Thursday, April 20, 2006

When "Porn Liberal Feminism" Really Isn't: My Issue With Amanda And The Pandagonites

Pardon me, please, if I'm feeling a bit moody....because I just had to break off someone whom I usually respect and agree with most of the time, but just got me more than a bit upset over a disagreement we have over the subject of men, women, and sexual attractiveness.

Most of you know Amanda Marcotte as the house feminist over at Pandagon; she's the feisty progressive feminist "porn liberal" who does her level best to attack the roots and branches of the evil male patriarchy as it attempts to revoke women's rights back to the 5th Century. Before tonight, I could wholeheartedly stand behind her efforts...but, something has been bothering me for a long while about her style of collective guilt-tripping men as a class for their thoughts rather than their actions...and tonight it all came to a head over some comments she and her regular contributors made.

It all began when high-tech writer/sex-positive guru Annalee Newitz, who writes a regular column for AlterNet called "Techsploitation" (and who recently opened a blog of the same name). Annalee recently wrote a serious high-tech column that was reposted in the high-tech journal Slashdot about two weeks ago; but some of the men who viewed the article were more interested in her fuckability and her attractiveness than the nature of the article she wrote, and they got loose in the Slashdot comments section within. Annalee was not too happy with not having her article taken as seriously as she liked, and in so many words said so in a recent article she posted over at AlterNet as her latest column. (Though, she did express gratitude that some men did take some of the more "sexist dicks" to task, and she hoped that more women would be willing to go there and challenge some of the more entrenched sexist attitudes there.) In her most recent Techsploitation blog entry, she recapitulated the whole controversy.

Well...being the liberal feminist and the outspoken person she is, Amanda couldn't hold herself back; in an entry to Pandagon posted today (April 20), she quoted from both Annalee and from some comments placed in Annalee's column, then went off on her own. Here's an excerpt, including three comments and Amanda's response to them.




(Quotes from Annalee's Techsploitation column comments)


You’re Sexy When You’re Angry

for the record, i think your pretty hot. smart chicks are always hot.

So let me get this straight: If a man looks at a woman and thinks about having sex with her, that is “sexist”? If so, call me and every other man on the planet sexist. Apparently, men are supposed to ignore and overcome millenia of evolution, merely to fit into your PC paradigm. I thought this sort of Victorian, sexless feminism had been discretited by the likes of Camille Paglia long ago
.



(Amanda's response)
As for the third comment, I have an idea of a public protest art similiar to what’s done here. We need to get together a hit squad of straight women and gay men together and start hitting big blogs run by men and turning every single discussion into one about whether we’d fuck the guy or not. Refuse to engage on the topic at hand and when anyone says this isn’t about his fuckability, get all pissed off and accuse that person of being an anti-sex prude and suggest they join the Christian right. Sometimes just turning the tables tells the whole story.

Anyway, that guy is clearly an idiot, but unfortunately the other two, while totally well-meaning, are basically falling into his same line of thinking, which is that they cannot conceive of a discussion about a woman’s writing that doesn’t put her value as a sex object up front. I don’t know about Newitz, but there’s been huge, public discussions about my fuckability and I’ll admit, comments like those two cause mixed feelings–it’s not fun to have your looks discussed so openly, but even though compliments can weird you out, you know they generally come from people with good intentions. But I’ve never been in exactly Newitz’s position where the discussion ignored her ideas in favor of talking about her looks and so at least it’s always conceivable that any upset I was feeling was due to just all the people who insult my looks. But in this case, Newitz couldn’t be more clear that it wasn’t the insults or compliments aimed at her so much as she was pissed off that her ideas went ignored.

Basically, I think for some guys when they hear, “I hate having my looks discussed,” they assume straightaway you’re feeling inadequate and immediately jump to the compliment instead of considering what you’re talking about. I’m disinclined to think the guys rushing to assure her they find her attractive were actually intending to add to the frustration. They like her, read her blog, and I think it was just out of habit, actually, because men are trained from the get-go to shower women they like with compliments about their looks, which isn’t the problem per se, but more that it’s often the only kind of compliment men assume women want to hear. (The reverse of this is also true–I had to force myself to learn to compliment men’s looks instead of just achievements, and it’s actually funny watching a guy get flustered but enjoy it if I do so.)

