In what is surely a contender for the photo next to the "business as usual in the blogosphere" entry in the Wiktionary, a (male) blogger has posted a list of the sexiest (all-but-one female) scientists (using photos of those scientists obtained from the web without any indication that he had also obtained proper permission to use those photos in his post), and now the blogger says he wants to know what could possibly be wrong about making such a post.
This is pretty tired (and tiring) territory, and PZ and Sheril have already taken a good crack at laying things out. But given that the blogger who professes to be seeking enlightenment seems to style himself as at least an armchair philosopher, I'd like to offer a few comments.
It's well and good to say that you don't trust your own moral intuitions, and to prefer an argument (supported by evidence) that X is unethical.
However, it's pretty assy to dismiss not just the intuitions but the actual experiences of a significant number of people who tell you (repeatedly), that they are harmed by X. To dismiss these experiences while saying, "No, give me an argument against X," is clueless at best.
Look, central to the project of being ethical is recognizing that it's not all about you. It is not enough to evaluate courses of action on the basis of first principles that seem plausible to you, or of actual experiences you have had -- how things impact others matters. That means that listening to what people are telling you about how X impacts them is a pretty crucial step -- one that ought to inform not just your thoughts but your actions.
Unless you think, in the interests of your own understanding, it is permissible to continue doing X and doing harm. (Have you submitted the protocol with your justification for this to the IRB? I'm guessing not.)
If you want to keep messing around with the armchair philosophy thing, I recommend that you look into a little thing called the thought experiment. Not that thought experiments will necessarily help you wrap your head around the lived reality of people who are not you -- ultimately, you're going to have to trust their testimony on it, since they have privileged access to their own experience. But if you set them up right (e.g., on Mars, or a million years in the future), your thought experiments may have less likelihood of doing actual harm in the moral realm you say you are trying to understand.
Finally, if you are called out for creating harm by doing X and you respond that you are dealing with it by getting ready to read a philosophical discourse on X by a famous philosopher (who, as it happens, seems to get included in lists of sexy philosophers) -- rather than, say, by taking a break from doing X to seriously evaluate the harm people are telling you about right now -- then I would submit that you have a pretty messed up picture of what "being ethical" involves.
he got served!
I had to spend a few minutes hunting for my jaw on the floor after seeing the original post and that the d00d was so oblivious as to how skeevy that was. (Janet quite sensibly doesn't link directly to that post, but PZ did. The original post is arguably NSFW.) That post shows nothing but photos along with names and broad research fields. No information about what *science* any of those scientists do. (I'd only heard of three of them--Tara Smith in addition to Sherril and PZ--and that only because the first two used to blog here and PZ still does.) Nothing signifies objectification more thoroughly than to have a photo identified as meeting someone's definition of "beautiful" and no explanation of the presumably rocking hot science she's doing.
Man, I'd forgetten how annoying n00bs can be! That list was epic fail, and he won't realize anytime soon why that is. Hopefully he'll eventually get it.
The cringe factor here is Larry David levels, meaning I can't even click on any of those because the concept is so uncomfortable to me. The cluelessness is just ridiculous.
However, it's pretty assy to dismiss not just the intuitions but the actual experiences of a significant number of people who tell you (repeatedly), that they are harmed by X. To dismiss these experiences while saying, "No, give me an argument against X," is clueless at best.
And if X is an expression of homosexuality would you make the same argument?
Vaughan @5, that's the difficulty in generalizing these arguments with Xs and Ys, isn't it?
However, I think we can recognize, without too many mental gymnastics, that there is a relevant difference between:
(1) the expression of one's sexuality (in a context that includes full consent from a partner able to give such consent, if that expression involves a partner)
(2) posting a bunch of pictures of women you do not know, chosen because they are members of a particular profession who meet your aesthetic standards (to put it politely).
(1) is arguably more essential to a person's human flourishing than (2), which I reckon raises the evidential standard for those arguing that (1) ought to be stopped because they are harmed by it.
Saying, on the other hand, "You're telling me that you are harmed by my doing (2), but I don't fully grok that harm (and maybe believe that you ought not be harmed by it), so I'm inclined to insist on my right to do (2) while maintaining the pretense that I view you people complaining about such 'harm' as full members of my moral community" -- that's what we in the biz call being an asshole.
Would you therefore say people who advertise gay events with sexy imagery are clueless and should stop?
To replace the variables in your statement above: "You're telling me that you are harmed by my advertising gay events, but I don't fully grok that harm (and maybe believe that you ought not be harmed by it), so I'm inclined to insist on my right to advertise gay events while maintaining the pretense that I view you people complaining about such 'harm' as full members of my moral community -- that's what we in the biz call being an asshole."
Or someone who made a list of prominent gay scientists ("posting a bunch of pictures of [people] you do not know, chosen because they are members of a particular profession who meet your [sexual] standards (to put it politely)")
Again: "You're telling me that you are harmed by my making a list of prominent gay scientists, but I don't fully grok that harm (and maybe believe that you ought not be harmed by it), so I'm inclined to insist on my right to make a list of prominent gay scientists while maintaining the pretense that I view you people complaining about such 'harm' as full members of my moral community -- that's what we in the biz call being an asshole."
SOME of PZ's arguments were okay. Pointing out that there is a lot of still quite real blind-stupid discrimination against women? Sure, absolutely. It's true, and this kind of thing, while not nearly as eeeeevil as it's getting made out to be, (and if anyone bothered to read some of the links, especially this one:
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/aditi_kinkhabwala/01/03/r…) can be misconstrued to be more malevolent than it really is.
But where PZ et al go off the rails is predictably, the whole "you should find people attractive for more than just physical beauty". That is a terribly silly thing to say. Well-intentioned, but silly.
I can't see a personality from across the room, not in most cases. Unless the person's personality is a) loud, and b) very outgoing, personality kind of hidden. Same thing with IQ, job, background, sense of humor, etc.
What I CAN see is their physical features. If there's not something there that piques my interest to walk across the room and talk to that person, then the rest of their good qualities will forever stay hidden. That's just how it works in person. Is it limiting? Sure, but so are a lot of things. Now, if I *never* care about anything but physical appearance, then i'm a shallow douche, but this article will not greatly affect that for good or ill.
As well, let's examine one of the quotes from that SI article:
"My dad's also an engineer. He once worked for Jacobs. And when I was in seventh grade, he told me smart girls didn't want to be cheerleaders." Which, in all fairness, is kind of what Summer Williams always thought too.
"...smart girls didn't want to be cheerleaders..." Wow. there's some enlightenment. It's funny, we rail about how women are told that it's not okay to be smart, the Barbie "math is hard" debacle, and yet, we decide that cheerleader = dumb. Of course, there's a bit of an analogy to that. Substitute "pretty girl" for "cheerleader". Sound familiar? yeah. But it's still kind of acceptable, even amongst "feminists" to bag on pretty women. After all, they're pretty, they have all the luck already. That leads to this kind of thing:
"Oh you're smart, you don't want to be a cheerleader", the obvious inference being that only stupids want to be those. how is that prejudice not as unacceptable as "women can't be good at science, they're only good at being cheerleaders and moms"?
Sure, the post is stupid, and clumsy, but it does one good thing, even unintentionally:
It shows a lot of 'pretty' girls that you know what? Being smart is not only okay, but it doesn't turn you into some kind of frumpy stereotype. Being smart is good, it's really good, and being smart makes you even more attractive to people who will appreciate both physical beauty and intelligence. Being smart is every bit as awesome as being hot, and unlike hot, smart can last a lifetime.
Another quote from the SI article:
And yet, even as Williams sits at the Johnson Space Center, helping open new worlds for future exploration, it's the cheerleading gig that's let her open new worlds in real time.
Part of her contract includes 30 community service appearances a year. During the last week of this season, she helped run a junior cheer program for 100 girls, age 6-12. The little girls learned a dance, then danced it at halftime with the grown-up girls and afterwards, the mother of one of the little girls who'd missed a practice, tracked Williams down.
The woman's daughter hadn't wanted to put on her little white boots, so sure she'd embarrass herself, until Williams had -- she thought -- offhandedly told the girl everything would be fine just before the show. The little girl believed her, everything indeed was, and the mother had some words for Williams she doesn't ever hear when she's in her lab coat.
"I had no idea I had the power to inspire young people the way that I apparently did," Williams said, sounding a little choked up. "I never even knew I would want to."
