If Feminism Isn’t a Moral Position, Why Can’t I Tell You How Butt-Ugly You Are?

BritGirlSF asks:

On another note, I’m constantly tempted to write something about the general unf@#$ability of sexist asshats like our friend Wintermute. I’ve yet to see an attractive MRA, for example. The question is whether my doing so would do more harm than good. I’m not sure, honestly, but I remain tempted. Thoughts?

I have to admit to being really torn and I wonder what other folks think.

I don’t believe feminism is a moral position, as I’ve discussed many times.  It’s about insisting that women be recognized as wholly human, for better or worse.  So, I don’t think I have a moral obligation as a feminist to refrain from pointing out that some dudes who believe they deserve a pretty girl might be well-served by an honest encounter with a mirror.

But as a feminist, I don’t believe that anyone “deserves” any other type of human.  You can say, “Well, I am really aesthetically drawn to tall skinny women,” but that doesn’t oblige the universe to give you one.  And if you want to run around acting like an asshat who thinks that women (or men, for that matter) are just accessories for men to pick and choose from in order to complete their look–no matter if you’re the man or the woman in that equation–I’ll feel free to call you on your sexist bullshit.

And so, as much as I’m tempted to say, “Have you looked in a mirror, dude?  Good god, look at yourself.” I think that feeds into the notion that, if he were better looking, it’d be reasonable for him to decide the world owes him aesthetically awesome women to fuck.

Do you see what I’m getting at?  It’s a problem that he doesn’t understand that women also make their choices about who to fuck based on aesthetic notions and it’s a problem that he’s then misjudged his own value.  But his attitude would still be a problem even if he understood that women also choose and if he had a clear understanding of how highly his looks are judged by others.

In addressing the problem, then, we have to make a choice between paradigms.  If we want to operate with a world-view similar to his, I think it’s completely fair and justified to point out to him that he ought not to throw stones, what, with his glass house and all.

But if we’re really looking to make change, we’ve got to, I think, commit to our world-view.  It makes sense to understand his, but it doesn’t make any sense to take it as our own.  So, in that case, I think we’ve got to refrain from wholesale, “God, are you ugly!” talk.

That being said, I apologize to all my conservative readers for assuming that Wintermute is a conservative.  Even though I should know better–great swaths of liberal men willing to prove this over and over again–I still tend to associate such blatant sexist asshattery with y’all and to assume that, when I see it, it must be coming from you guys.  That’s wrong on my part.  Again, sorry.

ALL that being said, I do wonder sometimes if it would do some good to say “Hey, if you weren’t such a scary jerk and if you gave women other than the women who meet your aesthetic ideals a chance, you might find that we all don’t suck.  But right now?  You’re sending off signals that say ‘Run for the hills, girls.'”  I don’t know.

On a side note, I wanted to mention this entry over at the Freakonomics blog, about how incoming NFL players are counselled to watch out for gold-digging women.  I feel like it fits into this conversation somehow, but I can’t quite figure out how (and if you’re going over there, be prepared for the bizarre comments).  Because again, it’s true that there are all kinds of con artists that surround professional athletes looking to get their money.

And it’s true that beautiful female con artists can use their beauty and their femaleness as tools in their con.  I don’t think the problem comes so much from talking about how specific con artists work or even from talking about how a lot of women, who aren’t con artists, buy into the notion that their beauty is their greatest asset and therefore one they should trade on in order to get ahead in the world; the problem comes from assuming that that’s how all women, even all women who ever encounter male athletes, behave.

So, it’s true that, not only are there a great many men who think they deserve beautiful girls to fuck; there are a great many women who believe that certain men deserve beautiful girls to fuck and, if those women can prove that they are among those beautiful girls, that they deserve the perks that come with being the arm candy of a man who deserves to fuck beautiful women (usually, a man who has power of some sort).

I think the trick is to realize that we disagree with that whole worldview and to refuse to play into it at any end.  Not because it’s more moral, but because we really do want the world to be different than that, and, in some way, the only way to have a different world is to do the difficult work of already living as if that world were here now.

16 thoughts on “If Feminism Isn’t a Moral Position, Why Can’t I Tell You How Butt-Ugly You Are?

  1. This reminds me of a cartoon I saw once, where a man and a woman look at themselves in a ‘funhouse mirror’.The distortion of the mirror makes the woman see herself as fatter, and the man see himself as thinner.

