Is my reaction sexist: an honest question

I came across the above image by way of Andrew Sullivan.  I go to the Dish as much for its role as an aggregator as for his opinions, and he included the picture as part of a blurb linked to a Buzzfeed post featuring numerous female porn stars before and after getting their make-up done.

I don’t know if I would have been fascinated enough by that topic to click through, had it not been for a quirk of this particular picture.  First of all, the “before” and “after” pictures scarcely look like the same woman to me.  But beyond that, the “before” picture looks a little like someone I used to know, in a “could be cousins” sort of way.

This picture made me sad.  As did many of the pictures featured in Buzzfeed.  And I wonder if that’s sexist.

So many of the women look sweet and fresh-faced and like women I would theoretically know in my day-to-day life, and then they look… different.  Plus the Buzzfeed link includes not only how old they are, but how many titles they’ve starred in.  And I find myself wishing they didn’t have to work in the adult entertainment industry, but could simply be the sweet, fresh-faced women they otherwise were “meant” to be.

I think that’s the best way of describing how those pictures make me feel, and reading it over it seems patronizing even to me.  Am I wrong to feel this way?

And there are yet more layers!  I alluded briefly in my post about Leaguefest 2012 to seeing go-go dancers at one of the casinos, and feeling oddly compelled to blush and avert my eyes.  I wanted to go Full Millicent on the men sitting around watching them, bashing in heads with an umbrella willy-nilly.  I believe I had never before seen exotic dancers.

Or rather, female exotic dancers.  (Attention readers who may or may not be members of my immediate family — I apologize now if anything to follow scandalizes you terribly.)  The club where I used to go out dancing most often Back In the Day occasionally featured comely young gentlemen dancing in almost no clothing as part of its nightly show.  Said performers weren’t the reason I went there and I was never part of the crowd around the edge of the stage waving bills of various denominations.  However, neither did I stampede out of the room in shame and protest.

Had the go-go dancers in Vegas been male (which would have been a surprise, given that “Boobs, Boobs, Boobs!” may as well be that city’s motto), I doubt I would have been as chagrined by their presence.  (I like to think I would have had the class not to ogle, at least not in that company.)  I cannot help but think that my response, however well-meant, belies some kind of sexism on my part.

But damned if it doesn’t feel like the right response!

Further, I wonder if my being gay doesn’t somehow color my reaction.  As a reader said to Sully:

I saw a group of attractive women make a transformation that is pretty familiar to women and to those of us who date them. Almost across the board these were women you’d be flattered to talk to in a bar. I saw a group of women who were working *hard* – this isn’t powdering your nose, this is an elaborate process.

The truth is, I am not used to interacting with women when they are behaving in a manner meant to attract a certain kind of attention.  I am used to behaving with men that way.  I’ve been flat-out propositioned by a woman once, flirted with a few times… and that’s about it.  My reaction to almost all of the pictures is to think “but you looked so much better before!”  But clearly there are lots and lots and lots of guys who like the “after” pictures, and I simply can’t relate to that.

There is no aspect of life in which my nascent libertarianism manifests itself more than what people should be allowed to do with their bodies.  I am broadly against laws that try to save people from their own choices when it comes to what they do with them.  I do not think that pornography should be illegal, or that women who make it should be shamed for doing so.  Frankly, I’d want them to be unequivocally empowered to call their own shots.  I would never tell the women in those pictures that they should be ashamed of themselves, assuming their careers are their own free choice.

So why do I feel sad for them?  Why do I suspect that sexism is at play in that feeling?  I can explain it to myself that my feelings stem from a belief that “good girls” don’t choose to do what these women do, and they look like “good girls” in the “before” pictures, so they can’t possibly have chosen to do porn.  That sure looks like sexism to me.  But I can’t talk myself out of feeling sad, none-the-less.  Ought I to feel as ashamed myself as if I thought women shouldn’t work outside of the home, say, or be paid as much?

I’m asking.  Really.  (This is one of those where I wish we had a more proportionately female readership, and I am particularly interested in what my female readers have to say.)

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. This may be the fist ever time I have seen a male say they wish women weren’t being needlessly objectified, and follow it up with a concern that this might make them sexist.

    My answer, my friend, is no – it does not make you sexist. It makes you human, and a decent one at that.

    • Well, I am going to play devil’s advocate a teeny bit, while fully stipulating the Doc’s decent-human-hood.

      The Doc drew the comparison between male and female go-go dancers, admitting that the spectacle of the female ones in Vegas upset him (moving Millicent to attempted umbrella assault), while previously-seen male ones did not. I think it likely there’s a bit of both sexism and sexual orientation wrapped up in that difference.

      Sexism, because either both males and females freely choose that life, or they both choose it due to harm/are being harmed by it (or any combo); but it doesn’t make sense to me to say that it’s mostly OK for men, but mostly not for women without implicating at least some sexism (“can the women not handle it as well as the men? Do the men like it more than the women? Were the women abused as children and are seeking validation, while the men just like the easy money?” and so on and so forth).

      Either the choice, and any consequences, are owned by the performers, or they aren’t. Male or female has nothing to do with it, and if it does, that seems like sexism to me.

      And sexual orientation, because I think it likely that the Doc’s appreciation for the male form helped override any thoughts of “but that is someone’s CHILD”, which I’d bet dollars to donuts Millicent was thinking some version of in Vegas. I’m not condemning here – stimulus, and attraction/lust, and objectification, and porn are what they are. And in my experience, you can only enjoy it when you aren’t thinking, “my God, that is someone’s DAUGHTER (or son).”

      If the id isn’t piping up, everyone’s Millicent takes over. And once Millicent has taken over, she can beat the id down with the umbrella. I’ve seen my share of porn & go-go dancers, but there have definitely been times when – and not even due to any particularly outre or especially unappealing or degrading instance – I just start feeling sad for the performers, and any eroticism is long gone.

      • This is a good point. However, I think one could defend an objection to female go-go dancers (but not male go-go dancers) by arguing that it reinforces the unjust power dynamic that has historically existed between men and women.

        But another thought occurred to me… Russell says that when he was clubbing, he wasn’t offending by the male dancers. Is it possible that he might be offended by them now? If so, TA-DA, good ol’ non-sexist Russell is back!

    • I saw this when Sullivan first published it, and found my own reaction rather suprising: almost universally, I was more attracted to the “before” pictures. There’s something about the hard-edged mannequin pseudo-perfection of the “porny” version of these women that makes them seem almost inhuman. The first picture posted looks like someone that I could have a conversation with, or fall for. The made-up woman has had all traces of human-ness removed: she’s a collection of signifiers.

  2. I think there are two things. On the makeup front, I feel similarly. It, to me, relates back to the enormous social expectations we place on women for how they should look and knowing how comparatively free I am from that. A a heterosexual male, anyway. Do you think you might be under more pressure than I am? (That’s a tangent, I know, but I am actually curious, if you’ll indulge me.)

    On the pornography thing, I read an article saying that women who do such things are more likely to have higher self-confidence and so on (including spirituality) than women who don’t. So I sort of take any issues I have as being “my problem.” As a hetero, of course, it is probably more conflicted for me than it is for you, since, well, I am the target audience and I would be lying if I said I abstained. So there is a mixture of guilt on a couple of fronts and yet some evidence that suggests that it is unwarranted.

    • I read that same article (i think) about female porn stars. Could be true but i really wondered about the sample. Did the women who were run through the business in a few months have the same feelings? Reported self confidence and spirtuality are not the most solid measures.

      • The other thing about “self-confidence” as a measure – haven’t there been studies that show that the more ignorant/incompetent you are, the higher your self-confidence tends to be? Basically, the more you know, the more cautious you are about your limitations and unknowns- but when you don’t even know that you don’t know, then you THINK you’re great, basically.

        So could high self-confidence still be indicative of a potential problem?

        Did that article measure things like rates of drug abuse, or scrapes with the law?

        Of course, correlation is not causation, etc. etc. And to be clear, I believe people should be free to do what they want, and it’s entirely possible that any negative issues that exist (if they even do in fact exist) could be a result of social opprobrium, and not a result of the business itself (or, any issues could be what propelled them into the business to begin with).

        • High self confidence is nice but can still be a problem nor does it indicate if someone is well and truly screwed up. The porn biz has a history of having many, many women go into and out of the business quickly. So i wonder why that would be and how the women who didn’t make it in the industry felt about it.

    • As a gay man my 2 cents is that, no, we’re not under much more external pressure to look good than straight men are. Internally there’s quite a lot and I have gay friends who’s routines for preparing to go out is a combination of a 1800 womans preperation combined with the ritual seriousness of a samurai armoring for battle. But it’s all self imposed.

  3. I so wish you hadn’t limited this post to porn stars.

    Just imagine, for a moment, the dressing-for-the-job rituals Clinton had to go through vs. what Kerry must go through.

    Like you, I prefer the before pictures. But here’s where the sexism steps in (and I applaud you for even looking for it,) the presumption that this beauty ritual is for the stimulation of men. It’s often wrapped up in the acceptance and progress of women.

    My first professional job, I dressed nice, but I didn’t wear make up. One day at lunch, two co-workers and I got into a conversation about dress, appearance, and promotions. They both argued that I would not get a promotion because I didn’t wear make up, and they would. (We all knew I was doing vastly more complex work then they were, and I’d trained them to do their jobs.) And within six months, they both got raises and promotions, I didn’t. So I went to Filenes, to a make-up counter that I’d been assured by friends-in-the-know wouldn’t cause extra zits, and I learned how to get made up.

    And with six months, I’d gotten not one but two promotions and my salary increased by a third.

    • See, I don’t like the before picture at all. The above one is the only picture I’ve seen, but I am more drawn to someone if they appear to be taking care to look nice. The before picture looks like she just rolled out of bed, which is fine if that’s what she did, but I wouldn’t recommend that look for making a good impression on people. I would not recommend look #3 either unless your goal is sexual in nature.

      • I don’t wear makeup. Her face looks washed, you can see her ears, and her hair looks… done. Maybe not done well, but she looks fine.

        Got nice bright eyes, too.

        Seems peppy and tending towards sparkling.

        The others? not so much.

    • Just imagine, for a moment, the dressing-for-the-job rituals Clinton had to go through vs. what Kerry must go through.

      Seconding this so much.

      One of the things I really noticed, when Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, was how much older she looked than she had looked on the campaign trail, and then how much work she must have had to do while campaigning to try to meet cultural standards of female appearance. Once she was able to simply be a professional rather than running for office, the expectations seemed to have eased off a bit (or perhaps just changed, in a way that made an “elder stateswoman” look more appropriate?).

      Actually, the hubbub about Palin’s “shopping spree” was kind of the same. I don’t remember anybody every asking what Obama’s clothes cost.

  4. Also, I should probably add that I had decided I would very much like these makeup people to work these same wonders on me.

    • Well, they can do that for you, but there is ONE little catch…

      Coming soon to a seedy motel video rental near you…Oh, Tod! You Devil, the story of one man’s erotic journey from Sheboygan to Albuquerque!

  5. what’s stunning to me is that the change from pre to post makeup is SO major!

    And I’m sorry, but the middle pic is the one. Look at the eye accents. Zomg….

    • I’m going to dissent from this opinion. As Mike notes below, the woman pictured above is attractive — although in somewhat different ways — in each of the three photographs.

      Of the three, the “before makeup” picture on the left is the most attractive, IMO. If I were still single, and a woman who looked like that was exhibiting interest in me, I’d probably be to stunned to reciprocate that interest.

      • My reaction to the three:

        First picture — I would totally be friends with this woman. As I mentioned in the OP, she actually reminds me of an old friend of whom I was incredibly fond. I would hang out with this woman and gripe about her loser ex-boyfriend.

        Second picture — I would chat politely with this woman, assuming I had cause to speak with her at all. If I were acting as wingman for one of my straight buddies, I’d ask where she bought her lipstick before casually segueing into what an awesome guy my friend over there is and OMIGOD I love her shoes and did I mention what an awesome guy my friend is?

        Third picture — Good lord, stop already with the tongue. Totes obvious. Enjoy all the attention, sister. I’ll be over here with all the other women rolling my eyes.

        • I’ll be over here with all the other women rolling my eyes.

          Best response ever. Because so much of how women dress and act in public has to do with the other women, and so little to do with the men in the room. Perhaps it’s part of establishing the alpha-female pecking order? I don’t know. But yeah, with the other women, rolling our eyes because #3 is definitely a step too far for most of us to feel comfortable going.

          • I do believe that women dress to compete as well as attract potential partners, but I wouldn’t say that one is greater than the other. It’s completely situational and driven by internal motivators. Every woman will be a unique case.

          • Yes, but do you do it for your female friends? Don’t be sexist.

          • Are you kidding? I was constantly searching for single guys I thought were sufficiently awesome for my single female friends. It was just about the nicest thing I could say to a guy “I would totally set you up with a friend of mine.”

            However, I’ve never been out with a female friend who wanted me in wingman capacity. I was always the friend they went out with when they just wanted to have a good time, dammit, and didn’t want to spend half the night fending off dudes trying to get next to them.

        • Meh,

          Everyone has their own preferences, so I’d rate Pic 1 as “nice”. Pic 3 reminds me of “Office Space” and the “O face” comments. But maybe I’m just not that used to dramatic changes in women from make up.

          My ex rarely wore makeup, and if she put on any, it was very little. She was always attractive (at least to me) and, judging from the comments below about woment wearing makeup to get promtions, she didn’t need to wear makeup, getting promoted twice in five years.

  6. I saw a modeling shoot yesterday, and I thought it was horrific.
    Nothing real about it. Nothing “glamorous.” It was totally phony, all the way through.
    I felt my soul cry out.
    Racing images of all the little girls (including my own step-daughters) who would be influenced by such tripe filling my mind, swirling like a whirlpool.

    I understand where you’re coming from.

    Unlike you, I really don’t care if my feelings are sexist or not.

    You’re one up on me, I’d say.
    But I think we’re in the right place.

  7. I have heard stories of women out there who wake up an hour before their husband every day so that they can “put their face on”… and it was whispered that “her husband has never seen her without makeup”.

    When doing research for a recent recap of a Fringe episode, I looked up the whole “what order do you apply makeup?” question of the Google (William Bell’s spirit was possessing Olivia Dunham’s body, you see… he complained about bras. It seems to me that he ought to have been complaining about the amount of time he required to get that “effortless” look). As it turns out, there’s face primer, then concealer, then foundation, then the eyebrows, then eye shadow, then eye liner, then mascara, then blush, then powder. I’m one of those guys who sees “remembering to use conditioner in my beard” as a victory.

    There is a lot of wacky artifice out there.

    Those photos expose one of the roots of the word “glamor”. It’s a spell.

    • What order to I apply makeup?

      I wake up, do the 3 S’s, eat breakfast, brush my teeth & hair and head out the door.

      I don’t do makeup – unless it’s a special occasion, which might be once a year. My better half has never had an issue with my lack of cosmetic products cluttering up the bathroom, the hall closet, the dresser.. etc.

    • I had a student who would wake up ~~3~~ hours early to do her make up. She was getting up, according to her mom at 3am to start her morning prep for school that started at 7.

      • My older sister was like that – I believe that’s a large part of why I wasn’t ‘into’ makeup in my teen years; I never had the bathroom time to experiment.

