Why I’m Wary of Even Good-Natured Pundit Beauty Contests

I figured this section of today’s Jolt would bring more “you sound like one of those miserable feminists who hate men appreciating the beauty of women” e-mails, but the response has been pretty positive so far.

Why I’m Wary of Even Good-Natured Pundit Beauty Contests

John Hawkins and the guys at Right Wing News are running their annual contest selecting “The 20 Hottest Conservative Women In the New Media.”

The guys who are doing this are not bad guys, but I don’t think these sorts of contests are such a good idea.

On the one hand, we’re fooling ourselves every time we deny the obvious, that attractiveness is a huge factor in human behavior. (“Really? And you let yourself go out of the house looking like that? And that haircut — what, did you put your head under a lawnmower?” Shut up, Jonah’s couch! Your snark is supposed to stay in the Goldberg File!) And I’ll bet a doughnut that the scales say I shouldn’t eat that none of the women mentioned in this contest are offended about being nominated.

On the other hand . . .

I realize I shouldn’t presume to speak on any of these women’s behalf — some of them are friends, and they’re more than capable of speaking for themselves! — but I’d note that none of them set out to be considered notable for their appearance. We can say they’re beautiful enough to be models, but they didn’t choose to be models — or actresses or any other profession in which your appearance is your primary purpose. I presume that if they had wanted to pursue those different fields, they would have done so, and they haven’t. So I wonder how flattering it really is to assess a Michelle Malkin or a Mary Katharine Ham or Dana Perino and to respond . . . “Wow, you’re HOT!”

Yes, but they have limited control over that, and again, at the risk of speaking on their behalf, that’s not what they came here to do. Some of their attractiveness is genetics, and the rest is a sense of style and taking good care of themselves. They’re writers, reporters, authors, activists and analysts and they do stuff, and it’s probably more appropriate to view them and assess them based on their actions, not their attractiveness.

Of course, none of the guys running this contest would say we shouldn’t appreciate their actions, and I’m sure they appreciate those actions. But notice the nomination list consists of the womens’ names, affiliations . . . and then big photos of them. Not what they’ve accomplished, awards, and so on. And the contest isn’t saying they’re the best, having the most impact, most dedicated, or any other measure. It’s the “hottest.”

If you’ve ever checked out the comments section of just about any blog discussing a female conservative pundit, you know the usual vile comments are even more vile than usual, dissecting the woman’s appearance in detail. (I’m sure all of those commenters are comparable to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.) I’m not saying this contest is quite like these repugnant comments, but if women in our industry have to endure being judged on their appearances every day, both overtly and subtly, it doesn’t seem very empathetic to formalize the process, pick out 17 or so for particular praise, and then run a contest to see who is hottest. I mean, there are dozens of conservative women in new media out there who didn’t get picked, and who have just been told, quietly, “yeah, apparently not enough people think you’re not.”

The other thing is . . . You’ve heard the phrase, “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.” (Origin of the cliché discussed here.) Permit me to stand up for “ugly people” for a moment.

Most of us came out of an appearance-obsessed and status-obsessed subculture called “high school.” Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who always felt okay about how you looked; sometimes, you go through it looking like this:

Hopefully somewhere in high school, or maybe after high school, you find something you’re good at and you thrive in it, and you realize your value as a person goes well beyond what other people think of your appearance. It’s always a little sad when someone doesn’t move beyond this measurement of self-worth, because our appearances change, no matter how hard we try.

Look, attractive people. “Washington” — the world of politics and policy that goes well beyond the District of Columbia’s borders — was supposed to be our turf. As I discuss in my novel coming out next year, it’s “Nerd-vana,” where all of us geeks who had interests beyond video games and MTV get to play and be in charge and feel normal. It’s an endangered species preserve for people who care enough about political issues to make a career out of them. You beautiful people got Hollywood, and most of New York, and almost every beach community along the Atlantic Coast from Virginia Beach to South Padre Island, Texas. Some would argue Nashville, too. This was supposed to be the place where how you looked didn’t matter quite as much as what you knew.

Anyway, vote in the contest, don’t vote in the contest, cheer it, boo it, do as you will . . . but let’s at least try to see people beyond their appearances, okay?

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