Some more thoughts on tits and cleavage and the Cuddy Effect and reservations. First of all, to clarify again, I’m not criticizing Jen or her joke; I am expressing reservations about some of the reactions to some of the reservations about the joke.
The overall yay-cleavage line is that women should be free to display cleavage (yes, of course, and are any of the critics really saying otherwise?), and that therefore displaying cleavage is an unqualified good. The second claim doesn’t follow. Displaying cleavage could be mixed, or it could be an unqualified bad. The fact that it shouldn’t be forbidden or illegal doesn’t mean it’s terrific. There are more than two stark possibilities.
Okay so what’s my problem? Why am I such a grouch? What’s not to like?
One thing not to like is the slavishness of it. Don’t shout; give me a minute. It’s the underdog’s move. It’s wheedling, it’s passive, it’s manipulative. It’s asking to be liked.
Look at something Greta Christina said in her criticism of the critics of boobquake:
I’ve written before about how we need to find a way for thoughtful, feminist men (specifically straight men) to express their sexual desires without automatically being treated as sexist, entitled louts and yahoos. This is the flip side of that issue. We need to find a way for thoughtful, feminist women to express our sexual desirability without automatically being treated as dumb, exploited bimbos who don’t understand what men really think of us.
See? We need to find a way for thoughtful, feminist men to express their sexual desires, and we need to find a way for thoughtful, feminist women to express our sexual desirability. Those are two different things. Those are two different kinds of thing.
The first is active, the second is passive. The first is what a subject does, the second is what an object does.
I don’t want to play gotcha; that’s not my point. Greta’s cool. My point is that the resonances of these things just do differ, and we can’t wish that away by the power of thought, or even by the power of blogging. Maybe someday that will change, but it hasn’t yet. Desiring is not the same thing as being desirable.
Hotty clothes signal a desire for sexual attention and admiration. In some situations that’s just the ticket! But is it just the ticket in all situations? No – not if you want to be taken seriously – not if you want to be seen as a judge or a doctor or a secretary of state.
The idea is that we can do both (for a few years, that is, which is another can of worms); we can be both a judge and a hotty. Well that’s a male fantasy, that’s what that is. It pervades popular culture, and a lot of women seem to have bought into it, but it’s a fantasy. A judge who makes a point of displaying her tits is not doing both, she’s doing one at the expense of the other.
This kind of thing is why some feminists have reservations about the “Oh be joyful, let a thousand tits bloom” line. No it’s not the same thing as the Taliban. The Taliban doesn’t want women to have more real power and authority and credibility as opposed to the bogus kind attached to sexual display. We do.