Hotties and feminism

I follow the immensely interesting GalleyCat, so I’ve been keeping up with the “Hotties of Publishing” contest. I think it’s cute and harmless, and I don’t think there’s a damn thing wrong with celebrating attractiveness in a field where braininess is already celebrated every day. (And incidentally, the contest isn’t just about looks; everyone who nominated someone was asked to note why they thought the person was hot, and hotness has to do with far more than just a pretty face.) I’d read that Claire Light had called the whole thing (and the people participating) “dumb,” and I just hadn’t bothered to read what she’d said.

Well, I have now, and I have to say her response pisses me off hugely. She has at least backed down (in the comments) on the “dumb” statement, which is a damn good thing, because I, at least–and probably every one of those women on the ballot–am sick to hell of people assuming an inverse correlation between intelligence and attractiveness. I have fought against it my whole professional life; I spent my entire twenties in the most unattractive clothes imaginable simply because I knew I was good at what I did, and I didn’t want anyone assuming I was getting ahead because of my looks and the other less-savory things that implies. (And they will. I still deal with it; I just have the confidence not to give a shit anymore, because frankly, as I noted, I know I’m good at what I do.)

But here Claire comes along and, in the name of feminism, makes the same stereotypical assumptions that I feared from others for so long. It’s ridiculous. She is judging those women by their looks while saying that it’s wrong to do so.

I sincerely hope we’re coming to a place as a society where we can learn to appreciate all aspects of a person, because I’m sick of the old-fashioned feminism that says I’m not allowed to be myself. I was not at all offended by the folks who attended my 40th birthday party posting how hot I was. I don’t at all mind being called “sexy,” any more than I mind being called “intelligent” or “a damn good copyeditor” or “a fantastic cook” or “in great shape.” They’re all aspects of my self, and it’s nice to be able to appreciate my entire self without someone claiming I’m dumb because of it.

I am not one thing and one thing only–and neither are those women and men in the contest. It’s the people who assume otherwise who piss me off.

22 thoughts on “Hotties and feminism”

  1. Oh lord life is too short to be bitching because some people are good looking as well as smart, and other people notice.


  2. So let me get this straight: until women and men are absolutely equal in every aspect of our culture, no one is allowed to comment on sexual attraction to women?


    When I was a kid — 10 or 12 — I thought that girls had to choose whether to be pretty or smart, and I sat down and thought about it and chose. For years after that, whenever anybody told me that I was pretty or that I looked pretty that day, I thought, no, silly, that’s not what I picked. But you know what? I grew out of it, and it’s not what I want for any daughter I might have.

  3. Victor: No. They were all quite attractive, and you needn’t feel guilty for voting for any of them. :-)

    John: Ticked over last month. :-) It hasn’t been as bad as I feared.

    Sherwood: Yep.

    Mris: That’s exactly the type of thing I’m talking about. It’s a shame to put that notion in girls’ heads, and it’s not what I want for my daughter either.

  4. 40? *blink blink*

    The import of that really didn’t sink in until just now.

    I’m afraid my admiration for the quality of your writing has been temporarily eclipsed by your beauty. Like John, I thought you were much younger.

    Wow. Just wow.

  5. I definitely think that smart is not only not the opposite of hot, but an important part of real hotness. (And not in the “oh, look, the librarian took off her glasses and unfurled her hair bun and now she’s hot” stereotyped way, either.)

  6. Bill: Thanks. :-)

    CKD: Agreed–for both sexes!

    Beth: Yes! I used to belong to an online writing workshop and was once taken to task for having a character who was both attractive and smart. :-P It was incredibly annoying.

    Colleen: Thanks for stopping by, and for the link and compliments. :-)

  7. Deanna,

    De-lurking for a moment. :)

    I wonder if you saw the short article in the recent New York Times Book section titled “With Marisha Pessl, You Can’t Judge a Book by the Photo on the Cover.” (I’m not sure how to drop the link in this post gracefully, but NYT is a subscription site, anyway. In it, much was made about the author’s good looks and how some critics complain(ed) about how the industry pushes the next “hottie” young thing:

    Still, before the book’s publication there was grumbling on the World Wide Web about yet another attractive young writer earning a big advance for a first novel. “It’s not that I am mocking Ms. Pessl’s appearance or writing ability,” Sarah Weinman, crime fiction columnist for The Baltimore Sun, wrote on her Web site, “Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind” (, “just the publishing world’s almost masochistic desire to let attractive packages, so to speak, dictate their buying guidelines.”

    In fact the whole point of the article seemed to be to refute the charge that Ms. Pessl is not just a pretty face, rather than to promote or review the novel she wrote.

    I’m wondering where the pretty-face backlash comes from. And does any of this backlash exist when the author is a goodlooking young man? Because I haven’t noticed it (but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there).

    Anyway, I thought I’d bring the article to your attention since it’s timely.