I blame the Men are from Venus, Women are from Mars (or whatever it was–I remember reading the personality traits and I’m much more Martian, so that’s what women must be, right?) thinking. Or Adam and Eve or whatever you want to call it, but the cultural idea that men and women are both opposites and put here to conjoin sexually and that’s that, there’s no reason that men and women should be friends or whatever since they have nothing in common. This way of thinking creates massive problems when men and women have non-sexual interactions, because so many people are stuck in the sexual way of interacting they habitually apply it to these non-sexual interactions. The father-daughter purity balls would be an extreme example of this. I’m sure many of the men there have no incestous urges towards their daughters, and they were applying sexualized modes of interaction out of desperation, because they have no other way of relating to women
.
[/Amanda]


Now...I have no argument with the basic belief that some of the men's comments did cross the line into disrespect for Annalee's article....but my first question is this: Why assume that that was the case with ALL of them?? Perhaps they were simply saying their feelings that Annalee Newitz was an attractive woman, and not disrespecting her at all. Perhaps they really do respect her for her work and her achievements, but merely had their lower heads get in the way of their thinking at that time. To simply label them as misogynists merely due to having sexual thoughts about a woman who is reasonably attractive (even if they did choose the wrong venue to state those thoughts openly) sounds to me as grossly overreaching and a total mass scapegoating of all men for merely having normal thoughts of sexual attraction (even if misdirected somewhat).

Well...I said as much in a comment I posted to Amanda's thread this afternoon...and by the resulting roasting I got, you would have thought that I had advocated that Annalee Newitz (and by extension, all professional women) deserved to be raped. Some highlights from the Comments thread follow (beginning with my original comment:

------------------------------------------------------------------



Anthony Kennerson
Apr 20th, 2006 at 3:22 pm

May I bring a slight bit of dissent in here??

I acknowledge and agree with all the arguments that Annalee should be taken seriously as a woman and a journalist, and that some of the comments at Slashdot do cross the line into blatant sexism by putting her sexuality above her intellect. But…should it really be such a sign of rancid sexism to say that a woman is sexually attractive WHILE still respecting her humanhood??

Let’s remember that Annalee Newitz isn’t just a geek journalist…she also happens to write a great deal about sex and sexuality on the Internet from a very progressive, “sex-positive” point of view. Given that, should it be that much of a surprise that some men would focus on the latter side of her personality…and that she would come across as more accepting of flattery from them???

As long as they do appreciate her as a human being, then what’s the really big deal about commenting about how desirable she is??? Or do some of you believe that ANY depiction of a woman in a serious profession as sexually desirable and attractive can be nothing less than an basic insult to her intellect, and one step removed from sexual harrassment, if not rape??? And how is that any less of a caricature than the sexless, humorless, ball-busting “strawfeminist” stereotype always put forth by antifeminists that Amanda regularly and rightly smacks down???

Besides, I don’t think that most of the men commenting on Slashdot really were putting down Annalee’s intellect…though the argument on whether she was “ugly” or “pretty” did go a bit too far down the road of not addressing the real point of the article she did there.

A woman can indeed be both intellectually stimulating and sexually desirable….or she can be either of the two, or she can be none of the above. The only issue is that she should be given the full respect for her humanity and her achievements…and if others want to undress her mentally in their minds, well, that’s their issue as long as she’s not offended by it.

Geeky women can be sexy, too…and sexy women can be geeks.

The best solution to dealing with knotheads like some of those guys at Slashdot is just to either ignore them or let the decent men on the board dissect them (as what indeed did happen). If thay can’t think of a woman as anything other than their personal sex toy..well, they’re in the wrong place.

Anthony

61 Mike Nilsen
Apr 20th, 2006 at 3:27 pm

Maybe Amanda should edit the comments from this post into a book: ‘Dating Tips for Geeks’. C’mon, you’ll sell a million!

