Welcome, Professor! You sure are easy on the eyes.

I’m going to reprint a comment I left at another blog – but a bit of context is required first. Over at Prawfsblog, a post introducing a new blogger, who is female, was responded to by a male poster who wrote “New permaprof is easy on the eyes as well.” Ann Bartow responded by saying to the new blogger, “I was going to wish you good luck even before reading that bit of assholishness. Now I wish you good luck more emphatically still.”

This led Bart Motes (lots of “barts” in this discussion) to respond:

3. Do you not think that there is a valid point to be made that criticizing the misapplication of the male gaze, or lookism, or whatever, is a misapplication of valuable and rare resources? Or do you think that having some guy go “hubba-hubba” on a message board about the picture of a priviledged, powerful, indepedent member of society aka a law professor is really a more pressing issue than wage inequality, having control over one’s body, etc.?

Bart, I’ve commented on “the pettiness” charge at some length at my blog. But, briefly:

1) Your question assumes that Ann faces an either-or choice between discussing “pressing” issues and objecting to a sexist comment on this blog. In fact, Ann can do both, and does do both.

2) You’ve written more on this thread than Ann. Surely there are more pressing issues you could be discussing, by your standards. Why aren’t you holding yourself to the same standards you suggest Ann be held to?

I’d suggest it’s because the standard you suggest is in practice unreasonable, for either you or for Ann. A standard that says we can never engage any issues but the most pressing is simply too restrictive.

3) Your belief that sexist comments about professional women is not a pressing issue is dubious at best. You’re ignoring that sexism is systematic. Wage inequality and attacks on reproductive freedom don’t happen in contextless isolation; they happen in a context of a society in which women are consistently devalued.

Sexism directed against female law profs is bad in and of itself, and that alone is enough to justify Ann’s comment. But it’s also bad because such ordinary day-to-day sexism normalizes sexism, and makes the more “pressing” concerns you cited more difficult to overcome.

4. Do you think that when you get to the point where you are mau-mauing a guy who read Katha Pollitt’s column in the Nation from age 16, whose sister went to Smith, and who considers himself an equality feminist that you might be out on the fringes of mainstream political opinion? Just asking.

It’s refreshing to read an ad hom defense, rather than an ad hom attack. But even as a defense, ad hom is still a logical error; who you are is not logically relevant to if your arguments are bad or good. And whether or not Ann’s arguments are “mainstream political opinion” is not logically relevant, either; mainstream views can be mistaken.

That said, I’m glad you self-identify as a feminist (the more the better!). But with all due respect, a feminist self-identity shouldn’t rule out taking feminist criticism of oneself seriously.

* * *

Further reading on this subject: Law and Letters has an extremely thoughtful and well-written post inspired by the discussion on PrawfsBlog. And Being Amber Rhea has a wonderfully angry post about “you’re not only smart, you’re hotttt!” style compliments – and also the “you’re stupid and ugly” counterpart.

Cross-posted at Creative Destruction, where moderation is less heavy-handed.

This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Gender and the Body. Bookmark the permalink. 

33 Responses to Welcome, Professor! You sure are easy on the eyes.

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  4. 4
    Abyss2hope says:

    What caught my eye on that linked post was this comment made by a woman: “If you don’t want people to comment on your picture, don’t post your picture.”

    That tells me this is still such a systemic problem that women continue to have to navigate around the problem. So like many types of sexist behaviors, the responsibility falls to the person on the receiving end of inappropriate language and actions.

    This also reinforces the idea that what men want to say or do to women is a higher priority than what women don’t want said or done to them. Women can have any right they want as long as it doesn’t inconvenience any men.

    Men treating a woman respectfully and professionally when the woman posts a picture of herself is apparently too much work.

  5. 5
    Grasshopper says:

    First time I’ve commented here. And though I certainly consider myself a feminist, I’ve never studied it. In my family the men have only recently learned (or learned to keep it to themselves) that one of a woman’s many duties is NOT presenting a pleasing appearance to all mankind.

    The more I was told to, “Smile!” the angrier I got. And I do realize the inequities. My own great-grandmother (no longer living) used to blast a female politician’s face and figure, never mentiong that the male competition looked exactly like a caricature of a human frog.

    At the same time, I am not at all confident that upon spying a male public figure, who’s just earned a good job, and looks really great, handsome but not too handsome, I wouldn’t shout out, hubba-hubba myself: Most burning issue of the times or not. grasshopper

  6. 6
    Raznor says:

    That said, I’m glad you self-identify as a feminist (the more the better!). But with all due respect, a feminist self-identity shouldn’t rule out taking feminist criticism of oneself seriously.