  8. Gwenda: Thanks!

    Kaytie: Yeah, GalleyCat did a great job covering that. I haven’t noticed any backlash when the author’s a good-looking guy, either; I’m not sure if it’s there or not.

  9. When I was a publicist at Del Rey, I went out of my way to promote China Mieville’s good looks when I was doing anything at all with him. I never got any backlash for it, and it did help break him out in the states.

    The fact is, when you are in competition for that wee tiny slice of shelf space with more than 100,000 new books annually, you use what you have, and if you have a pretty face, well then hell – make it work for you.

  10. Colleen: Do you notice a double standard that way–that people are more apt to decide a woman only sold a book because of her looks, while good-looking men don’t catch the same flak? Or do you not notice it in either direction? It does seem sometimes as though attractive people have to be extra good to prove that they didn’t make the cut because of their looks instead of their brains.

  11. I’d say the latter, actually. I wanted people to ntake China seriously, but sometimes the media focused entirely on how pretty he is. I think it’s worse for pretty women who are writers… And I have also found that the biggest culprit in assuming that pretty = dumb are in fact OTHER WOMEN. It makes no sense to me at all.

  12. Jealousy? Desire to have a “niche”? Outrage that the GM didn’t give the same number of points to spend? Attempts at punishing the min-maxers who could get Appearance and IQ at the same time?

    Frankly, the concept that someone could sell a book by being attractive… boggles me a bit. Who’s looking at the author when they see that sucker in the slushpile? Better to get a cute agent, or one with a great phone voice.

  13. I just stumbled upon this site via my friend Kaytie. Weird thing is that I wrote an outline for a blog about pretty vs smart last night. I didn’t realize it was such a hot topic though. Well done, and thanks for the read.

    La Gringa (colleen?): I think the reason it is mostly women who believe pretty=smart is because they are jealous of the women who are both. When I was younger I often found myself trying to find flaws in extremely beautiful women because I felt like I didn’t add up. I think those women who have put themselves in the “smart” category may have the same obssession.

  14. Colleen: Yeah, I’ve seen that, too. And while I’ve seen a few guys react the same way to a good-looking guy, it seems much less common.

    Beth: And you know, attractiveness is made up of a lot of things that people are not born with: the clothes they wear, their level of fitness, the way they present themselves, and so on. It’s something people work on.

    And I agree: I have never once bought a book because of the way the author looked.

    Bex: Welcome. Yeah, I hate it that girls are still getting the message that they can only be one or the other. Even my daughter is picking that up. I was attempting (pathetically, as I grew up a tomboy and never learned the skill) to paint my fingernails last night, and she told me, “You know, Mom, I don’t have to learn to paint my fingernails, because I’m going to be a rocket scientist, and rocket scientists are not beauty people.” *sigh*

  15. Hi,

    I think the whole smart vs. beauty thing comes, or at least should come if at all, from a different direction.

    There’s no obvious correlation between how smart or intelligent someone is, and how well they look. Well, barring things like nutrition as a child, affects on and of money, etc, etc, which aren’t the issue here in the general case.

    What does have a noticeable either/or effect is how much effort and time people are putting into their look. Because that’s a limited resource. People who are good looking can certainly be smart as well. Often are. I know people of all four combinations of brains and beauty, from both genders.
    But someone who will spend two-three hours each day arranging their hair, fingernails, and make-up, picking just the right clothes, shoes, wallet… well… have about two-three hours less every day to do other things with. And these time figures aren’t made up, I know real people who take this long.

    If someone enjoys this “prettying up” process, that’s an entirely different matter, of course. Nothing against it as a hobby. But there are people, more women than men, who claim not to enjoy it, but that they have to spend this time or they won’t look good enough.

    Someone who don’t put so much effort, if they have to go out in the evening, can do something like, erm, read a book, until quite a short while before they have to get quickly dressed and ready to leave.
    But someone who needs hours to get ready, just for the sake of beauty/hotness, well, may very well prove to be statistically less intelligent/smart/capable/etc eventually.
    Not because of how they look, but because at how much they invest just in order to look like it all the time.

    It’s both the actual time, and the fact that the looks matter to the person enough to invest that time. Usually it will mean that the person cares about their looks a lot more than they care about their brain.

    So when I see a really good looking woman, but her hair and make-up (and so on) look meticulously done, like they took a lot of work to get “just right”, the natural first impression will indeed be that her looks are either all she has, or at least all she cares about.

    Though I guess that if it becomes a rule then it’s just an encouragement to taking even more time to get the fake “I just put something on and went” natural-like look. ;)

  16. Well, dang – if you’d ever seen the thirty-second beauty routine that Liz pulls almost as an afterthought as she is running out the door, you’d laugh your butt off. It’s like “Oh, I should wear shoes, right? Okay, good shoes….”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *