Wednesday, July 8, 2008, will forever be known as Hot Blogger Photo Gallery Day, when Urlesque.com's and Playboy magazine's Girls Who Blog (with interactive voting!) both graced the Internet. Irritation zipped around the blogosphere as fast as eyes could roll, with TechCrunch's Michael Arrington responding to the Playboy list by calling it "one step back" for women bloggers.
Bikinis and geeks ... it sounds like something Ashton Kutcher would be behind, doesn't it? If only. Kutcher, unlike the urlesque.com blogger, Jake Hostetter, may have had the smarts not to qualify his spank-bank roundup this way:
"The featured vloggers, Valleywag pin-ups, NYC trendsetters and LA scenesters look good in a bikini, YES, but they're f'ing hot because they're powerful with influence and the head smarts."
In other words: "So, ladies, even though you're nearly naked in the minds of everyone reading this story on Digg, I want you to know I respect you for your brains."
And that's exactly what's tricky about hottie roundups: Most, if not all, of these women put attractive pics of themselves up and some are candid about sex, such as Violet Blue, a podcaster, Blip.tv vlogger and Fleshbot.com blogger about porn. I suppose there's a feeling that it's "fair game" to blog about them -- and, of course, neither the wish for ladies to wear bikinis nor the admiration of attractive women is inherently demeaning. Furthermore, lists like this are often meant to be ironic or in good, teasing fun, like Gawker's 2005 most beautiful New York magazine staffer contest, which parodied the magazine's list of beautiful New Yorkers.
For those of us trying to earn and hold onto respect, hottie roundups are more of the same-old bullshit where women with impressive lists of accomplishments are treated with that much less than their male counterparts. When women bloggers are afforded less respect than is deserved by their journalism/tech peers who should know better, it's an ice-water-on-the-face reminder that a factor in a woman's worth is how she falls in line with conventional beauty standards (called the "the male gaze" in gender studies -- although Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs" aptly explained how it's not just men perpetuating the problem). In other words, should we pity the fat-fingered, greasy-skinned, stringy-haired coding genius? Or is she lucky enough to be exempt from this hoopla?
Of course, some women are all too happy to perpetuate this dynamic. Case in point: About a year ago, I remember a former female co-worker practically spitting with scorn over media phenomenon Julia Allison. From what I could tell, Allison was a mostly harmless blogger, A.M. New York columnist and (at the time) Star magazine pundit. I found her easy enough to avoid until this female co-worker hissed, "She makes the rest of us look bad." She was referring, of course, to how Allison pairs her journalism aspirations with her penchant for posing in photos online that show off her rack.
So do two hottie roundups spell a trend? And are ladies online becoming inured to online pleas to put on a bikini? Christie St. Martin, one of the bloggers from the Urlesque roundup, seemed equal parts flattered and embarrassed on her L.A. Times blog, pledging "to continue to hide out indoors for the next week or so." What's a woman in a public position to do when she finds herself belittled online?
You could ask a female blogger on the end -- unwanted and unprovoked -- of this problem herself. Years ago, Jessica Valenti of Feministing (where I've contributed) wasbullied by law blogger Ann Althouse over a photo op with President Bill Clinton for daring to have breasts. Another friend, Jill Filipovic, who blogs at Feministe, had people drooling over her Flickr pics in a contest for the Most Appealing Women at Top Law Schools. And though my own story in no way compares to what happened to Jessica or Jill, I experienced a bit of this body belittling myself when I blogged on Huffington Post about the lack of people of color and women on the cover of New York magazine's culture issue. When Gawker linked to it, it derisively tagged my post under "adorable bloggers" (yet still agreed with my logic in its post). Indeed, it is enough to make you want to "hide out indoors." Or at least stay away from a camera.
Coincidentally enough, the Miss Universe Pageant, owned by that great feminist Donald Trump, airs on Sunday night. (Is it just me or are the contestants posed like porn stars on their site?) Surely you've heard pageant viewership has declined in recent years. Funny how people don't care anymore to watch prom queens fight over a sash and crown on TV -- yet our culture never stops finding ways of bringing the beauty pageant to us.