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The Swimsuit Debate continues (sigh)….

…probably exhausting the patience of this blog’s readers. Robin Hanson responds to my updated post on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue:

Easterly doesn’t explain how exactly watching swimsuit models induces disrespect and harassment, and I find it hard to see the imagined causal path.

As I made clear to Robin in an email exchange, I don’t think this debate hinges on an empirical claim. Nobody decides whether to use the N-word or not based on randomized controlled trials of whether its use quantitatively predicts assaults on African Americans. We have a moral sense of what is respectful, how to treat our fellow human beings with dignity, how to treat them as equals, in short, what respects their individual rights. Treating women as sex objects transgresses the moral obligation to respect the rights of women.  I believe the Swimsuit Issue does that; others may disagree.

Now it’s really WAY past the time that two middle-aged male economists should get back to their own areas of specialized knowledge…

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20 Comments

  1. Carol wrote:

    It’s funny how most contributions to this I’ve seen are men…. Anyway, I don’t know if there’s anything disrespectful about wanting to look at pictures of pretty people. Women do it too, with men. I’m not sure how I feel about it all, to be honest, but I get harassed and talked down to all the time and it seems to me that it’s to do with a general attitude that doesn’t take women seriously or doesn’t value women as equals. Those people’s perceptions of “hot” women in bathing suits will be different than those who are respectful of women but still look at a swimsuit cover and think damn, she’s hot. I don’t know that the imagery causes the attitude; maybe the imagery is a result of the attitude. What I do know is that there is a very, very narrow definition of female beauty in our culture, first of all, and second of all it used to really mess with my head until I decided that I would not accept that single definition of beauty or even the idea that physical beauty is all that important. And then I realized most men don’t have that narrow of a definition of beauty– the real audience for swimsuit covers is women. Get them to feel insecure about the way they look and convince them that this is of utmost importance, and they will spend money on anything you say will fix their flaws.

    Those are all just initial, rambling, intuitive reactions, for what they’re worth, from someone who used to be quite unhealthily obsessed with this stuff. I’m still not really sure what I think.

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  2. Brett wrote:

    Those people’s perceptions of “hot” women in bathing suits will be different than those who are respectful of women but still look at a swimsuit cover and think damn, she’s hot.

    That’s what I find weak about Easterly’s claim. He’s basically saying that appreciating the hotness of a model on the cover of a magazine somehow inclines men to treat all women disrespectfully, and that doesn’t really follow. It’s quite possible for men to appreciate the hotness of a model and realize that that’s not exactly the everyday standard of beauty, and that you shouldn’t treat women solely by their appearances.

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  3. Jeremy wrote:

    Women pose voluntarily for the swimsuit issue. Before you righteously defend their virtue and honor, maybe THEIR views on whether they are being “objectified” should be considered?

    The very fact that they chose to do this of their own free will suggests they don’t have a problem with being “objectified”, to the extent they would even think this is occurring.

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  4. Soledad wrote:

    “I don’t know that the imagery causes the attitude; maybe the imagery is a result of the attitude. What I do know is that there is a very, very narrow definition of female beauty in our culture”

    Completely agree on that one Carol, and I also agree on that being massively pushed for consumption purposes.

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  5. gappy3000 wrote:

    I disagreed in the original post comments section, I will do here again. Hanson properly demolished any pretense of reasoned critique of that post. Easterly doubles down. “We have a moral sense of what is respectful”. Not so fast. We don’t have a shared moral sense of what it is respectful, and it doesn’t descend deductively from a concept of equality (which is in itself rather equivocal). To say otherwise is essentially to outlaw the other debater, since he’s thinking outside of the bounds of morality.

    I am very disappointed by these two posts by Prof. Easterly. He himself has been often considered to be outside of the realm of reasoned discourse by other debaters (Collier, Sachs), who set for themselves what was the axiomatic limit of acceptability. And, he himself has been the advocate of decentralized information. My suggestion: rather than criticizing abstractly magazines publishing half-naked women, he would do well asking the opinions of those who write, publish, pose in, and buy these magazines. I strongly suspect that they may be accomplished professional women, or devoted husbands. And the occasional sportman.

    Just please, spare use the misuse of the term externality, and the invocation of a “moral sense” that magically suits us.

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  6. I think as a race we are far too hung up on the whole nudity issue (or even the almost) I really can’t see the issue with it if the people being photographed are happy enough!

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  7. Jacob AG wrote:

    I like Esther Duflo for her empirical work in development economics. I have no interest in her otherwise. Am I objectifying Esther Duflo? Is it disrespectful of me to have just one reason to like a woman?

    Are we not all allowed to pick and choose what we like about people? Isn’t that the natural thing to do, the thing that all people will do if left free to choose?

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  8. Jacob AG wrote:

    Watching Ahmad Bradshaw’s highlights right now… oh man, I’m totally objectifying that guy right now. Is that bad?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3MkLCRkPIM

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  9. Quicksilversurfer wrote:

    Working hypothesis on the basis of comments on the SI swimsuit issue related posts: A number of (mostly male) readers of aidwatchers.com have demonstrated themselves to be very touchy about the comments made by Bill Easterly under guise of an intellectual argument, from which it may be possible to infer that they are buyers and “readers” of the SI swimsuit issue (or would like to be)!