  2. Ugh. Back when I was 19 or 20, I went to lunch with a ‘friend’ (who was pretty handsome, actually), who then proceeded to try to bed me, saying that he had realized that lately he was only bedding ‘fat chicks’, and he ‘deserved better’, so he was with me now. I was supposed to swoon, I think, and feel complimented and pretty, but instead I got the hell out of there. WHAT A FRIKKIN TURN OFF! Also, my overweight, underemployed, bald brother in law once asked me if I would set him up with any friends I had, but only if they were pretty…no, he said, REALLY pretty. Yeah, um, whatever. How about if she is kind and has a brain? Are those factors AT ALL? If not, they should be. If she’s pretty to boot, that’s just gravy, in my opinion.

  3. Haven’t you been listening to Kanye West?I have sat through part of the NFL Financial Counseling program and dealing with women is a big part of it. They do approach it from more of a "responsibility" angle than a "gold digger" angle, but they do stress to these New Millionaires the costs and consequences of the sudden availability of all those beautiful women. I think that’s why a lot of them end up married to high school and college sweethearts. The program didn’t really strike me as anti-feminist/woman as more of trying to make the point that part of their sudden appeal is due to money and fame.Why else would anybody fuck Donald Trump?

  4. There are several points in here to digest. I’d sum up my take on the whole desireability-of-Wintermute thusly: I believe in "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." As much as I badly wanted to make comments about his appearance in relation to his comments I figured that fell outside of that. I’m also with you in the point that no matter</I> how awesomely hot-looking a person is, they have NO right to be insulting of another person’s appearance. Sure, you can find someone unattractive for myriad reasons. It’s far preferable to say "I’m not attracted to you" than to say "you are a tub of lard/have a fugly face/remind me of a corpse." I think since we are no longer cave people the socially-acceptable way to interact with potential mates is to keep negative comments about physicality out of the discussion. Since looks are a very sensitive topic for nearly everyone, I’m of the opinion that negative comments to someone about his or her looks are an insidious form of emotional abuse, plain and simple. The "Beautiful Girl" thing is very difficult to deal with. Even our literature plays into this. I cannot list the number of books and movies that have made the exceptional physical beauty of the heroine the SOLE reason for that woman’s role in the story, the sole motivator for all actions by and upon her in the telling. It’s got to be odd to be a Beautiful Girl in a society whose folk tales elevate Beauty to such an insane degree. You literally must grow up believing that YOU are the fairy princess, the heroine of the story. So OF COURSE you’re going to assume that our modern versions of princes–football players, movie stars, captains of industry–are yours by birthright.

  5. I try to avoid personal conversations about another’s appearance (even in a positive way, if possible), for many reasons – one being it immediately opens up a conversation about MY appearance. Sometimes, that’s good. Sometimes, not. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d just rather not know what women besides my wife think of my appearance.Well, no, that’s not true. If a woman finds me attractive, the ego boost is almost like a drug; it holds power over me and I’m forever striving to get my next "fix". Dangerous stuff.Kat, have you ever read "Captivating" by the Eldrige husband/wife team? Your language makes me feel you have. And something tells me you found it less than convincing.

  6. The thing I love the most about all this controversy is how so many people want to talk about their little internal indecision. Letso try and take the moral high road and not comment on his looks. But then share that with anyone who can read. The latter negates the former you know. Debating whether or not to say anything is admirable. Telling people about what should be an internal debate is just as bad as actually just calling him ugly and being done with it.And you’re all pulling a lot more out of this than you should. My standards for what I watch on the internet are a lot more superficial than my standards for who I date. Kindness and intelligence don’t so much come through in a video.Don’t make it more than it is. He’s an inconsiderate ass for saying nasty things about PK. Until he shares his dating criteria like J’s ‘friend’ and brother in law it’s just that simple.

  7. W,I’ve yet to meet a woman who is capable of compartmetalizing like that. If you’re a woman, you’re the first.No woman I know is ‘wired’ that way. Every single thought and emotion is tied to every other thought and emotion.Men, on the other hand, can easily have a ‘love column, a ‘lust’ column, an ‘internet watching’ column and so on and so forth. To ask a typical woman to even visualize this kind compartmentalization is like asking Howie Mandel to comb his hair.

  8. W, you’re right about the effect of "I won’t say how ugly I think Wintermute is," but I think a lot of the idea that he is ugly comes from his ugly behavior. I mean, all I looked at was the picture he posts on his website, and he looked pretty ordinary to me. Not a dreamboat, but not enough to make me say "ugh," either. Except that I found him quite repulsive to look at, because this was the face of the guy who had already engaged in repulsive behavior. Now, if I feel like it I can compartmentalize those two things (which is why I pointed out that he claims to be a Buddhist, but didn’t mention his looks). But in a real sense, ugly is as ugly does, and he acts ugly.