62 Sjofn
Apr 20th, 2006 at 3:40 pm

I just went through a thread on a geeky board about a blog post. The post was about making the gaming world more friendly to women. On the one hand, most of the men in the thread seemed genuinely interested in what makes women feel like total outsiders and unwelcome, and how to change it. But there were two or three guys who went on and on and on and on and on about how it isn’t really a problem, sexism either doesn’t exist or isn’t NEARLY as bad as we think it is (that was my favourite), and how we need to look at ALL SIDES of the issue. When the “all sides” guy was pressed for what those sides could possibly BE, he scurried off saying he didn’t want to get involved, but his opinion (whatever the fuck it even WAS) hadn’t changed.

Blog post(s) in question, if anyone is curious:

Part One: http://rpgtalk.net/msw/weblog/148.html

Part Two: http://rpgtalk.net/msw/weblog/163.html

63 another lynne
Apr 20th, 2006 at 3:41 pm

Anthony, I gotta take issue with your best solution. We gotta call bullshit when we see it.

Because someone writes about sex in one forum, or even in another article doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to focus on sex whenever that person writes.

And there is a huge difference between mentally undressing someone (quietly) and discussing their fuckability in a forum that is (in theory anyway) about something completely unrelated. As I said earlier, context is everything.

64 Sheelzebub
Apr 20th, 2006 at 3:46 pm

But…should it really be such a sign of rancid sexism to say that a woman is sexually attractive WHILE still respecting her humanhood??

Anthony, when it is normal for men to hear women routinely comment upon their looks, their hotness, and their sexiness when they are trying to discuss a serious topic, I’ll agree with you. But that’s not the case. It’s like someone making conversation with you and staring at your tits. No one feels they have to legitimize men by telling them how sexeeee they are.

This isn’t the strawfeminist slapping a man across the face and yelling RAPIST!! when he tells her she looks pretty. It’s genuine irritation at people commenting on a woman’s looks when she’s talking about something that has fuck-all to do with her looks.

And it should tell you something, Anthony, that the sex-positive Newitz herself was irritated at this.

You know, there’s a reason why I don’t post any pictures of me at my blog–besides the whole avoiding stalkers thing. It’s the comments about my looks that I’d be sure to get–I’ve seen it happen to Jill and Lauren at Feministe, Amanda here, and several other female bloggers. I don’t care if someone said that they think I’m the hottest chick in the universe (or an ugly pug) in response to my post. My reaction would still be: WTF does that have to do with the subject at hand?

65 Hershele Ostropoler
Apr 20th, 2006 at 3:47 pm

Anthony Kennerson:
But…should it really be such a sign of rancid sexism to say that a woman is sexually attractive WHILE still respecting her humanhood??

Yup.

The sexism is in treating a woman as decoration. Assuming good faith on the part of all involved, if someone says something insightful about a topic, and that person’s a woman, and you respond with “you’re so pretty!” it looks like you don’t think what she has to say is important.* If you say “that was well-argued, and you’re pretty,” it’s not much better, since it still suggests that you value her not for her insight, but for her appearance, with the insightfulness being a nice bonus.

It’s not always sexist to comment on a woman’s appearance. On a date, say**, it’s perfectly appropriate. Because on a date, her attractiveness (and yours), are pertinent to the purpose of the meeting. In an intellectual discussion, it’s not.

I could never have a relationship wit someone stupid, but that doesn’t mean I think of non-stupid women as nothing but relationship material.

*If we don’t assume good faith, it could be taken as a way for you to convey that you don’t think she should aspire to hold opinions while letting you say, if you’re called on it, “all I said was that she’s pretty!”
** Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether dating is unavoidably and inherently sexist.

66 R. Mildred
Apr 20th, 2006 at 3:52 pm

But…should it really be such a sign of rancid sexism to say that a woman is sexually attractive WHILE still respecting her humanhood??

If you cut the hyperbolic modifier “rancid” then yes, yes it is a sign of sexism, because you are undermining the humanhood you think you’re respecting by subjecting her to the male gaze and thereby turning her into a sexual object when such attention is irrelelvent to the fact at hand.