    Well said, but I would go a step further and say that for a man to be legitimately feminist, serious consideration of feminist criticism is a minimum requirement. No matter how much Katha Pollitt one reads.

  7. 7
    Stentor says:

    Well said, although I think the ad hominem defense is much more common than you think (though I’m glad to have a good name for it). It pops up every time a left-of-center person (especially a white man) gets criticized from the left. Hugo Schwyzer indulges in it from time to time, and there’s a particularly beautiful (by which I mean painful) instance of it at the end of this long Hank Fox post.

  8. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Us vs Them and the Ad Hominem Defense

  9. 8
    ms_xeno says:

    Abyss nailed it.

    8)

  10. 9
    nerdlet says:

    Is “equality feminist” the same as “equity feminist,” aka “mainstream feminists offend me by saying that women suffer from sexism far more than men do” feminist? Just curious – Bart doesn’t sound like that, since he mentions bodily control and the wage gap as actual issues, but I haven’t heard that kind of thing used anywhere else.

  11. 10
    Span says:

    I find the level of debate when the value of a women’s contribution is measured not by what she has said or done but by how she looked at the time frustrating. I get particularly frustrated when it is other women doing this – eg I was once interviewed on the telly and never got to see it myself. I asked a colleague at the time how what I said came across and she said, oh I don’t know, but you looked great! Thanks, that was exactly what I was aiming for, for my words to be completely ignored.

    I don’t have a picture of myself on my blog, I have never put up any pictures that feature me, for the precise reason for the debate behind this post. The NZ political blogosphere is incredibly sexist, largely dominated by youngish heterosexual men who just don’t get it. To post a photo of myself is to ask for a whole world of grief that I don’t wish to enter. I have noticed that because I haven’t posted such a picture I have never had any comments which abuse my appearance. But I would far prefer that I didn’t have to restrain myself as a form of protection against the sexists.

  12. 11
    RonF says:

    I’m sitting here trying to figure out under what circumstances a comment like that WOULD be appropriate. I’m coming up blank. Maybe when being introduced to a blind date or getting ready to go out with my wife I might say “gee, you look nice”, but under this kind of situation I have to hold with the feminists – it’s inappropriate.

  13. 12
    shiloh says:

    I have noticed that because I haven’t posted such a picture I have never had any comments which abuse my appearance.

    I had great hopes that this would work, but I’ve seen conversations where some guy speculates on a woman’s looks (concluding she must be hot or not), and I’ve seen debates where the speculator takes these speculations as fact and then insults the woman on the grounds of her appearance, even though he has no idea what she looks like! So even that doesn’t always work if your name indicates that you’re female – or if the male poster assumes you are.

    Apparently some guys are so hung up on a woman’s looks they can’t stop thinking about it even when they can’t see her. Which I find profoundly depressing.

  14. shiloh – yep that’s one of the reasons I also don’t specify my gender on my blog. Many times it has been assumed I’m male (which I always point out is incorrect) and anyone who reads my blog regularly would surely be able to tell I’m a woman. (at least I hope so). I wish what you have written about some guys being unable to stop thinking about how a woman appears wasn’t true, but it is :-(

  15. 14
    Bart Motes says:

    Thanks for your comment, which I only recently spotted. First off, I did say what you quote me as saying above, but that was not my response to Bartow. My response to her statement was initially: “Prof. Bartow seems to come from a zero-tolerance school of feminism, but maybe when one’s interests is in promoting the rights of a discriminated set of people, the picking only the best fights philosophy is superior?”

    I thought this was a fair question and if Professor Bartow had chosen to respond to it substantively, I have little doubt that we could have come to an understanding. In fact, I am not convinced that a best fights philosophy is superior–I chose my words in an effort to evoke the New York City police force’s zero tolerance approach to petty crime, which has been widely viewed as effective in stopping more serious crimes. I think there’s a case to be made for it. On the other hand, you risk a backlash from people who think that your cause is too trivial. Instead of a substantive response, Professor Bartow chose to snidely group me in with the “assholish” comment by responding:

    “quod erat demonstrandum.”

    Er, really? My post demonstrates her point? Put aside the questionable usage of Latin, which only the hopelessly provincial can still believe indicates erudition (maybe I’ll write her a brief note in Chinese to illustrate), but does my question really get grouped into the same class? Bartow never responded to my further points, instead choosing to snark over at her blog that my remarks were all part of a campaign to keep women in their place. That just seems dumb and like intellectual cowardice.

