Thus Spake Zuska

An Old Woman’s Reply to A Young Woman

This post is a reply to a comment earlier this month from a very distressed young woman named Ellen. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to reply sooner but family crises intervened. Ellen commented on the third in a series of posts I made regarding two calendars recently published, one in the U.S. and one in Australia, that feature women in IT dressed up as fancy whores (my term) or Screen Goddesses/Geek Gorgeous (their terms). The third post, Let Them Eat Cake – Beef vs. Cheese, compared the two calendars to the hot firemen’s Flame Calendar (pun intended). In that post, I discussed why beefcake adds to the perception of a man’s career competency, but cheesecake only detracts from a woman’s. This is known by the term “double standard”, a beginner’s concept in gender studies.

The two previous posts were more detailed about just why the Screen Goddess IT and Geek Gorgeous calendars are hideous mockeries of women’s abilities and aspirations.

Ellen’s comment is below. I have edited it only to correct for spelling:

I’m a 19 year old female student studying Computer Science at NSW University, Sydney Australia. I have been reading your blog for several months now after becoming involved in women’s groups on campus. I’ve been impressed with your blog up until recently, but I am very disappointed with your postings in relation to the IT Goddess calendar. I am unsure why you are personally attacking these women for successfully drawing political attention to a serious problem in Australia. I don’t view the calendar as sexist – to me it celebrates women and their diversity, captures public attention though parody, and highlights that IT roles are not just for 18 year old autistic Asian boys. I cannot believe you wrote this statement: “….I would not guess that Sharon and Sonja worked in IT. But then, I have not spent many hours up late reading the goddess IT web site to discover more about their fascinating personalities…” I considered you to be a seeker of truth, and thought you would have at least checked the site out properly before casting your opinion. Only the ignorant would compare the geek gorgeous calendar, fireman’s calendar with IT screen Goddess calendar. It seems that you are only “skin deep” after all – strange that you should be attacking other women for a supposed lack of depth. (to me, the calendar is anything but “skin”) Third, I am disappointed that you seem to “talk” a lot, but I don’t see any evidence of any great achievements, unlike the women you are lambasting. You appear to be an academic that doesn’t have a great deal of real world/commercial experience. I don’t believe you speak for normal women, nor have any appreciation for their emotional and social drivers. Most disappointing is that you are poisoning young women’s opinions in a very arrogant manner instead of constructively approaching a serious issue. I am now of the belief that your opinion carries little validity. You do not behave like an information professional – you are definitely not representative of the way young women think. In fact I view you as probably being a very dangerous old woman. “Overqualified” probably means redundant (or not qualified for anything. I would feel comfortable being photographed in most of these poses for a charity I believed to be worthwhile. You have overlooked this important point. Your views seem outdated and irrelevant. I am suspicious of your stated objectives, and wonder if your hysterical and uninformed views are based on jealousy. Why not post a pic of yourself so we can decide whether jealousy motivates you….or perhaps you think that is sexist also? I expect you to vindicate [sic] me personally in your blog (per your bitchy style), as it is clear you are unable to engage in any intelligent discussion on this matter. OR to delete my comment. I did not have any intention of purchasing the calendar, but have now purchased it to spite you and women like you. Instead of preaching, how about leading by example?
ellen • 8/5/06; 12:39:35 AM

I fear the Ellen has stopped reading Thus Spake Zuska and therefore won’t see this post. But maybe other young women who share her distress will. Ellen said “…you are definitely not representative of the way young women think. In fact I view you as probably being a very dangerous old woman…I would feel comfortable being photographed in most of these poses…You have overlooked this important point.”

I would agree with Ellen that I am not representative of the way all, or even many, or possibly even any, young women think (see my caveat in this regard under the “About” tab). I am not representative of the way all older women think. I have never claimed to be so. I am only representative of the way Zuska thinks. The world is welcome to listen, consider, and agree or not. Ellen, I know you that you would feel comfortable being photographed for the Screen Goddess IT calendar; perhaps you would even feel proud to be chosen for it, and that makes me really sad. If you were my daughter, I would not feel happy thinking of your picture on a pin-up calendar, being ogled by adolescent boys and pervy men who felt they could discount your intellect and accomplishments because all that really mattered about you was your tits and ass. The problem with such calendars, Ellen, is that you can’t impose your meaning on them for the rest of society. The rest of society is going to see you as a fancy whore, maybe a fancy whore with some IT credentials, but still a fancy whore. Go back to my example of Hedy Lamarr; how many people remember her for her intellect?