Sure, we can laugh it off, or dimiss it, but how many little girls is Summer Williams going to be able to meet as a cheerleader that she'd never meet as an engineer? How many little girls are going to see, really see, that you can be smart as hell, and still be pretty, feminine, what have you who might not get that message in as concrete a way if Summer Williams wasn't meeting them. Saying 'there are other scientists who do that without degrading themselves', (yay more prejudice) misses the point: setting an example does no good if no one knows who you are. Summer Williams, because of her 'fame', even if it is just locally, is going to do a lot more good, at the end of the day, than if she only worked at NASA.
Put another way: Sally Ride was, is, and always will be kind of a hero to me. She's smart, and genuinely passionate about opening science and engineering to women. Yet had she not been the U.S.'s first woman astronaut, her ability to influence generations of women would have been nigh-infinitely smaller.
Danica McKellar has her name tied to a fairly decent theorum, and has authored a couple of books that aim to keep girls interested in Math during the 7th-9th grade years, when so many of them lose interest, or are told "(pretty) girls don't like math". Yet, had she not been Winnie on "The Wonder Years", would anyone outside of mathematics even know who she is?
Fame, even for something as shallow as appearance, is just a tool. It can be used destructively, but it can also be used constructively. However, if we dismiss the tool completely because we blindly react to its use, rather than thoughtfully responding, it can never have any use at all.
Vaughan: "Or someone who made a list of prominent gay scientists " Are you arguing that no harm can possibly come from your list? What if it turned out that one of the scientists on such a list was closeted and lived in the Bible Belt--and was at risk of losing not just his or her job, but at risk of violence?
Yeah, that is why you ASK first. With respect to the women who think this sort of thing is fine and dandy: Your friends on Facebook never post photos of you in positions you'd rather your boss didn't see? Believe me, every interviewer sees them. You want your status on Skeevy's Hawtness list to pop up when HR Googles you? "Wow, she comes with her very own stalker. Uh. Who else did we interview?"
You guys have a conveniently short memory: science blogs is just as guilty as anyone else. Did yopu forget PZ's blurb back in '06: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/11/sexiest_man_living.php
Or doesn't the rule apply when men are the subject?
Well, not sure it's worth the response, but to attempt to make the misunderstanding crystal...
Vaughn, in your first example the dilemma has nothing to do with "gay" advertising and everything to do with "sexy" and what's acceptable in the common forum. See the recent FCC ruling on obscenity as a point of reference that this discussion is ongoing (and unresolved).
Additionally, in this case you're conflating the two kinds of harm that occurred in the original incident:
1) Harm to the people included on the list, being unwillingly dragged into a sexual situation (and I'd argue this is primarily what makes the list unethical)
2) Harm, in general, to women in the profession as Sheril explained in the post linked to above. This is *slightly* more debatable relative to 1) and has less immediate though certainly broader impact.
I'd posit that cases of harm that fall in category 1) are more urgent (if not more important) to deal with, since the impact to specific people is clearer. Our legal system is for the most part set up this way.
The advertising campaign, at worst, has some sort of harm in general effect. I'd argue that the social ills of having sexual imagery in the public square, are much more debatable and how they are balanced against the decline in free expression any rule forbidding them would require would make any such display much less clearly unethical.
As for the list of prominent Gay scientists-- you bring up a very interesting point. Say, maybe 20 years ago, (though in many,many cases the problem exists today, too) if you had awesome investigative (or psychic ) powers and could tell who was gay and who wasn't, publishing a list of prominent Gay scientists (outing some, or just bringing to prominence others) would HIGHLY unethical. To really bring it home, imagine making your list but limiting yourself to scientists in the military. Publishing your list could cost many on it their jobs.
Not "grokking" that this is harm, is negligent (or as Janet put it "being an asshole"). The issue is the harm and where my fist ends and your nose begins. As that gets less clear, so do the ethical issues.
More generally, it should be obvious that publishing anything about someone without permission opens the door to harm to that person. Particularly so if the info published is not anonymous. That's not at all to say it shouldn't be allowed (after all news isn't opt-in). But there should be at least a moment of reflection on whether the good of publishing is worth the harm inflicted. I imagine that's what a good chunk of journalistic ethics is about. If you need a ferinstance, that's one reason they sometimes withhold names of murder victims or fallen soldiers until next of kin have been notified.