        That, and watching my sister fiddle and fuss with brushes, lash curlers, lip liners… and then struggle to put in her contacts afterwards.

        (I used to give her a hand by a slap on the back.)

        I like my sleep. If and when I do makeup, it has to be done in 10 minutes or less, or I’m not doing it. I don’t feel like wasting a good portion of my day primping myself for anything.

    • I’ve worn makeup about twice in my life, and reading that list makes me glad I don’t use it. Far too much work.

  8. It’s possible that such a huge difference between being made-up and not grants a modicum of anonymity to the performers. It may also create some additional psychic space between the real person and character she is playing.

    • Yeah, the anonymity thing occurred to me to. The difference between “before” and “after” pics is pretty vast, so coupled with the pseudonymity, many may be able to lead a pretty regular life outside their job, take trips to the grocery store without undue attention and whatnot.

      • There were at least two actresses in the full spread with whom I will say I have a good deal of familiarity with. If I were to see them on the street looking like their “before” pictures, one I would be very unlikely to recognize and the other might garner a, “I think that looks like so-and-so…” I doubt I would actually conclude that either one is who she portrays in film, even given an extended look (such as if standing behind them in line at the grocery store).

    • (which is my way of saying this has reminded me of far darker things, and I don’t really have the patience to sort through my nigh-melancholic humor right now).

  9. Russell, not to be a wet blanket, but it seems quite possible that there is some latent sexism driving your differing reactions to male and female dancers. I’m not going to try to tell you why you feel a certain way about certain things, and certainly there are other factors that could be involved here, but your question can’t just be dismissed out of hand.

    • I wouldn’t be raising it if I felt it could be. I do quite honestly wonder if I’m being sexist when I react differently to females and males doing the same kind of work.

      But then, the male go-go dancers were dancing in front of other males. Did that same-sex dynamic matter? Does it mitigate things somewhat?

      Does the fact that women are much more likely to be victims of sexual violence and exploitation than men make a difference? Or is that my own easy justification for sexism in the case of my reaction in the OP?

      • IMO the same-sex dynamic isn’t really a factor – there’s still the basic “YUM” from the audience towards the dancers.

        I’ve been to strip clubs (male and female) for the curiosity factor, but like you mentioned, I wasn’t up at the stage drooling in the footlights. It was fun, I had a good time with my friends and that was it. I didn’t see a purpose in going back – I mean, it’s not like the people performing were in my ‘possible dating pool’ – so I didn’t see a purpose to continue visiting.

        I honestly don’t understand the men (and women) who spend so much time (and money!) at clubs rather than on things which give a more tangible return.

        • I’ve been struggling to come up with what my problem with this sort of thing really is, and frankly, it’s a number of things.

          A bit of peek-a-boo with the girl next door can be exciting, but making a game show of it (complete with Chuck Barris and flashing lights) just seems to kill the thrill for me.
          I guess some people can have a thing for both fishing and sushi; but in the present context, it’s all about fishing for me.

          That, and I’ve always been attracted to intelligent women.
          “So, what would you be doing if you weren’t a bimbo?” does not sound like a darned fine square one to build from.

          That, and I see it as a horrible way that susceptible people respond to peer pressure. In the contrived antics and the din of the throng, I see an empty person needing others to convey some sense of substance.
          But then, maybe I’m just the guy that cheers for the bull at a bullfight.

          And yeah, I’m concerned about the psychological damage. Sex is a form of intimacy, and I’ve known some who use it “in place of” rather than “as a form of.” Sad, that.
          Too many broken people anyway. The less I do to harm others, the better off I’ll be.
          Or so I keep telling myself. Not so sure my efforts have helped all that much, in an honest appraisal.

      • I’m told (by folks who ought to know) that there is an actual market for actual dancing in exotic dancing. You might like that better. (sure, there’s still some peekaboo, but…)

      • I think it’s your last two paragraphs that will determine if your response is based in sexism. There are power dynamics at play here, so it’s difficult to make a definite conclusion.

        I think the only thing you can do is start visiting a lot of male and female strip clubs to try to suss out what is behind your feelings. Please report back after you have done this.

  10. I have similar conflcited feelings. I watch porn, I don’t think porn should be illegal because baning it is going to be counter-productive at best. The legal porn industry is filled with ethical problems. An illegal one is going to be millions of times worse. At the same time, I feel very guilty at times for watching porn and felt extraordinary grief at these photographs. I guess because I place great value on the concept of dignity. I feel that humans should not debase themselves and others. Some activities like porn, reality tv, or extreme eating contests seem inherently grotesque and I can’t understand why somebody would do something like this to themselves whether they are a man or a woman.

    • In America, the porn industry is surprisingly clean and honest.

  11. “And I find myself wishing they didn’t have to work in the adult entertainment industry, but could simply be the sweet, fresh-faced women they otherwise were “meant” to be.”

    Why can’t both be true? Sweet, fresh-faced women who work in the adult entertainment industry?

    • It occurs to me here just how sanitized the phrase “adult entertainment industry” is. If you’d said “Sweet, fresh-faced women who work in porn,” that would feel much less comfortable. But both phrases refer to the same thing.