  9. NM pretty much mailed it, as did W. Slarti, I don’t mean to sound condescending, but you must not have known alot of different women before "settling down." They are completely capable of seperating lust and love, and can as shallow as men when sizing up people’s looks. And we all make those determinations in a split second, you cannot turn it off. However, I believe that as people mature, and yes, evolve, we start to find other things attractive than just the components of a person. Otherwise, every woman on the planet would be seeking the biggest, fastest and possibly most flamboyant(as in highly noticible) man to mate with. Men are by and large not necessary to protect or provide, so I think the femaile "collective consciousness" determined that things like humor, kindness, and emotional accessibility are more important. The Asshat Wintermute (I really like that term) may have done us a service by sparking B to write this thread. Now, before I head off to nap, does anyone have any questions?No? Good.

  10. Ooh, you left out the ability and willingness to nap in the middle of the day as a feature of attractiveness.

  11. W., what the fuck? Are you critiquing my post or just people in general? If in general, be specific about who you think has engaged in that kind of behavior. If me specifically, then I object that you’ve completely misread my post.I don’t think it’s immoral to engage Wintermute on how he looks. He set that as the mode of discourse when he behaved that way in the first place. I’m saying that there are other reasons, besides the morality or immorality of doing so, why that might not be the best strategy, if we’re trying to achieve some goal beyond revenge."And you’re all pulling a lot more out of this than you should. […] Don’t make it more than it is. He’s an inconsiderate ass for saying nasty things about PK. Until he shares his dating criteria like J’s ‘friend’ and brother in law it’s just that simple."I believe the short form of what you’re saying is "I think too much."That, frankly, is the cruelest thing anyone’s said to me in a long time. Not that we should all set out to top that, mind you. I’m just saying, that really, really hurts my feelings.You’ve read me for how long and you’d still pull that "Here, B., I have the correct interpretation of events and the proper prescription for how to resolve the situation–just don’t worry your pretty little head so much."?That really gets me right in the heart.

  12. I kinda got that W was chastening me for the whole Golden Rule thing. But I didn’t look at this post as Wintermute Part II, but more as a referedum on objectifying people through beauty, with Wintermute as a jumping-off point. So while W thinks this is just about Wintermute, I’m guessing that maybe he didn’t fully read the entire thing.

  13. My brain has been dancing around this all day. Mostly because it was preoccupied trying to respond to Tony, I think.Anyway, the shortest answer, and the one that keeps coming to me, is that you can’t tell him how butt-ugly he is because that’s rude. Yes, there are feminist implications, but the main reason you don’t do that is because you’re better than that*, and there’s nothing to be gained. (Which, while that might seem to be contrary to the point I espoused earlier in that thread – that certain actions without direct ramifications for the troll in question may still have value – isn’t really all that different. There is a lot to be gained by calling out bad behavior for what it is, even if the person performing the bad behavior doesn’t change. Mocking the person acting badly in a way that enforces their paradigm doesn’t actually give you anything but, perhaps, a fleeting sense of satisfaction. If it’s a really good fleeting sense of satisfaction, I might be inclined to say that was a worthy thing to get out of it… but I haven’t encountered a put-down that has been that good for me yet. Has anyone had other experiences?)I suppose I could come up with a longer and more academic answer, but my brain is tired right now.* Not inherently more moral, but better trained. Not "women are better than men" or "feminists are better than everyone else," but you, as a nice person, are better than the troll, who is not being nice.

  14. I suspect that the point I was trying to make didn’t really come across clearly. I suppose what I was getting at was that I don’t like the paradigm where women are judged on their appearance and men are not, and I think part of the reason the paradigm still exists is that a lot of men honestly don’t realise that they are being assessed on their appearance by women all the time, and that this naturally means that they will sometimes found wanting (the smart ones do, of course). See exador’s comments – most men grossly overestimate their level of attractiveness. For some reason (wonder what that could be?) men of the sexist asshat variety are particularly prone to this conceptual error. I do think there’s some value in pointing out to them that their concept of how the world works is incorrect. I’ve done it in real life (ie face to face) and the reactions have been quite illuminating.Of course it could just be that I’m a mean, bitchy person. But only to people who have already given me ample evidence that they are pretty poor excuses for human beings (for example, I would never make the same comments about, say, Michael Moore, because I think his heart’s in the right place. Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, is fair game as a result of his own actions).Did that make any sense? Drinking sake and then blogging may not necessarily be a great combination, but it was too cold to go out.

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