In reading other women blogger’s responses to the disappointingly stupid piece, Womanspace, I ended up watching the video, Perils of Blogging as a Woman under a Real Name, and generally reading about women’s experience as bloggers, especially about science.
While I deliberately limit the personal stuff I put on the blog, like Kate Clancy (whose blog, Context and Variation is AWESOME), I view my own life and experience as inextricable from my work. This post is one example of that.
My own experience has been being told that I’m NOT attractive and therefore it’s not a surprise that I’m wrong.
Which. I mean.
In reality, it’s the same phenomenon, two different version of having our voices minimized because of our bodies, our appearances.
Suppose you got to choose: you can have your voice minimized by people’s perception of you as attractive or you can have your voice minimized by people’s perception of you as unattractive.
Yeah… so… I had this really complicated internal reaction, like bodies don’t matter and haters gonna hate, and at the same time I wanna be a pretty girl too! and is it a coincidence that these women are this successful and happen to be the pretty ones? and will I fail to advance professionally because I fail to conform to conventional standards of beauty and femininity?
(This is me officially hoping that no one decides to comment, “But gosh Emily, you’re pretty!” My attractiveness or lack thereof isn’t relevant to my blog content, which is exactly the point!)
I have had the good fortune of always feeling like I was being taken seriously by my mentors in the academic world – even at times when, in retrospect, I didn’t necessarily deserve it. My appearance and my gender never entered in to it. It is a gift I try to pass on to my own students, to hear their voices without assessing it in terms of their bodies or gender display. Because my looks were not my identity, I viewed them as irrelevant, and nothing in my academic experience made me feel otherwise.
Until I started blogging.
I put a photo on the blog because a friend told me that it helps people recognize that there’s an individual human being sitting in her living room writing these posts, that there’s a face behind the typeface, if you will. A person.
And according to a few anonymous folks on the interwebs, who comments don’t make it past the trash bin, I am an ugly cunt, so no wonder I’m wrong about whatever it is I’m wrong about.
And what I want to know is: if I had shorter hair and were wearing blue instead of pink, and had stubble, would I be told I’m an ugly motherfucker so THAT’S why I’m wrong?
I doubt it. I think my appearance is a justification for dismissing me only because I’m female.
And here’s another complicated feeling:
Have you noticed the phenomenon that most of the women “sexperts” you see in the media are thin, with long shiny hair, big eyes, and a pretty smile? I find myself thinking, “Is it that the people who know the most about sex or are the most effective educators also happen to be conventionally attractive?” Or, “I wonder if the sexperts who are least likely to disturb Big Pharma happen to be conventionally attractive, and what causal mechanism might be at work there?…”
Not to say that pretty, thin, young, long-haired, big-eyed women can’t also be outstanding researchers and educators! But I can’t help thinking that the reason they have the gig is not that they’re especially good at the job, but instead because they’re especially rich masturbation material.
And I feel VERY BAD about the fact that I have these thoughts. It feels totally unfeminist for me to judge them in this way. I actually know a number of them in person, went to school with them, and know that they’re genuinely good at what they do.
An example of someone I don’t know: Take Cara Santa Maria, over at Huff Post’s “Talk Nerdy to Me.” Remember my three criteria for writing about sex science: good science, good prose, good advice. Her’s is perfectly fine science and perfectly fine, if a bit dull, prose. She doesn’t so much do the advice part, so no worries there. Her credentials, too, are unfaultable. And yet I find myself thinking, “She would not have this gig if she weighed 30 pounds more, were 10 years older, or had a less feminine, symmetrical face.”
And then I think, “Is this just jealousy about not being so thin/pretty? Is it professional jealousy that she has a gig like that and I don’t? Is it TRUE? Is it MEAN? Can it be true and mean at the same time? Isn’t it just to be expected that the media will select for conventional beauty?”
So basically I have A Lot Of Feelings about physical appearance and being a sex educator in the public sphere. It feels very complicated and I don’t know what the solution is.