She does not NEED you to tell her she’s sexually attractive, she does not NEED you to tell her that you’d pork her if you had the opportunity (more importantly, by making such a statement you are ensuring that she would never willingly give you teh opportunity, which leaves one other option…), it’s the internets’ equivalent to builders wolf whistling at passing women or those jackasses who honk and shout sexual propositions to women on the sidewalk while they driveby, which, in case you were unaware, are all forms of sexual harrassment.

Note how the justification are identical to the justification for the builder and car-borne abuse “we’re just complimenting you honey, what’s the big deal?” The Rape Culture’s the big fucking deal, the dehumanizing aspect of it is the fucking deal, the sheer, unadalterated immaturity of it is the fucking deal buddy, and I’m sure that if you zip up your flies for long enough to actually THINK about it, you’d get that.

Don’t you just love how you can’t get away from this shit even on the internets?

67 Sjofn
Apr 20th, 2006 at 4:00 pm

Hell, I find it much worse on the internets (just as an attitude, of course). But maybe that’s just me?

68 lt
Apr 20th, 2006 at 4:17 pm

Also . . in my experience guys who really are into smart women don’t have to go around saying it . . . I mean, it should go without saying - I like being complimented, but if a guy said to me “wow, you’re smart, I like that” it has a creepy Samuel Johnson (the thing is that she does it all) feel

69 Lanoire
Apr 20th, 2006 at 5:04 pm

Anthony, it’s a matter of timing and context. Yes, it’s possible to appreciate a woman’s looks and her humanity. But if someone started expressing their opinion on an issue, and you responded by saying “Nice ass” or “You’re beautiful,” don’t you see how that might be demeaning? Because it’s so irrelevant. If someone writes an opinion column, the correct response to that is to discuss the issue. If Newitz had posted her picture on Hot or Not, then it would be appropriate to discuss her looks. Men don’t have to deal with out-of-context discussions of looks as much as women do.

70 Matt Weiner
Apr 20th, 2006 at 5:16 pm

In re Slashdot, a guy who appears to be a Slashdotter showed up at Unfogged to defend the ultra-ultra-fundie Pensacola Christian College, a school that condemns Bob Jones as too liberal. Scary stuff (scroll up and down and look at the original post for context and for much more of his defense).

71 Jill
Apr 20th, 2006 at 5:27 pm

“As long as they do appreciate her as a human being, then what’s the really big deal about commenting about how desirable she is??? Or do some of you believe that ANY depiction of a woman in a serious profession as sexually desirable and attractive can be nothing less than an basic insult to her intellect, and one step removed from sexual harrassment, if not rape???”

The big deal is that you feel entitled to share your opinion of how desirable she is in a forum that has nothing to do with her putting herself out there for judgment. I’m a little sensitive about this one because I’ve had my physical appearance held up for scrutiny many times on my own blog, and it gets old. While many people are well-meaing in their compliments, I don’t see why your opinion of what I look like matters any more than your opinion on Baroque art matters in a conversation about abortion rights. Completely unrelated, irrelevant, and distracting to the topic at hand. And as other commenters have said, there’s a good deal of entitlement involved when one person feels that it is entirely his right to evalue someone who hasn’t put herself out to be evaluated, in a forum where it’s unrelated.

The issue isn’t with depicting women as sexually desirable. It’s with directly commenting to a woman about her physical appearance when she didn’t solicit such comments, and when those comments have absolutely no purpose except to share the viewer’s opinion on an irrelevant topic.

72 Jesurgislac
Apr 20th, 2006 at 5:42 pm

Anthony Kennerson: May I bring a slight bit of dissent in here??

Anthony’s got a really nice ass. And I like the way he does his hair. But he could use a bit of work on his belly - too much beer, not enough sit-ups. Good package, though he could wear tighter pants.

73 Amanda Marcotte
Apr 20th, 2006 at 5:44 pm

Anthony, you blew your entire argument and any shades of gray when you decided that we were calling rudeness rape. The entitlement reeking off you blows my mind. At what point do you permit a woman to have her own definition of rude? Frankly, I find it hard to believe you’d appreciate it if you were at dinner with your mom and when she ordered, the waiter said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you, I was staring at your ass.”

