The only article on this blog that has any actual comments is the one I wrote a while back about That Noblegarden Thing.
Part of the reason it has so many comments is that it, unfortunately, degenerated into a bit of an argument between me and a guy called James, in which I called him a sexist, he insisted that he wasn't, and I insisted that he was, and that all of the things he kept saying to prove he wasn't only showed exactly what a big sexist he was. To be honest I was a bit over-aggressive but the advantage of doing this kind of thing on your own blog is that you have that luxury.
The particular sticking point, I think, was his insistance that he wasn't a sexist but that he "appreciated the beauty of the female form".
What I didn't have the time or patience to explain to this guy, but which I think is worth a post in its own right, is precisely why "I appreciate the beauty of the female form" is in fact a totally sexist thing to say.
Issue the First: There are Exceptions to Every Rule
It's a common complaint amongst racist dickheads that black people are allowed to use the "n-word" and white people aren't.
In the same way, I'm going to start off by saying that it is, theoretically, possible to actually "appreciate the beauty of the female form" without it being an offensive, sexist, insulting thing to say. If you have made an extensive study of - say - the portrayal of women in the visual media, if you have read The Beauty Myth and know what the term "male gaze" actually means, if your idea of "beauty" isn't defined entirely as "things men traditionally find nice to look at" and if you understand that "the female form" is not a synonym for "boobs" then you might be the sort of person who can "appreciate the beauty of the female form" without being a creepy Nice Guy dickweed.
On the other hand, if you've got those sorts of credentials, you'll probably describe your interests in a less stupid way.
Treat Me Like a Woman
Just to reiterate for those who aren't sure, I'm not a woman (although I sometimes get mistaken for one online, because I can't find my way around Halls of Stone without a map). I'm a man.
One of the perks of being a man is that I have the de facto right to define what it means to be a woman. Just to be clear, by "right" I really mean "privilege" - I'm not claiming that it's a right in the moral sense of the word. It's one I'd be happy to give up (in theory, at least, I rather suspect that I'd miss it).
As a man, I enjoy the right to define what is and is not feminine, what body shape, style of dress, and even patterns of behaviour are "attractive" in a woman. Furthermore, the extent to which I consider a woman attractive is the only judgment I need make of her worth.
This is why men have to be very careful making generalisations about women. When you say "I appreciate the beauty of the female form" you are reinforcing your right to define what the female form is and should be.
I Think I'll Be Sexist Today!
Nobody wakes up in the morning and says "you know what, I think today is an excellent day for being a sexist asshole". Nobody *means* to be sexist. The whole problem with sexism is that you can be sexist *without meaning it*. I've made this point before, but the motto of segregation in 1950s America was "seperate but equal" - it was not, in fact, supposed to be racist at all. Similarly I've heard a great many racist comics insisting that "I don't make racist jokes, I make jokes about race".
Intent has no bearing on prejudice.
I am sure that when people say "I appreciate the beauty of the female form" they don't intend to be reinforcing harmful ideas about what women are "supposed" to look like, but the fact is they do. I'm sure they don't mean to be reinforcing the idea that women exist only to look nice for men, but the fact is they are.
There is nothing wrong with liking to look at conventionally attractive women. There is nothing wrong with liking to look at women who aren't necessarily conventionally attractive but who you personally find hot. What is very wrong is pretending that your personal predelictions benefit anybody except you. If you say "I appreciate the beauty of the female form" you are basically saying that women should feel flattered to have you perving at them.
But They Love It!
It's true that most people like to feel attractive. It's true that most women appreciate compliments. I've certainly never seen anybody get upset at being told their new haircut suits them.
On the other hand, I'm pretty sure most women also like to hear things like "I read your last blog post and thought it was really interesting and insightful" or indeed (since this is ostensibly a WoW blog) "thanks for kicking the heals on that last boss".
I don't like JK Rowling, but there's an interesting post on her official website where she talks about how she once met a friend at a charity event, and the first thing that person said to her was "you look great, have you lost weight?". This she found infuriating and offensive, because she had, amongst other things, published two books since she last met this person.
It is a fact, and an undeniable fact, that a woman's physical appearance is given primacy over any and all qualities she may possess. Anne Widdecombe was more frequently attacked for being ugly than for having people give birth in handcuffs, Sarah Palin's "barbie-doll" looks are used as a direct attack on her politics. People do this all the time and they do it without thinking about it.
Women like to be complimented on their looks, but frequently compliments on their looks are all they get.
To take a recent, WoW-related example, consider this WoW insider article from their "fifteen minutes of fame" column. The *entire* focus of this article is that this girl who keeps a WoW blog (which isn't unusual) and acts as a playtester for Blizzard (which isn't unusual) *is hot*. Not only that, but the introduction goes to great lengths to express how surprising we are meant to find the fact that this woman is actually good at the game.
What I Look For in a Woman
Although James strongly denied being sexist, he did admit to perhaps being shallow except that he "values more than looks when it comes to a woman".
Now let's be clear. I wouldn't go out with somebody I didn't find physically attractive. I don't watch a lot of porn but if I did, I wouldn't want it to include people who I didn't find physically attractive. Looks are extremely important to me in a prospective sexual partner.
The thing is "prospective sexual partner" and "woman" are very different things.
And I know it's just a linguistic shorthand, but it's a linguistic shorthand that reflects a real social trend. People genuinely act like wanting to have sex with a woman is the highest compliment you can pay her, while not finding a woman sexually attractive is the direst possible insult.
This whole thing sprang out of the Noblegarden achievement which required you to turn female characters into playboy bunnies. This led to a whole bunch of people saying "zomg! why are you so hung up about sex!" - I'm not hung up about sex. What I'm hung up about is the fact that "sex" and "women" are treated as synonyms. It's not just about bunny ears, it's about the fact that female characters in WoW - as in most fantasy and indeed in most works of fiction - are designed to appeal to male gamers who want to look at hot women, not to appeal to female gamers who want to identify with powerful women.
It is perfectly okay to fancy women. It is perfectly okay to like to look at women. It is not okay to pretend that women somehow benefit from this.