      • I thought of saying, “Sweet, fresh-faced women who fish on camera for money,” sans euphemism, to address that particular point, actually.

        • Or maybe “someone whose idea of ‘going to work’ involves getting a cue ball* rammed up their can.”

          * A sanitized cue ball, of course; before and after.

          • I suppose the point I was trying to make is… Why do we consider girls who engage in particular sexual acts for particular reason to be less than “sweet, fresh-faced” women?

    • I think the point is that they paint over their sweet fresh face.

      I mean, take a look at those pictures, at the kind of makeup that’s being applied. Honestly, it looks like some of the girls in the “before” pictures are already wearing makeup of some sort. Whether or not that’s the case, the makeup applied changes the character of the face, rather than bringing out its natural beauty.

      To me, the “after” pictures look like fake, plastic people, with all the subtlety and character painted over with garish eyeshadow and lipstick. Which might be the point, for both the women and for the viewers: As Boegiboe says, these women may be putting on a mask to play a character that is separate from themselves. And at the same time, that mask prevents the viewer from thinking of the porn star as “someone’s daughter”.

      I tend to discount the idea that porn is “dehumanizing” as simple prudishness, but after seeing those faces, I’m not so sure…

      • Is it possible we’re making too much of it? Show a bunch of men the before and afters… ask who they would rather seen in a porno. They’re putting out what the client wants. I recognize that there is a feedback loop with beauty standards and a socialization piece and all that… but there is also some science to it. Men are attracted to plump, red lips for evolutionary reasons. Rosy, healthy looking skin draws us in more than pale, pasty skin. Eyeliner makes the eyes pop, making them more appealing. Porn isn’t the only industry that coats their subjects in makeup… compare actors, TV personalities, musicians, and other celebrities with and without makeup and you see a similar, if somewhat muted, effect.

        • My sweetie calls the female anchors on FOX soft-porn stars; men that look their age, women that look like pictures #2 verging on #3 above.

          • I believe Tod referred to them as the car show models in his series of posts on cable news…

        • Makeup artists love doing Brienne, not Cersei. It gets dull doing the same job over and over. With Brienne, man, you can be Creative!

  12. Meh. I’m going to give you a pass on this, Doc, with the only caveat being that as a hetero male, I’m in the most privileged group when it comes to things like this. I’ll await input from the Ordinary Gentlewomen in the commentariat.

    But for now, my thoughts go as follows. It ought to be obvious that the go-go dancing such as we saw in Vegas is exploitative even if there isn’t any additional abuse anywhere in the picture or the dancer’s personal history. But it’s also visually appealing to its target audience. Your internal wiring is different than mine, so you don’t have to intellectually overcome the unconscious rationalization-away of guilt that I did having enjoyed the spectacle, despite the fact that we were looking at the same dancers.

    If there’d been hot dudes up there dancing for your pleasure, as you note from your club experiences, you’d have that same immediate “whoa, check it out, that’s sexy!” reaction and the same sort of post-reaction rationalization. That rationalization happens unconsciously and is as powerful as it is subtle. The attraction of the eye to sexually appealing people is hard-wired into being a sexual human being. The rationalization is a byproduct of being a moral person.

    And that’s why I think your concerns about sexism are overblown — that you admit you’d be slower to have this reaction after having enjoyed the sight demonstrates that the psychological mechanism at issue here is moral rationalization, not sexism.

    • It ought to be obvious that the go-go dancing such as we saw in Vegas is exploitative even if there isn’t any additional abuse anywhere in the picture or the dancer’s personal history.

      I don’t think this is obvious at all. In fact, I’d say that there’s a stronger case to be made for the audience being exploited. The dancers know exactly what they’re getting and what they’re giving, but the audience is being strung along by a bit of evolutionary sleight-of-hand.

  13. I suspect that, in person, the woman pictured above is quite attractive with no makeup applied, and that as made up in #2 and #3 she’d look a bit over-done. But our expectations for published photos are different enough that #1 appears “plain”.

    • I looked through the series, for journalistic purposes of course, and many of the “before” pictures have that fresh-scrubbed looked that women often have before being made up that actually makes them look worse. Harsh cleansers and astringents leave the skin looking raw and irritated immediately after use and most of the photos have that look.

      • I have noticed this same phenomenon myself. While some women exhibit great skepticism about this, I’ve found that women often look very attractive immediately after waking up in the morning, moreso than they look immediately after removing their makeup.

        • 100% agree. Hell, I see it with myself. If I use an cleansing pad for acne, I’m red and puffy for a few minutes afterwards. Add in harsh flourescent lights and I’m downright ugly… nothing like the handsome visage I usually present.

          • Please do! I have a basic regimen I use that keeps it mostly under control but if there is something I’m doing that shouldn’t be or something I should be doing that I’m not, do tell!

          • Astringent pads are The Devil! They strip the skin of its oil, thus causing a compensatory overproduction, and cause irritation that only allows MORE bacteria to infiltrate the skin surface.

            I’d have to check your (doubtless quite fetching, in any case) face out to give more specific management advice.

          • But I feel so CLEAN after using one!

            Would this be considered an astringent pad?
            I sometimes use words, particularly medical terms, without really knowing what they mean.

