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Ben Pearre
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I wasn't there, but I'd like to ask: was Eller making a _recommendation_, an _observation_, or an _endorsement_ of cultural norms? It seems that this discussion has completely focused on the value of his comment as an endorsement. Of course that's an important point, but why no discussion of how it interacts with the other possibilities? Because no matter how much you hate it, it's a legitimate observation that hotties will attract people to any movement. Maybe I'm wrong. You can test it easily enough. That's what we're all fighting for, isn't it? If it's a recommendation, then you can argue about whether it's effective. This too can be evaluated if you define "effective". If the objective is to attract more people to atheism, then I would guess that hotties will help in general. Hot women will attract single men, some of whom will be worthwhile. For that matter, hot women attract hot straight women (people tend to associate with others who "look like" themselves). Of course, that's a great argument for diversity in spokespeople, but conventionally hot blondes are a demographic too! And, frankly, they're underrepresented in many movements I care about. Including this one. So if your purpose is just to attract people to the movement, then let's agree that everything I've said above is a testable hypothesis. What if your purpose is to make a social statement about the value of women? Of course then everything said here applies. But is that the primary objective of an atheist movement? Maybe, or maybe compromising the ideals of the war on sexism is not worth it just to promote atheism. I'd consider that a very valid position, but I don't think it's the only possible conclusion, since I hope that in the longer run atheism will reduce sexism. What Would Machiavelli Do? What if your purpose is to attract people who are interested only in the intellect? Then whether a spokesperson is hot or not is irrelevant, and the only relevant feature of his comment was its value as an endorsement of sexism. Again: I wasn't there, but I can easily believe that Eller is telling the truth when he says that he just assumed it as a given that any atheist blogger he'd discuss is also brilliant, and that of course this matters. Here's a contrary hypothesis: if all he cared about were her looks and not her intellect, he'd be advocating using any random hottie as a spokesperson, rather than a (I assume) brilliant and eloquent one. If he assumes that it's only her hotness that matters, then it doesn't matter whether she can construct an argument. The fact that he didn't advocate using any random model as a spokesperson makes this hypothesis seem, um, far-fetched. OF COURSE he assumes without question that what she has to say matters! Why are you unwilling to believe this? That said, I think I am beginning to appreciate the degree to which women are valued first for their appearances. Outside the context of our society's expectations, I think that what Eller said may have been a completely accurate observation, and even if he developed it into a recommendation he may have been correct. File it under "Sometimes the truth hurts"? Maybe. First, answer me these questions three: (1) Is it okay to say something correct--and potentially useful--that could also perpetuate a stereotype amongs those who already subscribe to the stereotype? (2) To what extent is it okay to blame Eller for rubbing salt in a wound, ASSUMING that he is not responsible for the wound? (3) Why do you assume that Eller doesn't value cute atheist bloggers for the fact that they're good bloggers? Wasn't he discussing bloggers at the time? Isn't it reasonable to assume that _of_course_ he believes that anyone he mentions is a good blogger? Back to my original point about observation vs. recommendation vs. endorsement, I will close with a quote from Stephen Pinker: "A denial of human nature, no less than an emphasis on it, can be warped to serve harmful ends. We should expose whatever ends are harmful and whatever ideas are false, and not confuse the two."
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May 23, 2011