The internet has made widespread publishing easy enough, that that reflection doesn't always occur. For older, lighter examples take the youtube posting of the "Star Wars kid" or the "Impossible is Nothing" or any of a thousand internet one-hit wonders later on. What started as innocuous, funny videos, ended up causing a real impact to the lives of those involved.
So all this is a long way of saying think about the impact your action (whatever it may be) has on others, particularly before you drag them (unwillingly) into a spotlight. Not too hard to grok.
this rule only apply when the subject is women
Vaughn, your case breaks down immediately because you have not actually provided an example of how you are harmed by expressions of homosexuality or advertising gay events.
That's unfortunately true, as evidenced by one of the commenters to PZ's post who said that women have to deal with things that men don't, like rape and abusive relationships.
Really? I wasn't aware that men led such trouble-free lives.
Vaughan - I think the problem with your comparison is that in this case (unlike, presumably, your example), the people being advertised - by someone who is not a part of the affected group - are the ones being harmed, or who feel that this is the case.
I don't see where's the problem with the "most sexiest" list. Did he included you? Then you should thank the guy (and perhaps recommend him some sexual therapy). Not in the list? Well, welcome to the real world...
To Freman @16 and the rest of you adolescent punks (of whatever calendar age) who don't see a problem with the list:
The people on the list are supposed to be scientists, so we can assume that most of them either have or are in the process of obtaining a Ph.D. I went through that process myself, mumble years ago, and it's a Very Big Deal. By posting those photos without including CVs (or even links thereto), the author of that post is effectively saying that the Ph.D. doesn't matter, and those of you who see nothing wrong with the post are effectively agreeing with him. Remember, for the people on the list who weren't already public figures (i.e., most of the women, but not PZ), the photo is pretty much all we have to go on. So I don't get a chance to evaluate these women on the basis of what they have done, or hear the argument why their wake-up call one October morning might be coming from Stockholm. It's not fair to them, or to their similarly situated colleagues who for whatever reason did not make the list.
(Aside: When I was a kid they used to show the Miss America contest on national TV, and IIRC there was a talent component to the competition. So the Miss America contestants were evaluated at least partly on their ability to do something other than smile for the camera and look good in a swimsuit, which is more than can be said about the "sexy scientist" list.)
That's aside from the issue of using these photos without permission to construct what is effectively a pin-up calendar. The women who appear in real pin-up calendars have at least signed releases acknowledging that their photos will be used for that purpose.
Assuming arguendo that you have a job and are not posting while eating Cheetos in your mother's basement, take a few minutes to read your employer's policies, as well as state and Federal law, on the subject of sexual harassment. Those few minutes might save you a few years of defending yourself from lawsuits and/or restraining orders.
As for the people bringing up PZ's post about Richard Dawkins, remember that Dawkins is a Famous Person, and part of his attractiveness (to those who might be so inclined) derives from his accomplishments. So comparing that post to one that is explicitly designed to make readers evaluate attractiveness on looks alone is a false equivalence.
"obtained from the web without any indication that he had also obtained proper permission to use those photos in his post"
Yes this IS offensive. But why is it, in your opinion, NOT offensive when a so-called "feminist" blogger right here on science blogs frequently uses sexualized images of anonymous near-naked women obtained from the web with no indication that they have given their permission to be used in the post?
Is it because they are anonymous? Or because the blogger is a friend of yours?
I love it when the tu quoque is a "someone on Scienceblogs quoque." Janet, I'm sorry that the conversation has devolved on this. Proving the sexist history of the Earth apparently is required to have an argument about some chump treating women like, what is the word- yes, objects.
Pinko, I agree the argument about PZ is silly, but imagine the outrage if PZ, or any male blogger, used women's photos the way Isis does! And it does have harmful effects. I would really like to hear an explanation of why it is considered okay when a woman does it. Is it because the women are anonymous? And exactly what is so feminist about it?
As Bora has pointed out SB bloggers are part of a community and very visible. What kind of message does it send when one of the most visible women and one of the only otherwise 'feminist' bloggers regularly uses porn to illustrate her posts? The response 'then don't read it if it offends you' is inadequate considering the context of women in science and the visibility of Science Blogs.