            But if you tell me I’ll get BETTER results by SIMPLIFYING my routine… maybe I’ll respect you as a doctor yet.

          • Ditch the pads. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser, then apply the same medication in the pads (salicylic acid) to your face sparingly as a cream.

            If that doesn’t work, y’know… see a doctor or something.

          • Heh… two years in a row now, when applying for life insurance (we had to update our plans once becoming pregnant), I had to look quizzically at the interviewer when he asked who my doctor was. It was cute the first time… but simply irresponsible for the second go-around.

          • I might just start listing “Dr. Russell Saunders” of New England.

          • Kazzy,
            I had increasingly bad acne and reddening problems on my nose and cheekbones until I really went researching a few months ago and tried totally different ideas. The idea that worked? I don’t wash those sensitive areas with soap or astringents. Ever. I rinse with warm water, dry my face, and apply an anti-inflammatory lotion. It’s even possible the kind of lotion doesn’t matter. Now I almost never have acne and my skin tone is healthy instead of angry-red.

            I won’t expound upon the reasons I think this is working. Suffice it to say I am very pleased.

          • Thanks, Bo. My struggles with acne are largely in the past… the occasional flareup here and there aside, my routine is more about maintenance than anything else. I also tend to drink a lot of water (like, a LOT, approaching a gallon a day, most days) which probably has more of an impact than anything. But I might be ready for a less-is-more approach.

  14. Doc, did you ever talk to any of those male dancers? Did they like being watched, being lusted after? I bet they did, that’s part of why they danced.

    I won’t speak for 100% of women who star in porn, who work as exotic dancers, or who work as prostitutes; there’s a lot of downward economic pressure and exploitation involved with much of these businesses. But for some of these women, there’s that same joy at being desired, being lusted after. Women come in the full spectrum; some are naturally demure, some naturally flaunt, some are outright voracious.

    The trick here is letting them be these things because they choose to be, not because the economics of their lives force them to be, an addiction drives them to be, or a controlling male makes them be.

    There’s an inner piece of me that suspects you’d prefer her remain fresh-faced and pure because of an aversion to thinking of women as sexual; I know I’ve had this conversation with my brother, most particularly after he called me “a breeder” on day in a most insulting way. The fact is, women like/dislike sex through a spectrum, and sadly, those urges they have are often manipulated with social messages that they should be sexy but they should not appear to want to be sexy, they should be pure but they should put out, etc. etc. etc.

    • The trick here is letting them be these things because they choose to be, not because the economics of their lives force them to be, an addiction drives them to be, or a controlling male makes them be.


      Unfortunately, I can’t participate in adjudicating that. I mean, I can recognize all the easy cases, but I HAVE NO IDEA about the edge cases, and I’m not even sure where the edge is.

      • I can’t help but point out how much of this is shaped by the abuse and control of some women; the notion that women’s behavior should be controlled because some of them might be exploited. It rather reminds me of blaming women for getting raped because of how they dressed, etc.

    • Thanks for a great question and an insightful comment, zic.

      No, I never talked to any of the dancers. I don’t think I ever had a chance to, frankly, since I don’t have any recollection of them actually circulating amongst bar patrons. But I suspect I wouldn’t have, anyhow, since I would probably have been afraid they’d think I was coming on to them.

      However, I did have a very good friend (a woman), who I’m pretty sure did a little stripping on the side. Or at least she certainly liked to drop hints that she was. And, assuming she really was, I am entirely certain it was because she enjoyed the attention, though the money couldn’t have hurt.

      And hell, I certainly didn’t mind getting hit on and flirted with. So I can certainly see your point.

      Furthermore, I think your comment about an aversion to thinking of women as sexual is onto something. (I would never call one a “breeder” except in the most ironic, obviously joking way.) A certain best friend and I have joked about having the world’s most utterly sexual-chemistry-free relationship in the history of mankind, and I often tend to think of my female friends almost like sisters. Perhaps I have a difficult time with feminine sexuality? It’s a reasonable question to raise.

      • Thanks, Doc. I was hesitant to bring it up, but since I’ve had this discussion with my sib (two 2.5 weeks to his wedding!) I had to ask. Because he’s like, ich. He doesn’t want to go there; in very much the same way a lot of straights don’t want to consider gay sex.

        And you know what, I think that’s okay, long as we’re honest with ourselves about it.

      • I had a classmate that paid for her Master’s degree from exotic dancing, and if I recall correctly, she’s gotten her PhD as well.

        She considered it easy money, and yeah, she had a rockin’ bod and wasn’t ashamed of it.

    • I think it’s safe to assume that if, and that’s a big if, a portion, likely a small portion, of these women are doing this because they enjoy being desired/lusted after and why not get paid for it, it’s likely to get old very quickly. Yes, it’s flattering when someone finds me attractive, but unless I’m similarly attracted to them it’s going to wear thin quickly. I seriously doubt long term professionals in this particular field are doing it for that reason.

      • A job’s a job’s a job.

        I don’t have a lot of experience to point at, but I’m certain there’s a segment of the exotic dancer population that may not love being lusted after but can respect that it’s part of the job, and it pays the bills, and probably pays them fairly well.

        I agree that it’s unlikely that long term exotic dancers are doing it because they love the kind of attention, but I do think that taken as a whole they enjoy the work enough to keep doing it, regardless.

