Musings on SexyGate, an opportunity missed?

This was originally intended as one of my rambling notes (you do read the notes, don’t you?) appended to “Zombie Feynman vs The Special Girl Powers”, but the ramble took on a life of its own. So, here are some thoughts about the impact of SexyGate[1][2] that have been tumbling around in the old noodle for a few days. Not sure if the extra cooking time helped them at all.

I would almost like to agree with Ayatollah PZed on this one – that to make a “sexy scientist” list without appearing to be an ass monkey, one should give the scientists the choice to be included. For just  such a list, check out the Science Cheerleader’s Sexy Scientists and Engineers, but restrain yourself from making any comments about how good I look in the short rugby shorts.

What is unclear about Ayatollah PZed’s solution is whether scientists are being treated as a special class of individual.

  • Should this consideration be extended to all fields?
  • What about the case where the individual actively employs their physical attractiveness for career advancement, such as with celebrities?
  • Does personal use of one’s “sexiness” for personal gain count as tacit approval for “sexy” lists?
  • How would we know if such a threshold has been achieved?

It is entirely appropriate to address the female specific issues raised by SexyGate, especially since the vast majority of individuals included on such lists are female[3]. As a result, the debate has focused on the sexist phenomena experience by women in science, not on the more general questions relating to how we treat each other as human beings regardless of gender or professional field. The phenomenological nature of the discussion fails to separate the action (i.e., the making of the list) from the reaction (e.g., the puerile comments on the list) – indeed some have held the primary actor (i.e., the list maker) responsible for both action and reaction. Is a “sexy scientist” list wrong if no juvenile commentary follows?

We have learned nothing about when and where a “sexy” list might or might not be appropriate outside of a very particular set of circumstances. An ommission that you males may one day rue, after my daughters take over the world.


  1. The kerfuffle following Sheril Kirshenbaum’s inclusion on a “sexy scientist” list.
  2. As the only male that I am aware of on a sexy scientist list that is not either a writer for the site or a blatant attempt to get your idol to notice you, I was struck that none of the concerns raised seemed particularly applicable to me, which meant that we were talking more about sexism in society as opposed to the fundamental wrongness of such lists, as a fundamentally wrong thing is wrong no matter what category the person it is applied to is in (e.g., murder).
  3. The absence of such lists is not a strong, philosophical argument. An action’s morality is not defined by whether it is engaged in or not.

Author: Josh Witten

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