    All that said, I agree with your criticism. We do not have to pick and choose our fights per se. And Professor Bartow is well within her rights to promote her angry, narrowminded vision of the world, in which she creates enemies out of potential allies. And we of the broader minded progressive world are able to disassociate ourselves from her alienating critique and say that, gee, guys, there’s nothing wrong with admiring a woman’s ass in personal life as long as you respect her professionally. The legitimate point that can and should be made–let’s be generous and say that this is what Bartow was after–is that it is always inappropriate to sexualize someone in a professional context. Whether a picture posted on a webpage of a professor falls into that category, however, I would submit, is questionable–at least borderline.

    I like the concept of an ad hom defense, but I couldn’t care less if anyone thinks that I am a vile sexist pig or a wonderfully progressive human being. Has no effect on my life. The point I was making is that Bartow leaped to a broad and unfounded conclusion about me and who I was without any idea. Stupid.

    Note on being an “equality feminist.”: Equality feminism means you believe that men and women have the same capabilities and rights, as opposed to difference feminism, which emphasizes the special qualities of women.

    A broader point: everyone judges everyone on the basis of their looks. Half of my female colleagues at law school have killer crushes on their professors. You cannot stop people from judging other people on the basis of their looks. Sorry. But it is absolutely true that such judgments should be absent from appraisal of individuals’ professional qualities.

    And all the talk about Ann Coulter and isn’t it horrible that she gets such a hard time–gosh, I guess no fascist male has ever been treated that way. Wouldn’t it be horrible if a lot of criticism of an insane, drug addled radio show host focused on, i dunno, his weight?

    That’s it. I’m on your side, really. Here’s what women don’t seem to realize about men and feminism. You’re trying to get our support to reject priviledges that we get automatically and accept restrictions on our behavior. To do that, you have to make a good moderate case. Otherwise what incentive do we have? Also, if you turn on people who are 80% compliant with your agenda, why shouldn’t we just say to hell with it and be the most intolerant male chauvinists of all time?

    Last, last, last, I have just come out of a meeting with our client, the female head of a Singaporean company, her three male colleagues, two male prospective buyers of a subsidiary of her company from Jiang Su province, their female lawyer, and two female Chinese lawyer-colleagues of mine. This in one of the most sexist countries on earth. Things are radically different today than thirty years. Will you have to put up with some bullshit? Yes. But as women today, you can do whatever you want. Honestly, I think there’s quite a few more pressing issues out there than whether a female law professor gets called hot on a blog.

    Let the castigation begin.

  16. 15
    mythago says:

    Bart, if you just want attention, why not put that in the first line of your post, instead of your last?

    Since you’ve said you’ll take a kick if you can’t get a kiss, let me castigate your rhetorical skills. (I’m sorry; I know you were looking forward to an anti-feminist pile-on, but you’ll take what you can get, right?) When you insist all wide-eyed that you’re asking a ‘fair’ question and then follow with a slew of attacks tarted up with question marks, of course people are going to perceive rather quickly that you’re not “fair”.

  17. 16
    ms_xeno says:

    I like how it took ol’ Barty all them there paragraphs to explain why the issue just isn’t all that important. He spent all this time weaving elaborate justifications for the male’s (aparently) uncontrollable compulsion to vet every woman for visual value before paying attention to her silly little desires for respect. He spent bonus minutes on the hackneyed point that we’d better be niiiiiice to sexists if we want any rights for ourselves. Eh, I don’t think Barty really believes that the issue’s all that trivial.

  18. 17
    Sailorman says:

    My favorite part is this:

    …we of the broader minded progressive world are able to disassociate ourselves from her alienating critique and say that, gee, guys, there’s nothing wrong with admiring a woman’s ass in personal life as long as you respect her professionally.

    um, there’s not anything wrong with it? And here I thought I was a progressive….

    See, I always thought that unless you’re purely in a social situation, it WAS pretty inappropriate. I don’t want people looking at my ass when they’re working with me, whether or not they “respect me professionally,” whatever that means. Mostly because I don’t really see “staring at ass” and “respecting professionally” as being happy roommates in someone’s mind, conscious or not.

    How was it for you? And will you still respect me professionally in the morning…?

    Anyway, because I don’t want people staring at MY ass (though I can’t imagine anyone would want to do so) well, then, I assume they don’t want me staring at THEIR ass. Or breasts. Or face, unless I’m sitting across a negotiating table with them. I don’t like to be stared at, at all. So I don’t stare at them.

    Yes, sometimes my eyeballs will automatically flick to a body part as someone walks by–the conditioning brought on by years of living as an American male. But I 1) actively try to avoid it; 2) actively and quickly look away when it happens; 3) generally feel embarassed when it does happen; and 4) don’t think of it as professional or OK in any way.