        I’m sure there are lawyers who don’t particularly enjoy their branch of law, just as there are teachers who get frustrated with a several year stretch of teaching the same course. But it’s a job, it pays the bills, and provides room for some kind of options later in life.

          • I’ve been here off and on, mostly lurking.

            Biggest pain in the tush has been getting my google RSS to mesh with flipboard which is where I follow most of my blogs now. That and finding time to comment and read since I just started a second (not reader directed) webnovel.

  15. This is kind of following on zic’s point, but this phrase seemed important to me. . .

    “assuming their careers are their own free choice.”

    It’s hard to escape the fact that both presently and historically many women in the various sex trades have not participated of their own free choice. So the fact that many women are in these trades because of economic or social coercion, or outright violence, colors our perception of all women in the sex business. So while men can be subject to the some of the same economic or social pressures, there are few past practices which would lead to the presumption that men aren’t freely choosing these professions.

    This past history creates the context in which we see an individual, and as long as that person is treated or judged similarly if you ever get their full story it doesn’t seem sexist to me. Rather it seems like an awareness of the difference between the ways men and women have gotten into the business.

    • As Pat notes above, it’s a fuzzy line about what constitutes “economic coercion.” I get paid a lot of money to do what I do (which some people would joke is just as dirty and filthy as doing pornography) but to suggest that I’ve been economically coerced into practicing law would be a risible proposition.

      Let’s say she was not abused as a child or anything like that, but lived in a family subsisting below the poverty line. When she gets to be old enough and becomes sexually active, she finds that working minimum wage jobs isn’t particularly fun, and discovers that if she boinks some guy (who is at least passably good-looking) on camera, she can make as much money in a half day of that as she would have made in three weeks at Wal-Mart.

      Granted, sex on the set isn’t quite as romantic as a rendezvous in private, but what the hell.

      Is that “economic coercion”? Or has the producer offered sufficient inducement to make someone give consent that you would agree is “free,” the same way you would likely say my consent to work on behalf of a legal client is “free”?

      Does whether or not she actually enjoys the sex matter?

      Would it make a difference to that answer if she would likely have been willing to boink the guy in private if he talked sufficiently nicely to her over a few drinks after work?

      Let’s stipulate that they use a condom during filming so the sex acts are at least kind of safe, and the sex acts filmed are not ones she would not have any particular reservations about doing with the man she’s having sex with on camera.

      • And that’s ~really~ the moral thorn in the side of all these conversations. It also starts to encourage on the territory of “Indecent Proposal”.

        Part of what flavors it all, I think, is the perception of choices and the assumption that for the poor there aren’t enough choices thus there is not meaningful consent to the activity. The difference between $8/hr at Walmart vs $800/ hr on the set is SO radically different that you can’t assume any reasonable person would make a choice based on anything less than the money.

        I do grant that it seems odd that we are willing to accept finacial incentives elsewhere, but not in this area, which is quite possibly a hold to a rather prudish cultural world view. After all, banks are allowed to pay obscene wages to “attract the very best” but the adult film industry isnt’?

      • If minimum wage were $15/hr with basic benefits and a modicum of job security, then someone’s decision to work as a porn star wouldn’t be due to economic coercion.

        However, when the minimum wage is $7.25 with no guarantee that you’ll get 40 hours a week, yes, that’s economic coercion. It’s economic coercion whether you go on to do porn or not. Nobody should have to live the way the average minimum wage worker lives in America today. It’s not a living wage.

        • Without getting into the difficulties of finding a solution, your broader point is well taken: if economic coercion is our concern, we ought to be as concerned about the person bagging our groceries as the person doing porn.

  16. I’m in total agreement that what constitutes economic coercion is giant grey landmass, with only the slenderest of white and black coasts, and that the vast majority of the landmass is not anything that I (or you) would really find objectionable morally, ethically, or otherwise.

    The comment was more about how we see those in the sex trade (porn, prostitution, strippers, etc) through a lens which takes into account the historical (and in some cases present) realities of those professions. And, further, that men and women are differently situated, which, in turn, seems to change our initial reaction. The comment wasn’t about porn per se, and economic coercion wasn’t really doing that much work.

    So while I don’t think your example is economic coercion in any significant sense, if I just saw the picture of the girl I would have the same reaction as Russell, a reaction I don’t think I would have for men. The comment is an attempt to explain why I have that initial reaction, while acknowledging that what matters is situation of each individual.

  17. Yes, it’s clearly sexism. No, I don’t think it’s hurting any one and it works out to be an opportunity for self reflection. Good for you. As long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of the women to choose, than I don’t think it’s the bad kind of sexism. Did I just say there is a good kind of sexism? I’m going to have to think about that. I guess I don’t see humans *wanting* to protect each other as harmful, but I get the feeling these women either don’t want or don’t need Millicent or her umbrella.

  18. I don’t really quite follow what you are saying is sexist about your reaction in the first part of the post. But as to the dancers, I don’t really see how one could see the difference in your reactions as not sexist. Now, maybe we should disapprove of (slash feel protective of the people who do) that kind of dancing generally, in which case you’re half-way further toward enlightenment on the topic from me. And maybe it’s even somehow right to have a different-by-sex opinion about that kind of dancing. I don’t know. But regardless, I’m pretty sure having it is sexist. Open to arguments why not, though.