74 Anthony Kennerson
Apr 20th, 2006 at 6:01 pm

To Lanoire and RMildred:

OK…so a woman’s attractiveness should be completely of the table when it comes to discussing any subject matter, then??? Does that mean that ANY man, who even THINKS of a woman an ANY context as a sexual being, is a prima facie misogynist and should only think of a woman in intellectual terms….even if she happens to be attractive??

Well, I guess that makes me a total misogynist, never mind my committment to women’s equality or my general opposition to feminism…I guess that men really do have to castrate themselves and only look at women on pedestals as sexless status objects to meet some “feminist” standards, do they???

It may be one thing to blurt “I think you’re hot” in a serious venue as a professional setting..but this was a blog, for Pete’s sake, and the comments were for the most part complimenting Annalee, not demeaning her. But since I’m one of those evil Male Gaze, leering men who only cares about bedding them down (my respect for their intellect to the contrary), I’m no better than a mere rapist in some people’s minds for merely saying out loud that a smart woman happens to also be sexy. And never mind if that woman is capable of taking that as a compliment for herself; she is obviously incapable of speaking for all the other women who are supposedly so demeaned and defiled by such a comment.

Obviously, Annalee must be (if I read your response properly) just as much a traitor to her gender for allowing herself (and by extension, all professional women) to be seen as a “sex object”, as the men who responded thusly are apparently evil, sex-crazed misogynists.

After all, women who comment about a man’s (or another woman’s) physical attraction and sex appeal in blogs aren’t traitors to their gender or demeaning men, are they?? Or is that just another patriarchial
vestige imported from men as well?? Women, after all, don’t ever think about sex appeal or eyballing men for sheer sexual attraction, do they???

Thank you, ladies, for bringing back the double standard and proving my main point. I would have thought that even today some would be able to differentiate between actual misogyny and well-meaning (if misstated) praise; or that women shouldn’t have to choose between two basic essences of their humanity (their brains and their bodies) or that men shouldn’t have to support a sexless stereotype pedestal to get “feminist” approval…but now I see that even within certain elements of feminism, some women are more equal than others.

So much for “porn liberal” feminism…sounds like the same old neo-liberal Dworkinism with a smiling face to me. Thank you very much, but I will pass on this one.

Anthony

75 mythago
Apr 20th, 2006 at 6:07 pm

Shorter Anthony: How dare you feminazis shame me for telling Annalee I think she’s TEH HAWT!!!!

76 Anthony Kennerson
Apr 20th, 2006 at 6:25 pm

Hold the phone, Amanda:

I never said that these men were in any way “entitled” to make over the top comments at Annalee or any other woman; nor did I ever say that I ever approved of disrespecting women who were put off at such comments. And NO man is ever entitled to violate a woman physically or in any other way.

But..to say that any man who even thinks of an attractive woman in his mind in a sexual way is automatically deemed a misogynist is not only as sweeping an overgeneralization and indictment of men for merely stating a truth (perhaps a bit abruptly and in an improper setting), but it potentially goes into convicting a person merely for his thoughts rather than his actions. Please forgive me if I happen to think that calling a sex writer and a generally attractive woman “hot” may be highly innappropriate in some settings, but does not merit the same criticism as actual workplace harrassment…or for thinking that some women may even find such behavior relatively irrelevant or even flattering. If you are going to smack down the men for not taking Annalee seriously (and that is your right as a feminist that I never questioned at all), then why not take that argument to its logical conclusion and criticize Annalee for focusing much of her work on sex to begin with??? (And I am NOT criticizing Annalee for her profession in any way, either, for those of you about to break out the “typical male elitist card”.)

It just seems to me that men can’t win for losing in this game: If they make a legitimate attempt to treat women as equals and respect their intellect, while simultaneously praising them for their appearence, they still get smacked down for “objectifying women” as “sex objects” even when they aren’t really attempting to.

