exception with Skepchick‘s focus on promoting skepticism whilst being unabashedly sexual creatures — talking about sex in public (and in mixed company, at that!), promoting their site and collecting funds by selling pin-up calendars of themselves, and generally not avoiding or acting ashamed of their own sexuality.

This is exactly what I cannot stand about skepchick, the bs with the calendar and all the other nonsense about how good it is for women to know they can be smart and sexy. women “defying the culture dichotomy”, etc. Its crap. I can cram myself into whatever contraption culture says will make me desirable too, but it sure as hell doesn’t empowerfulize anyone and its dishonest to act like it does.

I understand her concerns, honestly. But what’s so amazing about Skepchick is that they are sexy because they believe themselves to be sexy — because, you see, sexy is almost entirely attitude. They are in some cases vastly divergent from society’s Barbie-doll image of perfection, and yet every bloody one of them is brainy and confident on those occasions that they decide to also strut their stuff. They are not mere “pieces of meat” to be eyed up. And even where they decide to act as pieces of meat by putting on something sexy and posting pictures — as I have in posting moob photos in support of Boobie Wednesday — the “mere” part never enters into it. It’s pretty difficult to objectify a woman as absolutely nothing more than a warm place to put your dick, when you know that woman can also think you under the table. And not because they are especially well-trained, learned, or “elite” in any way — just because they can employ skepticism with the best of them as a way to sort out bullshit from reality.

And what’s more, Skepchick isn’t exactly heteronormative as a rule — even as a general one. Rebecca Watson was pretty explicit on this point:

Heteronormative, for example, is not a word I would use to describe Skepchick, particularly as we frequently blast the pink=girls and related BS, and we have bisexual, gay, and trans contributors (and many commenters).

This whole fight bothers me for a number of reasons. Not the least reason being my own personal issues about sexuality stemming from some traumatic events in my past, which Stephanie Zvan rightly suggested in private might be a big source of my general gunshyness on the topic of feminism and egalitarianism.

That gunshyness is leading to a lack of words to describe how utterly appalled I am at these rather insulting accusations and implications about Skepchick and its audience, myself included. CyberLizard said it way better than I probably could at this point, at least until such time that I get over my own issues:

[P]erhaps my definition of feminism isn’t correct, but to me it means being all of who you are, vagina and uterus included, and not mindlessly accepting some pre-packaged gender role. The women who write for Skepchick are genuinely themselves. If part of themselves is being sexy, or enjoying sex or taking pleasure in looking at naked bodies, then they shouldn’t have to hide that to please you and your pigeonholing of feminist activities. You ask “Who is casting a skeptical eye on contemporary female desirability?” and “…where are the skepchicks who could not possibly care less about being sexy for strangers?” The answer to those questions is the very group of amazing women that you’re denigrating. I may be wrong, but they seem to me to be women who believe that they don’t have to “be sexy” for anyone; that they “are” sexy and that part of that sex appeal is their skeptical and rational natures. And also that being sexy doesn’t disqualify them from embracing and celebrating their femaleness.

That’s exactly it. They’re doing it for themselves, because they’re not ashamed to have fun and be sexy if it suits them. And if it doesn’t suit them, they won’t. So, what of it?

Jodi and I are going to meet them soon, if all goes according to plan. We’re going to CONvergence, like I said, come hell or high water. And if the Skepchicks — all of whom we read regularly and some of whom were even involved in our engagement — are somehow changed from the people we know right now by Skeptifem’s complaints that they are being “too sexy”, it will be our loss, because Jodi and I both look up to them. Not only for their wicked writings, but for their awesome, self-actualized attitudes.

Don’t change, ladies. Stay classy, stay skeptical, and stay ToTallY HAWT!!!1

zomg bewbz

Feminism, skepticism and boobies

26 thoughts on “Feminism, skepticism and boobies

  1. 3

    I applaud the attitude that says that there’s nothing wrong with (and in fact celebrates) females (or males) being sexy (as long as they are past puberty). I applaud the attitude that says that there is no conflict between attractive and sexy and highly socially competent females also being clever and/or smart and/or brilliant and/or superb at critical thinking. And yet, and yet: Having grown up in the 1960s and 1970s as a socially inept smart kid and secular Jewish deist skeptic, I became a Christian in my teens because the evangelical Christians were nice to me when no one else was (I recovered, eventually).