    As a result, I do it less than I did when I was, say, 19. THAT is what a “progressive male” is supposed to do, if you can’t avoid the occasional automatic glance in the first place.

    This doesn’t mean you can’t think. I work with some women who are–now that I’m deliberately slipping out of professional mode for a few seconds and actually thinking about it–extremely attractive, I suppose. But I would no more think of their looks while redrafting a contract with them than I would think of their dental history. The context makes the thought improper.

  19. 18
    Sheelzebub says:

    Bart, are you getting bored at the stake, waiting for someone to light a match?

    You know, I’ve had that fucking “golly you are teh hawt” card pulled out at jobs before, and it’s fucking annoying. WTF does that have to do with anything? You girls can do anything you want, except go through the day without some some guy discuss your looks. Nice to know that even though the issue isn’t important, a woman’s looks are important enough to discuss.

    But hey! The guy who said it read Katha Pollitt since he was seven and isn’t at all like those nasty brown sexist men in Asia/the Middle East/Africa/wherethefuckever. Color me unimpressed.

    Next time you think of doing that, please have a nice cup of STFU. ‘Cause seriously, kiddo, while it’s common for women to be referred to by their looks/sexiness (jeez, look at how female commedians are intro’d), I don’t hear it about the guys.

  20. 19
    Bart Motes says:

    Sailorman, maybe I drafted my sentence poorly (thanks mythago!), but didn’t I say exactly what you spend your time criticizing me for not saying? Let’s do a walkthrough:

    1. It’s ok to admire women’s physical features generally.

    2. It is never ok to do so in a professional context.

    3. There is some debate about which context a picture on a blog falls into.

    Where are we disagreeing?

    ms_xeno, to paraphrase that French philosopher, my post is longer because I lacked the time to make it shorter. As it turned out, the Singaporean female director of the company decided to order in lunch and continue the meeting for the rest of the day in an effort to hammer out a deal. So I had no time to edit my post. Mea culpa.

    Sheelezbub, do you have a point? Apart from my moral degeneracy and inferiority to you based on positionality within an identity politics framework that only a tiny self-marginalizing group subscribes to? Oh darn, too many question marks. Clearly my remarks are unfair.

    Sadly, this exchange will accomplish nothing. You are predictably seeing me as a target to be mau-maued and have no desire to engage. But again, why do lefties of all stripes insist on perfect idealogical purity from near-idealogical soulmates? Call it self-serving, but I just don’t get it.

  21. 20
    mythago says:

    Dude, you’re just going to have to light that match yourself. Sorry to spoil all the fun.

  22. 21
    Jimmy Ho says:

    Come, now, show some respect. You’re talking to the Dashan of law counselling; he coulda slapped Ann Bartow with “a brief note in Chinese” showing the extent of his erudition, but he chose to spare her.
    “Predictable” is right, including the part where you imagine that we never read anyone trashing and bashing feminist women while claiming to be their “soulmates”.

  23. 22
    Bart Motes says:

    Jimmy Ho, Da Shan, did you come up with that yourself or via my website? My point about the Chinese was that it would be JUST as lame/unreasonable for me to respond to Bartow in Chinese as it was for her to respond to me in Latin. Anyway, thanks, we’d both be lucky if we spoke Chinese as well as Da Shan.

    mythago, I’m not trying to play martyr, I just think it’s funny/unfortunate that no one has tried to engage my points but rather has just tried to score cheap points.

    Ampersand’s post was a good one. Kind of disintegrated since then.

  24. 23
    Sailorman says:

    Hmm. What part of your quote did I misquote?

    2. It is never ok to do so in a professional context.

    I agree, of course, as I said. And if that’s actually what you feel then, great! But in all fairness I don’t see how that jibes with the sentence I quoted.

    If you want to say “oops, I didn’t write what I meant” that makes sense, I suppose.

  25. 24
    Bart Motes says:

    Sailorman, when I wrote:

    “there’s nothing wrong with admiring a woman’s ass in *personal* life as long as you *respect her professionally.*” (emphasis added) was that there is a distinction between private and professional life. By respect, I meant don’t sexualize. Should have been clearer. Later however, I do say: “The legitimate point . . .is that it is always inappropriate to sexualize someone in a professional context. Whether a picture posted on a webpage of a professor falls into that category, however, I would submit, is questionable–at least borderline.”

    I’m glad we are on the same page and I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer. It was all dashed off pretty quickly and sloppily. With, at times, intent to provoke, I will confess.