Although I don't think it entirely excuses Isis, she's hardly the one who decided to sexualize the images she's posted, nor is it likely that the women in those photographs were unaware that their images would be sexualized.
On the other hand, I really doubt that when the photos of the women (or man) displayed on that list were taken the subjects had any idea or intent that they would be sexualized.
That's the difference, and it seems to me that it's a common-sense distinction.
@Goddess: The question of whether it is appropriate to use such photographs hinges on whether a reasonable person would believe there was some expressive or educational point to including the photo, or whether it was merely included for prurient interests. Isis likes to tread close to that line, and she probably has crossed it a few times, but I think she can defend most of those instances. PZ would have a much harder time with that defense because a reasonable person would believe he was posting the photo for prurient interests. Likewise with the photos on the original post under discussion: even the ones where the subject is fully clothed were included for prurient interests.
As for the legal aspect, there are two possibilities which are legally OK. One is if she's using stock photos (it follows from Rule 34 that there must be pornographic stock photos out there somewhere). The other is if she's using photos of herself (remember, Isis is pseudonymous, so none of us know what she looks like).
Mildly off-topic: Another example of how we are dominated by visual impressions:
"Looks like a winner: Scientists demonstrate how much candidate appearances affect election outcomes"
-In other words plain or ugly people need not apply :-(
In ancient Greece and Rome with their fixation of physical beauty, it was even taken for granted that beauty reflected inner qualities such as honesty. In that regard, the advent of Christianity -which rejected physical appearence as a measure of human value- was actually an improvement.
In regard to the blog, it is made by a young bloke and can probably be listed under "forgivable social rookie mistakes".
idlemind, okay, although "not being the one to actually take a photograph" is a weak defense at best. And provides no assurance that the woman was not exploited. Who knows why they ended up posing for those pictures. Also, what if she is now a scientist and embarrasses by the 'exposure' - I mean who knows? And finally, what about the effect on women in science? And what impression does it give young men viewing her site? In fact the first photo on the male blogger's list WAS used on her site - maybe he got the idea from her! Isis published it full-screen size - and I'm sure many science blogs readers got off on (maybe jacked off to!) that photo. Really creepy in my mind. Edgy? No.
Eric, how is this most recent example for 'educational purposes?' Please don't be naive on purpose. The photo is simply gross.
Also, Isis, and many other bloggers ignore the rules for using stock and Wikimedia Commons photos all the time. In most cases, attribution is requested, as well as linking, but that is rarely done. As far as the photo I referenced above, which does not appear to be in the public domain, I highly doubt that she is using it properly. And if she is paying for photos, why are they always white women, even if they are representing her? She claims to be a woman of color but joked recently that all the ("educational"??) girlie photos on her banner (now removed I see!) were white because she doesn't want to exploit WoC. Nice. Hilarious! Edgy! Please, whatever just not on a highly visible science network.
Personally I find it all creepy and offensive. I hope she leaves Science Blogs so I can forget about her existence. If she goes back to being an individual blogger I will stop complaining, but not until then.
This isn't a referendum on Isis, though. I don't defend it. I'm not the boss of her or the judge of her feminism. I don't get say in those things. I find "shoe of the week" troubling, but this isn't about any of that. You want to have an effective dialog, you can raise your issues as "additionally troubling" but they aren't connected to the chump currently being discussed.
I agree with Pinko on this one. AFAIK Isis has not commented on this kerfluffle, so she is not being hypocritical here.
As for the post that Goddess singles out: That was TMI, but Isis was making a point with that photo, and making it more forcefully than she could have done with words. It's her blog. If you don't like it, start your own.
"It's her blog."
It's part of a very visible science blog network (again, see Bora's post) and has, for some reason, a "feminist" rep,so I will stop criticizing as soon as it is just her individual blog.
It is so funny how, even as a regular science blogs reader and budding female scientist, I don't get to criticize Isis' blog, but it's totes cool to criticize Sarah Palin's supposed feminism. Suddenly we DO think we get to define feminism.
What exactly is feminist about Isis' blog? The shoes? The pron? The 'goddess vs little muffins' schtick? The losing her junk regularly followed by no apologies?
