I always assume, when strangers ask me extremely basic questions about objectification and entitlement and power differentials, that they're just bozo trolls looking to get a rise out of me for sport and waste the grumpy feminist's time. I mean, it's 2013. Everyone knows by now why we don't have a White History Month, right? Everyone knows why you can't really be sexist against Donald Trump, or heterophobic against the Duggars, right? Everyone knows why it's more problematic to objectify women in STEM fields than it is to do the same thing to men, right? Racism, sexism, homophobia—those terms might seem objective, if you're privileged enough to believe you live in a vacuum, but they were created specifically to address imbalances. Using them outside of that context, to reinforce a dominant group's power, renders them meaningless. This is obvious. Right? Right?? Well, maybe not.
When this whole "Sexiest Scientists Alive" debacle went down last week, the masses began clamoring for answers: "Oh, so female scientists aren't allowed to be sexy?" "Oh, so I'm not allowed to find women attractive?" "Oh, so women are allowed to objectify men, but not the other way around?" Well, fine. In the name of mutual understanding and trust, I will take you at your word that these are legitimate questions, and I apologize for assuming that you were a complete ding-dong trying to purposely derail a conversation that covered this shit decades ago. I made an assumption, and in doing so I made an ass out of ump and tion. My bad. So let's try to get to the bottom of it, together. And because I know everyone likes sexy lists, here are the Nine Hottest Reasons Why It's Not Hot to Make "Hot" Lists.
Let's just start with the big one. For a long, long time, women's primary utilities have been decoration and domestic work.
For girls in some parts of the world, trying to attend school is still an offense that can get you shot in the head. Millennia of history have conspired to subtly—or not so subtly—keep women out of professional fields. Sure, rich ladies could sit in parlors and titter about D.H. Lawrence or whatever, so it's not considered totally out of the feminine sphere to write a fluffy novel once in a while—but even 21st-century record-shattering powerhouses like Joanne Rowling have to disguise their names because boys don't want to read books written by girls. And that's literature. For girls hoping to go into STEM fields, our culture's collective skepticism is even more intense. So. To take women who have already dragged themselves through that sludgy forcefield and reduce them, once again, to their physical appearance, is profoundly insulting.
For men, there's no forcefield. It isn't unnatural for a man to be a scientist. Men don't face rape threats (once again, a reminder that women's essential utility is a sexual one) for rocking the boat in the tech community. Men are taken seriously by default, both by other men and by society at large. No one has ever said to a man, "Are you sure you want to take this class? It's really hard, and you're so handsome—you could just be a model!" So making a list of the sexiest male scientists—yes, men are included in the Business Insider list—it's still objectification, sure, but that objectification doesn't actively hurt men's careers. So, who gives a fuck. It's basically as arbitrary as making a list of "The 17 Most Jealous Ferrets in the Wetlands." Like, okey doke.
Humans like looking at pretty stuff. Sexual attraction is a good thing. Making a "hot" list of people whose job it is to be hot (like models)—or, even, just people who make a living off of their bodies, like athletes—is waaaaay less insidious than reducing women in a completely-non-hot-related field to their hotness. Even if you are also appreciating them for their research and field work and published articles, putting "hotness" at the fore just telegraphs the idea, one more goddamn time, that physicality is the most important thing. Personally, I don't want my scientists spending a bunch of time worrying about being hot. I want them worrying about how to make iceberg lettuce taste like a Butterfinger. Or whatever.
Women don't get to do that! Ever! It sucks! Lists like this marginalize people (men too, by the way!) who aren't conventionally attractive—in the ONE PLACE (work) where they get to feel like they matter.
Because of the way that the world works, there aren't a lot of ways for women who don't fit conventional beauty standards to be awesome. You can be a writer (although, personally, my looks are constantly being used to discredit my work), you can be a scientist, you can be anything that doesn't require physical visibility. And, sure, it's not like men don't face that same pressure (there are plenty of studies that show that tall, handsome men make more money), but think of it like this: Who's the female Luis Guzman? When someone write an article about Luis Guzman, it's about how awesome Luis Guzman is—not how surprising it is that Luis Guzman gets to be Luis Guzman despite looking like Luis Guzman. Can you imagine if we covered Melissa McCarthy that way? Can you imagine an article about her that didn't mention her body?
Do we really want to discourage people by applying the same bullshit hotness filter that we apply everywhere else in American life? Maybe some fat chick has the cure for cancer inside her somewhere, but now she starts feeling like she's not "hot" enough to go to medical school! Quit making her feel alienated! UGH, LET THAT FAT LADY CURE MY CANCER.
The "Sexiest Scientists Alive" does highlight how awesome scientists are, but it does it by drawing attention to all of the things that science isn't about. Can't we just appreciate science? Because it's awesome? We already don't incentivize STEM fields. So we're going to take what little incentive there is to go into those fields and redirect it toward the one thing (hotness) that is already incentivized? When you encourage people to fulfill their full potential as human beings—when you incentivize that—you make the world better. And wouldn't it be awesome if the world was better?
Are you having a hard time finding sexy people on the internet? "Oh, man, I WANT to look at sexy people on the internet, but the internet just hasn't figured out a good sexy people delivery system yet! Oh well, better jerk off to AIDS researchers."
Okay. You could say lists like this are countering the stereotype that "smart people can't be sexy."
But look at the cost/benefit of that. First of all, FAKE PROBLEM. People who are already sexy scientists are already not having trouble having sex. EVERYONE HAS SEX ALL THE TIME, EVEN "UNSEXY" PEOPLE. And sexiness is relative anyway. So. Is it really worth combating this one not-all-that-damaging stereotype by perpetuating a different, extremely damaging stereotype (see #1, above)? I'm going to go with fuck nope.
Like, hey Maxim, why not take the next step beyond your Hot 100 and just rank every woman on earth in order of hotness? (You know you want to.) "OMG, I'm #3,765,401 on the Maxim Hot 100!!!"
Again, this is a problem that disproportionately affects women. When men compete, the idea is to climb to the top of the pile. When women compete, the idea is to tear the rest of the pile down. Because when you're part of a group that's reduced to a token or a quota, there might only be one spot. You'd better grab it. Also, Francine looks like a cow in those harem pants.
It isn't easy for anyone to get to the top of their field, but men are conditioned to strive for it in a way that women aren't (also, as has been widely discussed lately, men have wives to keep their lives up and running while they focus on their careers). It'd be one thing if women were told their entire lives that they were supposed to work to be great scientists. They're not. They're told that they should work to be attractive, and that college might be a great place to land a husband. There's no male equivalent of the old "MRS degree" joke.
Even in fields where attractiveness shouldn't matter (i.e. political analysis), attractiveness still matters. For women.
And on the flipside, conventionally "hot" women have trouble being taken seriously in "serious" fields, because people assume they were only hired for their looks. So maybe, in light of all of that, it'd be better to stop drawing attention to women's hotness in situations in which hotness is not relevant? Just, maybe, until we get this shit balanced out and any qualified woman can excel in any field regardless of what she looks like? Again, men don't face that systemic imbalance; therefore, it does not tangibly hurt men to be called "hot."
Of course scientists are hot. This isn't even a cute iconoclastic opinion at this point. Haven't you seen Jurassic Park? Please. Jeff Goldblum is like the Anthony Bourdain of dinosaur probability. HOT.