As much as I respect you and your crew, Amanda, I still reserve my right to disagree with you on some issues and still remain a feminist supporter. You have as much of a right to disagree with me as I do as well..but please, read what I said before casting be out as another MRA loony..which I am NOT.

I see that I am offending some people, so I will leave it at that. To each his or her own.

BTW..my ass is like most other men’s asses…typical. If you want to kiss it, then that’s your perogative…just be gentle. It’s the only ass I have.

I apologize for offending anybody…I’m gone.

Anthony




I'll just allow all of you to digest that before I continue with my rant.

3 comments:

Amber said...

I don't disagree with your points, Anthony, about sexual attractiveness and intellect not being mutually exclusive, or that finding someone sexually attractive doesn't mean you don't respect them as a person, or that acknowledging a woman's sexual attractiveness doesn't imply misogyny. A cursory reading of my blog should show you that I agree wtih all these things, as I blog abotu them regularly, and the sex-neg "feminists" really piss me the fuck off. But, I gotta side w/ Annalee and Amanda here. The issue is not what was said. The point is that it was an inapprorpiate venue. The topic of her fuckability was completely irrelevant to the article at hand. I've never seen that topic come up in a technical article written by a man.

Anthony Kennerson said...

Amber:

Thanks for being so reasonable and responding.

I never said that it wasn't an improper venue for some of those comments...I thought that I had made that perfectly clear in my original remarks. And if you remember, I did say that some of the more extreme "pretty or ugly" conversations did cross the line into objectional behavior...I never intended to deny that.

My main point, however, was that I got from the implication of some of what Amanda was saying (and reenforced to an extent by some of the respondents to my comments) that ANY kind of comments praising a woman for her beauty or openly expressing her sexual desirablilty were prima facie sexist in ANY venue...and that ALL men who think that way are innately downgrading and degrading all professional women as "sex objects". I wasn't actually disagreeing with Annalee in any way about her being pissed off at her views not being taken seriously at Slashdot by those few knotheads...I was just pointing out that not all the comments may have been motivated by sheer misogyny or putting her down. (Some might well be, yes, but not all.) It all depends, in my view, on the context and the venue.

I guess what set me off was the assumption that some sex-neg feminists (and I do NOT include Amanda as one of them) have that if a man even so much as THINKS of a woman as a sexual being (in the context of a full human being, of course), then he is inherently insulting not just her, but ALL women, or at the very least reducing them to his "sex object". My response to that is simply that if we are indeed a sexual people who think about sex most of the time, then isn't it kind of arbitrary and counterproductive to censor men (and women) all the time for having such thoughts in their minds, let alone allowing them to speak those thoughts in a proper and non-exploitative venue??? There are indeed innappropriate areas and times to state that openly, and a high-tech journal is one of them...but what I challenged is the notion that there should be NO appropriate time or place for a woman who wants to be recognized as a sexual being; and that not all men who recognize that aspect of her are innately disrespectful of her intellect or brains or otherwise.

And yes, I do acknowledge that far too often, more women have to face the dilemma of having her looks or appearance take front stage over her intellect...but does that negate those who happen to have both??? I'd say hardly. In my view, the proper response isn't to demonize those women who aren't insulted by compliments about their looks or their sex appeal; the response is to treat women as human beings and respect their individual boundaries as to how they want to be treated.

That's all I intended with that essay...and I sincerely apologize if it rubbed Amanda and some others (and you too) the wrong way.


Anthony

Amber said...

Like I said before, Anthony, I absolutely agree with your points. However, you say:

My main point, however, was that I got from the implication of some of what Amanda was saying (and reenforced to an extent by some of the respondents to my comments) that ANY kind of comments praising a woman for her beauty or openly expressing her sexual desirablilty were prima facie sexist in ANY venue...and that ALL men who think that way are innately downgrading and degrading all professional women as "sex objects"

I didn't get that from reading what Amanda wrote. I did get it from a few of the comments. But if you're focusing mainly on Amanda's original post, it did not come off that way to me.

Guess it just goes to show that in the blogosphere, as in real life, people read/see/interpret things differently.

And don't worry, you didn't rub me the wrong way.