  26. 25
    Jimmy Ho says:

    Bart Motes, Ann Bartow writing “quod erat demonstrandum”, an expression as common for people with a college education as “ad hominem” or “a priori”, is in way comparable to you writing her something in Chinese (assuming she doesn’t know the language). You should stop pretending that she was trying to show off when she wrote the developped version of “QED” on a site frequented by lawyers.

    Anyway, thanks, we’d both be lucky if we spoke Chinese as well as Da Shan.

    Speak for yourself. Personally, I’m not too worked up about that. It’s Dashan, not Da Shan, by the way. You should have a look at his website (the Chinese version, of course, where he explains why he writes it that way. Naturally, you don’t ignore that the official transcription of the province you mentioned is Jiangsu, not Jiang Su.

  27. 26
    Jimmy Ho says:

    Line 2: in no way comparable, etc.

  28. Bart Motes wrote:

    I’m on your side, really. Here’s what women don’t seem to realize about men and feminism. You’re trying to get our support to reject priviledges that we get automatically and accept restrictions on our behavior. To do that, you have to make a good moderate case. Otherwise what incentive do we have? Also, if you turn on people who are 80% compliant with your agenda, why shouldn’t we just say to hell with it and be the most intolerant male chauvinists of all time?

    To answer the last question first: because, presumably, you are not children. More to the point, if you agree with 80% of the feminist agenda, it would seem to me that would mean you recognize its value independently of whether or not any given feminist or group of feminists “turns on” you, and if you recognize that value, then it would seem to me that you would be acting on it because it is the right thing to do rather than worrying about whether or not feminists are providing you with some other incentive to support them.

    Finally, I have to say that I find your language—”80% compliant with your agenda”—very telling in terms of how it frames the power dynamic you think is at work in the relationship between the people who are “80% compliant” and feminists/feminism. That you feel feminism is something to be complied with, rather than something to be internalized and lived to the best of your ability explains a great deal.

  29. 28
    Bart Motes says:

    Hmmm, Jimmy, actually I don’t know the rules of pinyin because I learned zhu yin, but I generally separate the individual characters. As you know, pinyin is just an inaccurate proxy, especially without tone markers, so I don’t see the point. But I will see what Da-shan has to say about it. (Unfortunately, my Chinese reading ability is poor.) If you’re an ABC and you speak Chinese as well as him, then congratulations. That is very rare. If you are a native born Chinese who lived most of their life in China, then of course you speak Chinese better than Da-Shan but then I must congratulate you on your English abilities.

    Now, as far as writing out QED, I still maintain that it was a dismissive put down ironically, given her other claims, intend to stifle discussion.

    But this is very offtopic. I’ll give you the last word on it.

  30. 29
    Bart Motes says:

    Richard Jeffrey Newman:

    Thanks for the interesting points. I was speaking rhetorically of course. For myself, of course I am a feminist because it is morally reprehensible and illogical to treat people differently based on superficial differences. Therefore, it is my duty to be opposed to any such behavior. On the other hand, as a young man, I have plenty of friends who don’t feel this way and I understand their perspective. Further, as someone interested in politics and why liberals have been getting their asses kicked recently, I think that its important to craft a message that is inclusive and appealing.

  31. 30
    mythago says:

    but rather has just tried to score cheap points

    Bart, your entire post was salted with cheap points and insults. You seem to be an articulate guy, so it’s reasonable to conclude that this was a deliberate attempt to provoke people into reacting with similar nastiness, rather than actually debating your points. As Sheelzebub pointed out, there’s not much reason to do that unless you’re setting yourself up to play the role of intellectual martyr.

    On your points, you are conflating two uses of the word ‘admire’. There is a difference between having admiration and expressing admiration. Sailorman already went over this; noting briefly that your professor/co-worker is attractive is a different class of behavior than acting on those thoughts by ogling or by expressing them out loud.

    As for ‘but the professor put her picture up,’ I’m sure you didn’t really mean to suggest that you have no self-control.

  32. 31
    Bart Motes says:

    mythago, it’s a dumb debate. I should have thought out my initial post much better. In fact, I originally only intended to correct the timeline. I should have stuck to that plan.

    In fact, I do think it was inappropriate to comment on the picture that way. Probably my reaction was a result of there but for the grace of god go I: I thought…hey! hotty! but I didn’t post said reaction for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, as an impulsive person, I could well have.

    Oy, what a chastening experience.

  33. 32
    Bart Motes says:

    mythago, reading your post and then mine: I guess I do mean to suggest that I have little self-control!