    (It may be that you implicitly think that a woman doing that kind of dancing is more likely to be economically coerced into doing it than a man is. That might be true, but the implicit assumption that it is would also be, I think, sexist.)

  19. It’s true that you’re reacting to something that’s problematic in society. But, just because you’re reacting against something that’s problematic doesn’t mean your reaction isn’t problematic, too. Sorry.

    The way society treats the public performance of female sexuality and the way that women are defined by the public performance of sexuality do indeed have some troubling aspects. So it’s quite reasonable to be troubled when you see it clearly on display. But your reaction becomes problematic when it becomes “wishing they didn’t have to work in the adult entertainment industry, but could simply be the sweet, fresh-faced women they otherwise were ‘meant’ to be.” Your reaction has the same problem of defining these women by their public performance of sexuality. As if women fall into either “sweet, fresh-faced women” (as you describe them elsewhere, “good girls”) or sex workers; it’s the virgin-whore dichotomy again, you’re just approaching it from the other direction.

    I don’t think you need to be ashamed just because you feel a certain way, though. There’s no need to bring back the concept of impure thoughts. Aware, perhaps, so you can ensure your feelings don’t negatively affect your actions, but not ashamed. And by making this post, you’re already showing a good deal of awareness.

  20. Russell: you’re not looking at it the right way. That #3 face is the woman’s costume.

  21. I don’t think it’s necessarily sexist to feel sorry for these women. The life of a rank-and-file porn performer is pretty rough. They’re under constant pressure to expand their sexual repertoire to ever more dangerous and shocking acts, but a big part of their marketability comes from being young, fresh and unsullied by having done those things. It’s the ultimate virgin/whore dichotomy.

    There are a few stars who manage to make big bucks and even go on to own their own companies, or land swanky contracts with the big studios where they do more promotional appearances than sex on camera.

    If you’re a woman who did porn in the internet age, the odds that you will be able to hide it from your loved ones and prospective employers is pretty slim. I wish there wasn’t a stigma against porn performers, but there is. So, I’m sorry that anyone has to live with that.

  22. This is a bit like what other people have said… but maybe a bit not:

    I don’t think it’s possible to determine whether nuanced reactions like the ones you describe here are sexist or not, because of the incredibly sexist milieu in which they are embedded. It’s a “neither yes nor no” situation. Are you reacting to the unjust environment, or from some internalization of sexist assumptions? Probably both, or who knows, or maybe every situation is different and it’s the generalization that is flawed (we humans love our pattern matching).

    So while I do think the question is worthy of reflection – that reflection on it seems helpful both for you and for us – I don’t think it needs to be answered. Rather, I think it needs to be held on to, re-asked, and re-mulled over every time a situation like this comes up. We don’t get to declare this solved, you know? Communally or individually. Maybe eventually, if enough people defer the impulse to seize on firm answers, these deeply ambiguous contexts will be freed of some of their problematic overtones. In the meantime, I try to make a point of remembering the humanity of everyone I look at, whatever their masks are. Which sounds smug, but it is actually really fishing hard, and I’m not always especially good at it (though most of my issues with it seem to arise in other contexts than those under discussion here).

    Or, you know, maybe all of the above is a very self-serving opinion set for me to have, given my relative levels of privilege, comfort, and inexperience, and I would think very differently in other circumstances. It’s hard to say. Really.

    • PS I originally started to answer this question in terms of what I found more or less attractive in the pictures on Buzzfeed, and my own similar and dissimilar experiences, and etc., and then I decided that really was… the same kind of problem/is it even a problem? as the situations you describe in the OP. “Well, it doesn’t always feel sexist when I have those kinds of reactions, or opposite ones” is not actually an answer!

      • And, the idea that it IS an answer, for me at least (not harshing on the upthread comments), sort of shows how endemic the problem is? how much of a social consensus that I don’t agree with I’ve managed to absorb anyway? something. I’ve probably reached the point of tired where I’ve quit making sense.

        • Awesome series of comments.

          I agree; the notion that the response to “is this sexist,” is to look at our responses to the images is sexist. And that we all do that so easily is a good indication to how deeply misogyny roots in us, both male and female.

          Imagine, instead, if the photos were of a male athlete, early career (slender) and then bulking up on steroids in photo two and massively bulked in three; would the first response be which image presents the person as most attractive?

  23. all i know is that makeup makes those poor women look scary as hell. this may or may not be sexist, but impressive as these transformations/costumings are it’s hella icky.

  24. Say Doc…. wanna do a fun experiment?

    Split those pictures up and ask people to pick who they think is smarter. As in break the adult star images up so that you pair Girl A No MakeUp with Girl B With Make up, and then later down you pair Girl A with Makeup with Girl B Without.

    You have to wonder which one most people would “assume” is the smarter of the two…. though I have my suspicions…

  25. I don’t feel it’s sexist; in fact, I feel kind of the same way you do. The woman looks more natural, and better, in the picture on the left. Even aside from dislike of the porn industry, it is sad that common cultural beauty standards value people looking more artificial and less like themselves.

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