What makes me seem dangerous to Ellen? Is the danger in the “poisoning of young women’s opinions”? In what manner am I poisoning them? Well, we can round up the usual suspects in such cases. I probably stand accused of the following: I am a man-hater, I am a lesbian, I am anti-sex, I am anti-femininity, I am humorless, and I want to encourage all young women to hate men, become lesbians, reject sexuality, cut their hair short, stop wearing makeup, dress in ugly clothing and wear flat sensible shoes, and never, ever, ever laugh again.

(Although I would like to point out that most lesbians I know do have sex, so I doubt they will be happy with me for recruiting anti-sex lesbians. I’ll never get that toaster oven now. )

I am, in truth, a dangerous old woman. I do not ask women to hate men; I ask much, much more of them. I ask them to love themselves so much that they will not subject themselves to men and debase themselves in the manner our society demands of women and presents as admirable and good. I ask them not to be anorexic and bulimic; not to admire style over substance; not to value appearance over ability. I ask them to believe that young girls would want to grow up to be just like them, not just like Kate Moss or Paris Hilton. I ask them to understand their sexiness as something more complex than airbrushed physical beauty. I ask them to feel their competence and ability as some of their sexiest attributes. I ask them to hold potential life-partners to exceedingly high standards, including perceiving their competence and ability as sexy. I ask them to believe that if they were to be photographed in their laboratories at work, they would be beautiful, beautiful women, and they would not need to dress up as fancy whores to be admired and imitated by young girls. I ask them to be strong young women who grow up to be dangerous.

Comments

  1. #1 Bill Hooker
    August 30, 2006

    Old? You’re about my age…

    OK, yeah, you’re old. :-)

  2. #2 Brianna
    August 30, 2006

    I have to say that I’m more inclined to agree with Ellen on this whole debate, but I think that this comes down to differences between so-called second wave and third wave feminists’ views on sexuality. I really think it’s that simple – among feminists, there are differing opinions on objectification and sexuality that are (to some extent) a generational difference. Feminists need not be the same – I can respect your opinion and only hope that you can respect the other side.

    Furthermore, as someone who was once told that I wasn’t “enough of a dog” to be a mathematician, I can appreciate women wanting to point out that they can be sexy and be a scientist.

  3. #3 Julie Stahlhut
    August 30, 2006

    “….dress in ugly clothing and wear flat sensible shoes, and never, ever, ever laugh again.”

    I’ve yet to figure out how to laugh, or even smile, in high heels. Back in the late Cretaceous I used to wear them occasionally, and all I can remember is how damned uncomfortable they were.

    As for the ugly clothing: Don’t know what they mean by “ugly”. Do they mean “clothing that doesn’t cause pain, inadequate protection against temperature extremes, or semi-annual depletion of one’s bank account because some salesperson successfully persuaded you that last year’s beautiful clothes are this year’s ugly ones”?

  4. #4 Zuska
    August 30, 2006

    Well, Bill, here I think “old” means “anything over age 27 or so”. Sadly, we are old.

    Brianna, I respect your opinion IF you back it up with a logical argument. It won’t do to simply say “I believe calendars with pictures of women in skimpy clothes and sexy poses that will inevitably be ogled by men are a positive affirmation of womanhood”. I’m not saying I think that individual women should never dress sexy, for themselves or for their partners. I’m saying that calendars like these perpetuate stereotypes that hurt all women. The comment you received is a beautiful illustration. You weren’t “enough of a dog” to be a mathematician. You might be interested to know that male science & engineering students have claimed that female students become uglier after they major in science & engineering. (Seymour & Hewitt, “Talking About Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences”, p. 248) You and I know that the women did not have plastic surgery after signing up for calculus class. It’s just that the men are unable to hold the concepts “good-looking” and “intelligent female” in their heads at the same time; one comes in, the other must go out.

    In our society, the stereotypical image of female beauty is NOT associated with intelligence. You can’t just simply assert – through the mode of a pinup calendar – that it is. The dominant cultural interpretation will be that “these women probably aren’t so smart afterall because they took off most of their clothes for this calendar”. Or, as I wrote in one of my posts, it will help some men jack off to imagine reducing intelligent women to mere sex objects. If Nerd and Whore are your only options, a Nerd Whore is an oxymoron. The Nerd will be ignored and the Whore is all that most people will see.

  5. #5 tonyl
    August 30, 2006

    “I would not feel happy thinking of your picture on a pin-up calendar, being ogled by adolescent boys and pervy men who felt they could discount your intellect and accomplishments because all that really mattered about you was your tits and ass.”

    That’s pretty sexist of you to assume that most men are so base that they will discount all other qualities in a woman if she looks sexy. I, for one, find that my impression of a woman’s beauty increases when I find our that a woman is intelligent, or better yet, intersted in science, mathemeatics, or technology. (although I am in no way claiming that this is true of all or most men) Your position seems based on the assumptions that the current stereotypes are deeply ingrained and most men are too weak minded to grapple with such a divergence between ingrained stereotypes and direct visual evidence.

