I recently blogged here about an incident in which a publicity poster for one of my speaking events got tagged with graffiti calling me “the ugliest of all atheists!” (Or, to be more accurate, “the ugliest of all athiests!”)
I would have thought that my position on this — “It’s bad to criticize women’s ideas by attacking their personal appearance” — was fairly uncontroversial. And for the most part, it was: most people participating in the discussion, including most men, agreed. But I got more pushback on this position that I expected. And I learned a number of interesting things in that conversation, which I thought I should share.
1: There is a small chance that the person who wrote “the ugliest of all athiests!” on my publicity poster was not a man. Therefore, it was unfair of me to use the #mencallmethings tag on the blog post. And this is clearly the more important issue, which we should all be discussing. The problem of women being valued solely or primarily for our value as ornaments, sexual playthings, and/or babymakers, and routinely getting our ideas ignored and trivialized based on our personal appearance… this is much less important than the problem of using the #mencallmethings hashtag when I can’t be absolutely certain that it was a man who called me the things. And any discussion of the former should immediately have the subject changed to a discussion of the latter.
2: When someone does change the subject of a discussion from “incident of sexism against a woman” to “unfairness towards men,” it’s not necessarily a “Yes, but…” attempt to derail the conversation. It could simply be an attempt to get an important issue out of the way — the important issue of men being unfairly stereotyped as more likely to write sexist graffiti — so the conversation won’t get derailed.
3: It’s unreasonable to assume that by “ugly,” the person who wrote the graffiti meant “visually ugly.” They could have been expressing an opinion about the ugliness of my atheism. Despite the fact that the graffito wasn’t referring to all atheists and all atheism, but was singling me out. And despite the fact that that graffito was written next to my photograph.
4: Discussing the incident at all is making too big a deal about it. Who cares what some idiot writes on a flyer? I should have just ignored it. Because ignoring sexism and shrugging it off has worked so well in the past.
5: Some women in show business have been successful as they have aged. Therefore, we should consider the possibility that the vast majority of women in show business who haven’t been successful as they’ve aged are themselves to blame, since they put too great an emphasis on their looks when they were younger.
Finally, and very importantly:
6: The issue I apparently overlooked is that I actually am ugly. Okay, not “ugly” per se. But my glasses don’t make me sexually attractive to the average man, and my smile in my publicity photo is too big and too silly. I should consider making changes to my physical presentation: by wearing different glasses, or sexing it up more when I give a talk about sexuality, or using a different publicity photo. I should consider doing better job of fitting my physical presentation into a form that society will find acceptable.
The fact that there is literally no way women can win at this? The fact that getting our ideas dismissed by focusing on our personal appearance happens to every single woman in our culture? The fact that women who aren’t conventionally attractive get ignored and trivialized for being ugly… and women who are conventionally attractive get ignored and trivialized as bimbos who only got their position through their looks? The fact that different people have different standards of attractiveness, so the same exact woman can be ignored and trivialized both for being too ugly and for being too attractive? Not an issue. If only I’d pretty myself up a bit, this whole problem would go away.
Just thought I should clear all that up.
UPDATE: You know, looking these over, I’m just now noticing the no-win conflict between #5 and #6. On the one hand, if women are getting dismissed based on our looks, we should change our looks and our physical presentation (#6). On the other hand, if we’re not successful as we age, it’s because we placed too much emphasis on our looks. m-/