Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Roasted Guy, Philosophy Chick, and Skepchick vs. Richard Dawkins

•Sorry if you got more than one copy of the e-announcement yesterday for this coming Thursday’s big “roast” of me (7:30, Lolita Bar, 266 Broome St., one block south of the Delancey St. subway stop).  I think the glitch has stopped.

•While you’re waiting for that event, tonight you could see Jen Dziura (who twice debated at Lolita back when I hosted debates there) do a comedic one-woman show called What Philosophy Majors Do After College, about the history of philosophy and whether majoring in that topic aided her on the job market.  That’s 8pm tonight, the PIT, 123 East 24th St., 212-563-7488.  (Jen also has a show coming up about the history of women.)  When another of my fellow philosophy majors revealed her major to a temp agency years ago, by the way, the placement lady just started laughing.

•I wish I could laugh over the dust-up between Rebecca Watson (a.k.a. Skepchick, who herself helped me find a Lolita debater once) and our fellow atheist/skeptic Richard Dawkins, caused by him pooh-poohing her online lament about being asked out by some guy in an elevator at a skeptics conference, shortly after she’d complained about being “sexualized.” 

But the whole thing wearies and saddens me for reasons that have nothing to do with atheism or religion.  I think Gawker, to its credit, basically gets it right in the anti-Skepchick-leaning conclusion to this fairly-balanced piece on the whole matter.  Watson is overreacting to Dawkins’ criticism. 

I would go farther (and more general), though, and say that her attitude is indicative of the deeper confusion in an all too common mode of self-representation among “third wave” (often young, hip, and sarcastic) feminists in fringey-hip media.  But please, please, please do not e-mail to tell me that my next sentence is meant to imply that putting “female” in your online handle is an open invitation to, say, being assaulted – nothing is

I think a lot of third-wavers, though, have been raised in a bizarre time when, for example, burlesque is once more treated as transgressive and therefore empowering but post-structuralism magically decrees, for instance, that your breasts are not attractive unless you decide they are.  So you get Watson posing for an all-girl calendar meant to be distributed to the (mostly worshipful and appreciative) male skeptic-geeks, then acting shocked-shocked when she gets “sexualized.”  It’s not hypocrisy, not even exactly a contradiction, just sort of...incoherent.

Like a lot of burlesque these days.

Furthermore, I think almost any time you see a young female writer aiming for a burlesque look (as is very common here in NYC), sticking “She-something” in her pseudonym, or hinting at being too naughty for the establishment, she is aiming to have it both ways without
admitting it.  And again, I do not mean “both attempting to attract attention and avoid getting assaulted” (which should be eminently doable).  I mean: trying to signal simultaneously that she’s (A) a sexy vixen who will put on a show for the fellas (and/or lesbians) and (B) an all-dignified, all-feminist engine of self-reliant androgyny. 

If you’re truly just modern and liberated and all that, why attempt the sexy pics and the gendered pseudonym anyway (most of the time)?  I’m not saying you can’t, I’m just saying don’t do it and then act like you didn’t, if you know what I mean (and here I refer no longer to the specific Skepchick case, I just mean the whole convoluted third-wave sort of cake-and-eat-it-too vibe).

I don’t think the maybe-just-sexy/maybe-empowering combo is really fooling anyone.  And I’m by no means saying “empowered” can’t be sexy (I’m the one who liked Ursa in Superman II and went to see Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar in concert a year ago).  But the way the third-wavers often do it, it signals uncertainty and a bit of desperation disguised as some kind of semi-ironic immunity to judgment – often embodying the nerd-who-mastered-makeup-recently sort of phenomenon.  It’s not the worst thing in the world (young women being insecure and uncertain is normal), but it’s a bit muddled and it invites (again, not assault!) indifference to – or rejection of – its intended message precisely because the message is so ironic as to be just plain half-assed. 

Those 70s-style second-wavers who dreamt of a truly less-sexually-charged world were not so naive as to expect to achieve it while wearing nothing but bustiers and calling themselves “Mademoiselle Le Darkness” or whatever (not that I’m telling anyone they can’t call themselves Mademoiselle Le Darkness if that’s what they want to do).

But you aren’t going to hear most men say any of this – because they don’t want the third-wavers to stop putting on strip shows.  Some of them may even weigh in in the comments thread here to tell me I’m a jerk, just to prove they’re on the side of any ladies reading who might be inclined to put on a strip show.  My gender is full of traitors. 

Sidenote: Apparently, only 29% of American women consider themselves feminists, which I find encouraging (or at least will choose to find encouraging pending someone giving me a coherent definition of feminism that I clearly agree with, something a few previous online battles on this general topic have failed to yield).  And I really don’t think the low percentage of “feminists” is due to the other 71% of American women considering themselves deserving slaves of the partriarchy.  I think it’s because the other 71% are free, know it, and have moved on to other topics, regarding those who call themselves feminists at this late stage in the game as akin to those Japanese guys you’d hear about who didn’t know the war was over and were thus probably deranged and fanatical from wandering on a deserted island for decades.

And speaking of being liberated: tomorrow a look at Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch’s libertarian manifesto Declaration of Independents

(Sorry for all the parentheticals above, but past experience shows that the topic of feminism is especially likely to bring out online commentators who will accuse writers of thinking any horrible thing the commentators can imagine squeezing between the lines, and indeed they likely still will.)


Anonymous said...


There is no defense, none, for Watson. She was asked on a date and she felt "sexualized"?!? How pathetic.

Of course, as a guy who also rejects feminism and thinks Christianity is TRUE, I'm sure Watson would find all sorts of reasons to get mad at me, starting with the fact that I would make it a crime for her to go get an abortion.

Anonymous said...

What do you think of PZ Myers posing nude in the male version of the Skepchicks calender 'Skepdudes'? Should Myer's be surprised if he gets 'sexualised' as a result?

Todd Seavey said...

I would assume he's counting on it.

None of which is to say he or anyone else should be made to feel trapped or physically threatened (to pick up a theme introduced by Amanda Marcotte, as noted in a later blog entry I wrote on this topic), but absent some problem like that, he shall reap the funny looks he hath sown (and probably like it -- but not necessarily have moral or political grounds to gripe if he doesn't, which is the real point here).