  6. #6 Bill Hooker
    August 30, 2006

    What data are available to bring to bear on these questions? (Yes, I know, I’m a monstrous nerd.) I take Zuska to be saying:

    1. our society does not offer women a level playing field
    2. in that context, cheesecake is harmful because it reinforces harmful tropes: madonna/whore, smart != sexy (for women), appearance matters more than any other characteristic (again for women but not for men).

    Number 1 is quite well established, I think: see, for instance, the wage gap, title IX issues and sex stratification (percentage of women decreases in any job/field as power/authority level increases).

    That leaves number two, about which we can usefully ask: how common are these tropes, and to what extent does cheesecake reinforce them? I bet there’s a lot of data available with which to start answering these questions, I just don’t really know where to look.

    If the data suggest (as my own experiences and biases do) that the tropes in question are very common (that is, widely known and used as a working model of the world), then anything that propagates/reinforces them will be harmful to women. We can argue back and forth about whether most people will view the calendars that sparked this discussion as objectifying or empowering, but perhaps there’s some actual data available for that question as well?

    Is there, um, a feminist in the house?

  7. #7 another
    August 31, 2006

    Ellen, you’re 19 years old, pull your head out of your ass and wake up. I’m only 10 years older than you, and I’m a ‘real’ scientist who trained with the best of them. I would also never, ever, allow myself to be made an ass of in a calendar like that. Some things never change, and the difficulty to get respect is one of them. I wouldn’t respect a man who posed in a beefcake calendar, nor would I respect a woman who did so. This whole ‘postfeminist’ take on exploitation being ok is just plain dumb and underexposed. Get out in the real world and see how you get treated when you hang your tits and ass out and then want people to listen to you. Don’t hold your breath.

  8. #8 Abel Pharmboy
    August 31, 2006

    Has our dear Ellen ever taken a look at your CV??? I don’t know if you have it here but it was at the old site and it blew me away. When she gets to your level, she may consider addressing and evaluating your accomplishments.

    I ask them to believe that if they were to be photographed in their laboratories at work, they would be beautiful, beautiful women, and they would not need to dress up as fancy whores to be admired and imitated by young girls.

    Hear, hear! If you want to promote a political cause, do it with your intelligence and beauty, out of simple self-respect if nothing else.

    (btw, I’m the dude here at ScienceBlogs who keeps lobbying for a calendar with pictures of PZ Myers and all us old guys in speedos – I lost my self-respect with my youth.)

  9. #9 PinkPanther
    September 10, 2006

    “You appear to be an academic that doesn’t have a great deal of real world/commercial experience.”

    Ellen, you are probably long gone, but you are the one who lacks experience here. I agree with “another” above, who says to go hang out your tits and ass and then see who listens to your ideas. Hard enough to get them to listen to your ideas period. And I wouldn’t wear pink, either.

    “I don’t believe you speak for normal women, nor have any appreciation for their emotional and social drivers. Most disappointing is that you are poisoning young women’s opinions in a very arrogant manner instead of constructively approaching a serious issue.”

    Dangerous Old Women Unite! I am old [50] and I have been told this same thing. Personally I am tired of it. What would be constructive? Bang your head up against this wall for 30 years or so and then we’ll talk. Me, I’m mad as hell and I’m not putting up with it anymore.

  10. #10 bookyone
    February 12, 2007

    Hi all,

    I agree with the other older women on this one. As a mature professional woman of almost 40, I find that my professional credentials are best appreciated when I display them appropriately, (i.e., when I show off my brains and not my boobs in the workplace). Which is not to say I believe that dressing in a sexy fashion is always wrong, but what most younger women don’t seem to understand is that there is a time and a place for this; (I know when I was 18 to about 30 or so, I didn’t understand this either, and so I was clueless as to why the men I worked with didn’t treat me as a professional equal when I was wearing a miniskirt, go figure)…

    Dressing provocatively encourages men to see you as a bimbo or a slut, period, no matter what they tell you, this is how the male mind works. Save the miniskirts, the stilettos, the bustiers and the hot pants for the dance floor after hours. When you’re in the workplace, dress conservatively and you will be rewarded with the respect and admiration of your fellow professionals of both genders.

    It took me many years of trial and error to figure this out, so I’m sharing my wisdom, (if you can call it that), so that other women don’t make the same mistakes I did.

    Best wishes from bookyone :)

  11. #11 cheap computers
    July 3, 2009

    I am disappointed that it seem to talk a lot, but I don’t see any evidence of any great achievements.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!