Terra Sigillata

Welcome feminist bloggers and commentors from Coturnix’s guest post at Echidne of the Snakes.

Howdy, folks. Let me introduce myself. I’m the guy who got this discussion started at Terra Sigillata, where Coturnix’s home blog is hosted by ScienceBlogs.com.

Short story is that I asked a rhetorical question about a single Hooters establishment (on the San Antonio, TX, Riverwalk) that sits within two blocks of the world’s largest international breast cancer research conference held every December, the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS).

My wife is a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at a major academic medical center – I’ve accompanied her to the SABCS ever since she had our daughter, especially during the breastfeeding years, and I still go today as the spousal/childcare unit because my daughter and I have fun together in S.A. and the surrounding area – we have lots of friends up in Austin and the strong local music community and the stark beauty of the Texas Hill Country really resonate with my soul.

A few years ago, I just began wondering out loud as we strolled past the Hooters Riverwalk as to whether there was any respectful way for the establishment (this particular one, not the corporation) to tie in with the SABCS for either breast cancer awareness among the thousands of other tourists there for other business, or for some sort of recognition of San Antonio’s three decades as a international center of breast cancer research and/or the devotion of the international breast cancer community. Maybe even, God forbid, raising money for some of the breast cancer researchers (>50% female, I’d add) who are trying to launch their careers and devote their professional lives to fighting this disease.

It just seemed odd to me that there were “Welcome Breast Cancer Researchers” signs all around Riverwalk but then this DMZ around Hooters, a place you might think would be sleazy enough to find a way to capitalize on the association without some breast cancer doc’s husband thinking about ways to support the careers of his trainees (my lab has run >80% female over the last 14 yrs, with every single one of my PhD grads being women – PharmMom and PharmGrandma taught me how to respect and treat women well and encourage them appropriately).

I never went in to speak with management but my thought was that that particular restaurant may have departed from corporate philosophy by not wanting to appear sleazy among these international breast cancer scholars.

Now, I merely posed this rhetorical question a few days ago but folks like Coturnix, Shelley Batts, and PZ Myers, have come up with more pointed arguments that take a stand on whether the cancer research community should or shouldn’t be in cahoots with the larger Hooters corporation.

Perhaps now is a good time for me to rephrase my original question about the San Antonio Hooters Riverwalk restaurant into one this is more personally relevant:

Given that Hooters is not going away, would it be morally repugnant for me to accept breast cancer research funding from them to support the PhD or postdoctoral training of one of my female students?

I revise my original question because the larger corporate discussion is a far bigger issue and one where we may be trying to close the barn door long after the horse has gone: with former Hooters calendar girl, Kelli Jo Dowd, serving as the focus around a franchise wide pink ribbon fundraising campaign that has raised $500,000 for breast cancer research that was matched by another $500,000 from The V Foundation. Sadly, the Hooters news site makes it sound as though Kelli fight is nearing its end – our hearts go out to Ms. Dowd and her family at this difficult time.

(Aside: as of today, the V Foundation site lists no reference to this partnership, making me wonder if they are still trying to figure out how to negotiate this PR problem – one of their funded breast cancer researchers on their homepage is someone who I might suspect would be vehemently opposed to any such association.).

Well, Bora/Coturnix, really dug down into all of our posts and added his own commentary in a post at his own site at ScienceBlogs.com and in a guest post at Echidne of the Snakes. Some Echidne readers took issue with some of Coturnix’s analyses and insights, even though he started the post stating the he intended to provoke thought and discussion.

Once it was realized that Coturnix was a man, the comments turned rather hostile and most closed with, “When will Echidne be back?”

My response to watching the skewering is somewhat influenced by knowing Bora/Coturnix in the reality-based community and seeing firsthand his commitment to the blogosphere as a revolutionary means to strength local, national, and global communities through thoughtful dialgoue that we no longer are capable of having in mainstream media outlets. As he states in one of his comments:

“Most feminists I know, my wife and I included, are members of reality-based community. We are not content to keep destroying old cardboard stereotypes. We are interested in analysing the nuance in order to understand the way the world is changing. Minute Of Hate is easy. Digging deep is hard. So, I am interested in ways Hooters has departed from its Symbol over the past decades, both in kind of changes and size of changes, its geographical distribution and temporal trends.”

Also lost in the rants against Coturnix is that his Hooters analysis was really part two of a larger discussion of sexuality in America following from his “part 1, Blogging in the Nude,” post that was stimulated by the tremendous post by Bitch Ph.D., “40 Is the New Fuck You,” about her body image and reactions to her bringing her son into the women’s changing area at their community pool.

Coturnix is also the rare person, blogger or formal journalist, who has the self-coinfidence to depersonalize the arguments and discussion and, instead, encourage focus on the issues without wasting energy on the namecalling that has made a career for many a pundit today. In his introduction to guest-posting on Echidne, he notes:

While I keep my science writing, and even my science blogging, to the highest standards of accuracy, my posts about other topics, e.g., politics, ideology and sex, are more likely to be speculations, stuff from my own experience, or just a way to vent frustration. Often, they are a way to state, on purpose, something controversial. This is a great way to get a lot of comments. I love nothing better than to be put in my place by a smart, informed commenter who provides links to information that proves me wrong. That is how I learn something new every day. I hope you do not go on vacation and wait for Echidne to come back but enjoy yourselves in the comments this week as well.

So, yes, Coturnix is my friend, on-line and off-line, but I do not always agree with his views. Note that I don’t say, “I don’t always agree with him.” I do not always agree with his views. We are in a magnificient time in the blogosphere where we have the opportunity to recapture the public discourse that is denied to us in the reality-based community.

Let us not degenerate here in our sacred ground, our refuge from one-line hate-mongers, into behaviors of sound bites and pithy put-downs. We are better than that.

Blue Lily, a “thirtysomething, disabled, feminist” understands. I was heartened by how she engaged with Coturnix and got him to revise his thesis and clarify his points:

Coturnix, I don’t accept your premise that there is any substantive difference between the symbol and the reality. That, IMO, is where you lose the argument with feminists…What I mean is that your version of “the Hooters reality” is not what I (and probably many feminists) see as the actual reality. Example: you can say it seemed like a family restaurant environment to you, but enjoying a meal with your children doesn’t involve eating somewhere cheekily named after women’s breasts for the feminists that I know.

This is the one last place we have for civil and lively discussion about controversial issues that stands a chance for us to make a difference in our real, daily lives. It is hard work to consider all sides thoughtfully and to dismiss someone’s ideas because they are a man, or a feminist, or a Republican, or a businessperson, is an injustice to this gift of the blogosphere.

Let us instead focus on the issues, the arguments, and the solutions.


  1. #1 etbnc
    August 11, 2006

    Almost sorta looks like ScienceBlogs.com may draw a somewhat different audience than Echidne. Sometimes a a presentation that works well for one audience flops with a different audience.

  2. #2 Kim
    August 15, 2006

    My first gut instinct was to say that it would not be morally repugnant to take money from Hooters for breast cancer research.

    And then, after reading the rest of the post…

    I still feel the same way.

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