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I tried to let it go...

book
I thought I could let it go, but nope, I'm still pissed.

The winter issue of the SFWA Bulletin has been taking a lot of flak for it's embarrassing softcore fantasy porn cover. But the part that's been bothering me even more is on the inside, from an article on female editors:

"She was competent, unpretentious, and beauty pageant gorgeous" -- [well-known male author]

I'm omitting names here because I have no bone to pick with this author in particular. It's just symptomatic of a general social trend that drives me crazy, and I was upset to see the trend so flagrantly displayed in the Bulletin -- and as a pull quote, nonetheless.

My question: what exactly does her bombshellness have to do with her being a notable editor? I realize it's an article about women, but I feel like the authors are rather missing the point if their thought process goes like this: article about women, women are for sex, must mention sexy editors. I'm guessing -- or perhaps naively hoping? -- that the original purpose of the "Literary Ladies" column was to counteract unconscious social bias against women by highlighting the accomplishments of notable ladies in the industry. Ladies who have been historically overlooked because of their gender. Ladies who now get to enjoy being objectified in print for all of SFWA to see. Yay? Progress?

How many times have you seen someone accepting an Oscar thank their "beautiful wife"? It's so common it's cliché, but really, if you have to reduce your spouse to one adjective, is that the best choice? Even if you are in a sexual relationship with someone, how hot they are is not necessarily their most important characteristic. And for the love of god, if you're in a business relationship with someone, there is NO NEED to mention their physical appearance when extolling their virtues.

To provide a gender-reversed example from SFF fandom, some folks around the intarwebs have noted that China Mieville is a good-looking dude. It's not necessary, however, to add "...and he's teh hott" whenever you want to say something positive about his books. The hotness, when remarked upon, is incidental. The vast majority of the time, we discuss the work done by men without ever referencing what they look like. Why? Because it is enough that they do good work.

Good work is never enough to make a woman good. To be the complete package, she must also be pleasing for her co-workers to look at. Because we are still objects.

I'm sorry, dudes of the world, but pleasing your aesthetic sense with my hotness is not on my top-ten list of life goals. I am not a fucking piece of décor in your workplace. And I am so sick of the automatic, unexamined need to add commentary about a woman's attractiveness when it should be sufficient to say she's "competent" and "unpretentious."

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
art_ungulate
Feb. 4th, 2013 02:59 pm (UTC)
Don't let it go. This point deserves to be made until it sinks in.

I don't suppose that a concerted effort to sexualize male authors and editors (e.g. Mieville) every time we talk/write about them would help in a turn-the-tables sort of way? Just to get the point across? Or would that just drag everything into mud-slinging?

On the other hand, maybe its been done already (e.g. Jim Hines posing), but in a way that amounts to men trying to get the point across to other men, instead of men truly listening to what women have been saying for decades...

(I looked askance at the cover when I got it, but missed the rest b/c I haven't read the issue yet.)
gwendolynclare
Feb. 5th, 2013 03:52 am (UTC)
It's hard when you're dealing with unexamined social programming, because it's not really any individual person's fault, so confronting individuals will just make them defensive. I think Jim Hines had such a positive response not just because feminist dudes are for whatever reason less threatening than angry feminist ladies, but also because the point he was trying to make could be made in a humorous way.
art_ungulate
Feb. 5th, 2013 05:05 pm (UTC)
Yes! And I very much like what Hines has done. But it underscores that non-feminist men still need to listen to feminist women, as well as feminist men.
joaniechachi
Feb. 6th, 2013 07:53 pm (UTC)
There are a lot of problematic aspects to a "turn the tables" approach. There was recent motion to have an "objectify a man in tech" day, but it's been called off. For one, doing it only for one day won't be the same as the ongoing experience of death by a thousand papercuts. For another, it's probable that a lot of men would miss the point; most men would get an ego boost from positive comments on appearance, rather than feel belittled (and thus missing the moment of enlightenment about women's experiences), while men who were subject to negative comments on appearance would be likely to react with anger on a personal level (again missing the point about women's experiences, and adding in the possibility of threatening responses). And thirdly, it's probable that in the process, some people will be really and truly hurt. Who's really helped by it if we perpetrate the same shitty things against other people?
art_ungulate
Feb. 6th, 2013 11:25 pm (UTC)
Yes. Very good points - thank you! I just get so frustrated with these things and want to do a "Well, how would you like it if..."

As with most things worth changing, this is one where continuing to make the point (in a civil manner) until people listen may actually carry the day. Or, at least, one can hope. ~sigh~
mercwriter
Feb. 4th, 2013 03:53 pm (UTC)
THIS. Definitely.
vortexae
Feb. 12th, 2013 11:17 pm (UTC)
How many times have you seen someone accepting an Oscar thank their "beautiful wife"? It's so common it's cliché, but really, if you have to reduce your spouse to one adjective, is that the best choice? Even if you are in a sexual relationship with someone, how hot they are is not necessarily their most important characteristic. And for the love of god, if you're in a business relationship with someone, there is NO NEED to mention their physical appearance when extolling their virtues.

I have for some time been of the opinion that the phrase "lovely and talented" (as in, "My lovely and talented assistant" or "Our next guest of honor is the lovely and talented [name]") needs to die a permanent death.

On the subject of objectifying men - as a rebuttal, it fails for all the reasons listed already (I mean, how many times have you heard a guy say, "If I got 'catcalled', as you called it, I'd be complimented!" and miss the point entirely?)... yet I was strangely tickled listening to a recent edition of Nikki Sixx's hard-rock evening show on my local radio, where the male commenators were saying of a male celebrity, "He's held up well for his years. Yeah, he's still totally bangable." It was less that I was satisfied hearing a man get objectified, more that it made me grin to hear a man talking about a man's sexual attractiveness without immediately protesting his machohetorostraightness immediately afterward.

Still and all, bringing up anyone's "bangability" when speaking of them professionally is always improper, and I'm sick of that being the accepted mode for talking about women.
agnoster
Apr. 2nd, 2013 09:39 am (UTC)
Thought about this again when reading about the recent uproar over the Times obit of a rocket scientist that went out of its way to first praise her cooking and child-raising before even *mentioning* her professional accomplishments. I think the people who do this are mostly well-intentioned, but they don't realize what they're really saying, which is: "see, she was an exceptional person while still being a good *woman*!" They end up accidentally (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here) reinforcing the idea that in some sense the primary measure of a woman's worth is her ability to fulfill her traditional role: attractiveness, domesticity, and so on. So it's not merely objectification (though that's probably the worst part), but really a notion that women are measured on a different scale from, y'know, *people*.

The good news is, I think that actually most well-intentioned people who make this kind of slip-up will be pretty receptive to pointing out why it's problematic, and awareness in general seems to be spreading, thanks to people speaking up about it. Hell, this is a mistake I bet I and nearly every other male (maybe also female?) feminist has made when they didn't know better, and probably will until we live in a society where the first thing people say to a little girl isn't "oh, isn't she pretty!"

So yeah, you're right to not let it go. Bit by bit, the knowledge spreads, and we mess up a little less each time.

Edited at 2013-04-02 09:39 am (UTC)
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