That she wants to see more women in science? Well, so does SP- she wants to see more women in politics. SP is supposedly anti-choice, but Isis is a practicing Catholic, and they don't even believe in birth control.
"but Isis was making a point with that photo"
What point? What did it have to do with her getting a sunburn on her back, let alone a pregnancy test? How was this point so important to her message that it justified using a pornographic picture of a real woman?
"AFAIK Isis has not commented on this kerfluffle, so she is not being hypocritical here."
I suggested that Janet and Physioprof were being hypocritical, and everyone who defends Isis and attacks others for doing the same thing.
"but they aren't connected to the chump currently being discussed."
Really no connection? Not even the fact that the chump and Isis used the exact same photo? Okay, if you say so.
You can criticize Isis. I'm glad you bring these issues up, but their appropriateness in this thread, as you brought them up to put Janet in a tough position was rhetorically cheap if not suspect. If you wanted to bring it up in a different way, as a possible elephant in the room, that's great, but you instead just called Janet a hypocrite for the absence of her addressing it. That was not appropriate.
Also, I wouldn't feel comfortable lecturing a woman on feminism, it seems like it isn't the way things are done.
If you want me to go off on cartoon characters as bloggers, I would criticize a number of people's shticks. Though, what good that will do, I don't know. I get under enough people's skin.
When you make it personal it sounds like a grinding axe, even when the behavior you don't like isn't necessarily personal. The problem is that people don't like to be called out and then they'll just have a big fight.
I had no idea that Isis had used the same photo. The criticism I give you is based on your comments above mine. You argument is still poor because you jumped to the hypocrisy charge. Instead, I would have said "there is other objectification that goes on on Scienceblogs, but it happens at x and y blog. It goes beyond topic z." Not cheap. Not underhanded. Not personal.
"It goes beyond topic z." Not cheap. Not underhanded. Not personal."
There is nothing cheap or underhanded about it. She has been criticized before of course, including here, and always gets a pass. My feeling is, then why do the same people, and yes, often Isis included, attack others for similar (usually milder) things, sometimes even other Sb bloggers? This is far from the first time I, or others, have brought it up.
I also sincerely wanted an answer, if it is not because she is a friend of Janet's (okay that was a little snarky but I am sick of meeting a wall of silence from her fellow bloggers here whenever the subject comes up - many even encourage her and seem to think her behavior cute even when she 'loses her junk') then why? I have never once heard an explanation of why all these things somehow add up to feminism. Not once. And if we are just letting everyone do their own thing on their blogs, why are others subjected to mob attacks, often very rude and viscous attacks (not Janet though, she is always calm and reasoned, but still - why call someone out but not someone else) often for much smaller things?
As I said, it only matters to me because of her visibility here on Sb (an also the fact that she was chosen to speak at conferences at least twice about internet civility - WTF??). I hope all this behavior gets put to rest after the Sb shake-up. And that's enough for now. I'll just keep my fingers crossed.
I'm new to the Feminist Bingo game, but it sure is a lot of fun! I think this thread is a winner!
I think that there are a lot of good arguments as to why Isis posting pictures is okay, but I'll let someone else tackle that one. What I find amusing is the assumption that no one else can challenge sexism until Isis (or, I presume, all women) become Perfect. This is definitely a relief, because it means that I don't need to worry about critically evaluating my own behaviour, because I'm -surrounded- be people who aren't Perfect. Why should I try to change until everybody else has?
I'm a gay guy, so the challenges I face are different than the challenges faced by my female friends, family, and colleagues, but one thing I've noticed is that cyber-stalking is a serious issue for women, and seems to be less of one for men. Posting names and photos with no context other than that these people are "sexy" seems to be asking for every pervert on the internet to track these people down and mess with their lives.
Oh please, get a life jerk. No one was talking about "perfection". What are you babbling about? And what do YOU think is "feminist" about her? I am still waiting for some feminist analysis. I bet you are all over Sarah Palin, hypocrite. Yes the other blogger should have gotten permission from not only the women, but the photographers involved. I already posted as much on his site. See, I don't play favorites.
"I think that there are a lot of good arguments as to why Isis posting pictures is okay, but I'll let someone else tackle that one."
There apparently are not, and apparently no one is planning to tackle it, so why don't you just jump right in...