    So by all means, here’s to the SkepChicks staying “classy, skeptical, [and] ToTallY HAWT!!!1”, as long as there’s still room for us geeky awkward engineer chicks too.

  2. 4

    Theo: it’s not just that there’s room for geeky awkward engineer chicks. It’s that “geeky and awkward” make up the core of Skepchick’s constituency. There’s not only room for you, you’re exactly the type of person we’re talking about — just by being willing to talk about this stuff, promoting skepticism, while burdened with that obvious handicap of being a Vagina-American.

    One of the Skepchicks, bug_girl, describes herself as “I’m a little zaftig woman who is entering menopause.” Elyse says “I’m plus-sized. Size 18 on a slim day. I’m in my 30’s and a suburban mom.” These women are the ones being attractive and sexy while simultaneously being classy and skeptical and promoting rational thinking.

    I understand where you’re coming from though. I’ve been in outgroups of one type or another all my life. You appear to have grown up in an outgroup of an outgroup, which has to be doubly hard.

    Slight edit: I grew up a white heterosexual male Catholic in a primarily Catholic area, so I’m not the kind of outgroup you’re talking about. Being pretty sure there’s no God, though, when 95% of everyone in the area is religious, is pretty tough. So is being the picked-on nerdy boy through school. And being absurdly skinny most of my life.

  3. Jen

    This whole drama had been getting me down a bit, so, from a Skepchick, thanks for this. 🙂

    Theo – “socially inept” doesn’t even begin to describe how I grew up. Believe me, I feel more comfortable around geeky engineer chicks than anyone else in the world. 🙂

  4. 9

    Oh, I never bother with skeptifem – she is demonstrably not a good skeptic and, like creationists, seems to howl about being persecuted given any little difference between her ‘right’ opinion and the opinions of anyone else.

  5. 10

    I am rather tired of this whole puritanical feminist bullshit. What exactly does it matter what the motivation is, when the results of puritanical feminism are exactly the same as puritanical patriarchy? Does it really mean jack shit when the person telling women what they can do with their bodies and how “proper” women should act, happens to be another women?

    Vagina-Canadian, please

    No – That would be Vagina-Canuckistanian!!! I thought it might be appropriate to drop the “fucking” in this instance…Fucking Canuckistanians!!!!

  6. 11


    I am rather tired of this whole puritanical feminist bullshit.

    Preach it brotha!!

    MadScientist: Good to know I wasn’t the only one questioning her skeptical credentials.

  7. 13

    DC: an excellent illustration of what can happen if you don’t catch breast cancer early enough. It’s not about saving playthings. It’s totally about saving lives.

    There’s a nude gallery of a woman who had two mastectomies and even in the ones where both breasts are removed, I see a vital, feminine woman, a survivor that fought for her life and is celebrating that fact. It’s not about her breasts, nor about her “attractiveness”. It’s about her tenacity and warrior spirit. It’s about her life being worth saving.

  8. 14

    This reminds me of my take on what is called “gay pride”. As a straight man I have gay pride.

    To me, having an immutable feature is nothing to be proud about. To me, pride only comes from a personal accomplishment. The accomplishment of “gay pride” is listening to your own sexuality and following it, not following the sexuality that has been dictated to you by anyone else.

  9. 15

    I think I am agreeing with daedalus when I say that “gay pride” is supposed to be the antithesis of “gay shame” – not that gay people are proud of the fact that they are gay (any more than straight people should be proud of not being gay), but are proud of the fact that they are open about and comfortable with their sexuality.

  10. 16

    My objection to displays of sexuality like the Skeptichicks’ is not a prudish one; rather, it’s that I don’t understand why sexuality or gender should be an issue at all in a sphere where the goal is to discuss science and skepticism. Women come in, and suddenly everything is about sex — how hot they are, how pretty, how sexy, how empowered. Our society has a too-uptight attitude to sexual discussion, but that is not cause to make it the focus of everything, because it is simply not relevant to everything. I would have the same reaction to a sudden invasion of posts about Pokemon, cooking and gardening or eighties music in any discussion area meant for science and skepticism.

    I notice that male scientists and skeptics can be comfortable with and empowered by their sexuality without pasting naked pictures of themselves everywhere, and on the rare occasion something like that happens, it’s clearly farcical and not actually meant to arouse or titillate. Overjoyed though I would be to see shirtless pics of say, Jonah Lehrer, it’s not the reason I read his blog because his blog is about his subject matter — not his body. I would expect the same level of professionalism from female scientists, but it doesn’t happen: every woman scientist’s blog winds up being about shopping, clothes, her sexuality or other “feminine” subjects instead of science. I think the real problem here is that a large subset of the population doesn’t understand what readers want from a science blog… or perhaps that a large subset of readers of science blogs are only peripherally looking for science-related material.

  11. 17

    My objection to displays of sexuality like the Skeptichicks’

    And which displays of sexuality might those be? Kindly point one out.

    I notice that male scientists and skeptics can be comfortable with and empowered by their sexuality without pasting naked pictures of themselves everywhere, and on the rare occasion something like that happens, it’s clearly farcical and not actually meant to arouse or titillate.

    What do you see as the difference between the Skepchicks calendar and the Skepdudes calendar, both promoted and sold at the same site and in approximately equal numbers? Does the former titillate while the latter is pure farce?

    I think the real problem here is that a large subset of the population doesn’t understand what readers want from a science blog… or perhaps that a large subset of readers of science blogs are only peripherally looking for science-related material.

    I think you’re confusing what started this whole thing — an attack on the Skepchicks’ comfort with sexuality — with some imaginary blog about sex that happens to also contain some skepticism. Have you ever read Skepchick? You might like it. It’s right here. Do give it a read before you grossly mischaracterize the argument.

  12. 21

    It is comments like this that tempt me to post nudes of myself – there are a great many.

    My comfort level with my sexuality is not what prevents me from posting sexy pictures of myself, it is mostly laziness and the fact that most of the pictures I have of myself either show me with my children or show my showing everything. I won’t post the former, because I have managed to raise the ire of animal rights loons and have received threats – mostly veiled – from them. I won’t post the latter, because I honestly don’t think people who read my blog have much interest in seeing my junk.

    Hmmm…I really wonder what might happen, were someone to make an actual serious call for brainy dudes to bare all for glam layouts…I suspect very much the best we might get is something like these calendars that keep getting mentioned – that I haven’t actually seen. Still – a monthly “Sexy Men of Science and Skepticism” type site has a good ring to it.

    I think that my actual bottom line response to your comment, Lesath, is not “that is not what is going on anyways” but rather a resounding “why is it that men feel so very compelled to avoid being sexy?” So many people seem so very focused on this idea that we need to stop women from following so closely these socially constructed expectations for feminine behavior, that I think we miss out on the larger picture. Namely, why the fuck are men expected to avoid these things.

    Seriously – I am not fucking around. I have been a glam model and more. I rather enjoy being sexy – it feels good to make myself desirable – most especially to my partner to be sure, but I also like attracting the attention of other women and men for that matter. It feels good to be desired for my physical attributes and attitude, as well as my mind. Granted, there was a time when it bothered me – but that was because I was desired for my physical attributes and little else. When it all fits in a neat little package, it is empowering – you know, empowering for me, not anyone else…

    It really seems to me that there is such an intense focus on women avoiding various behaviors – rather than considering the value some of them have and empowering men to take advantage of them too. This is a lot like one of the reasons I used to be so big on wearing skirts and silk scarves – why the fuck should women get all the great accessories?

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