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink
  10. Jan wrote:

    @Quicksilversurfer:
    Seems so! What are people so sensitive at the idea that these magazines make some women feel less respected? Some women may not mind, but many, many do. It’s no coincidence that the men athletes are *doing* something and the models just stand and look pretty–and that isn’t something I want perpetuated to my daughters. It’s not an argument about what should be legal–just about what is respectful.

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink
  11. Jacob AG wrote:

    Jan,

    It’s no coincidence that the men athletes are *doing* something and the models just stand and look pretty–and that isn’t something I want perpetuated to my daughters.

    Now THAT is disrespectful to women. Haven’t you ever seen “America’s Next Top Model” or “Make me a Supermodel”? That line of work is not easy, sister! I should know, my sister is a model.

    As for your daughters, tough noogies! I don’t want my sons to be NFL stars (have you ever seen the CAT scan of a 45-year-old linebacker?) but I certainly wouldn’t ask Ray Lewis to stop what he does, nor should anybody call me disrespectful for enjoying it. Just lighten up and try to enjoy what’s beautiful, and respect everybody else’s right to do the same within the bounds of what’s voluntary.

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Permalink
  12. Brett wrote:

    What are people so sensitive at the idea that these magazines make some women feel less respected?

    Jacob already answered most of it, but I could ask you the same. Why are you so sensitive about pictures?

    Posted February 26, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink
  13. D. D. wrote:

    I see both points of view on this issue.

    And simply asking a person that is involved doesn’t seem to be enough, because a culture may create norms that indoctrinate the people that are involved.

    To give a personal example, I was raised Mormon and I thought many questionable cultural practices were appropriate, but that’s because I was indoctrinated to believe that. It wasn’t until I left the church that I had an objective point of view, and it turns out there are many objectionable things that I couldn’t see then.

    That being said, I do think that’s a good starting point and a significant consideration. And I’m not saying the anti-swimsuit magazine crowd are the objective ones, just that asking the people that are involved isn’t enough.

    I wish these conversations were generally more productive, but I’ve noticed they almost never are worthwhile.

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 1:29 am | Permalink
  14. Konkvistador wrote:

    “I don’t think this debate hinges on an empirical claim. ”

    Then I will treat this as caused by differences in values and a attempt to change my values to conform to those of others while not being compensated by like.

    No thanks.

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink
  15. ad wrote:

    “Nobody decides whether to use the N-word or not based on randomized controlled trials of whether its use quantitatively predicts assaults on African Americans.”

    Most people decide whether to use the word “nigger” or not based on their observations of how other people respond to its use. Most people, if they expected it to be heard as a compliment, would be more likely to use it than they are.

    So empirical claims certainly matter in that case.

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  16. R.J. Whokebe wrote:

    “Nobody decides whether to use the N-word or not based on randomized controlled trials of whether its use quantitatively predicts assaults on African Americans.”

    I, for one, do. When the word “nigger” no longer correlates with present social and economic discrimination against Black people, I will be using it in daily conversation. Until then, I shall save it for the few instances in life (none actual, but it’s a theoretical possibility) when I want to wound a Black person with my words.

    hugs n kisses, hope this helps

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  17. Anna Carella wrote:

    @Brett “He’s basically saying that appreciating the hotness of a model on the cover of a magazine somehow inclines men to treat all women disrespectfully.” No, actually, that’s you being defensive. He’s pointing the finger at the magazine for reinforcing the idea that women are primarily to be admired for their beauty, i.e. their waif-like, weak-looking bodies posed in ways that make them look vulnerable. It’s not simply beauty that’s on display – there is also the imagery of weak women that strong or not so strong men can look at and feel a sense of superiority in at least one respect, and thus come away assured of their masculinity. If these women were powerful, muscular, and athletic I’m sure they would not be considered as ideal. Makes you wonder what is more attractive, beauty or vulnerability?

    Posted February 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  18. Brad M wrote:

    @Anna: You are clearly projecting your own (raging) feminist beliefs as some sort of universal truth when it comes to these images. There is nothing weak, vulnerable or “waif-like” in these pictures, on the contrary they show healthy, obviously fit, confident women. They are clearly muscular and athletic, naturally they will not appear as muscular as men due to a markedly lower level of testosterone. That is simply a result of biology and not society (male dominated, no doubt) manipulating us into thinking all women are weak and need protecting. Please.

    Posted February 28, 2011 at 1:20 am | Permalink
  19. The act of appreciating a beautiful body and lusting after one are two completely different things; and the difference, I believe, hinges on the morality and views of the onlooker.

    Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  20. john malpas wrote:

    so why do so many women wear lipstick?

    Posted March 1, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] possible causal mechanisms people could be picturing for women in swimsuits causing harm. Easterly responded to him, saying that empirical facts are irrelevant to his [...]

  2. By Overcoming Bias : Easterly On Swimsuits on February 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    [...] Added 2p: In a post, Easterly elaborates further: [...]

  3. [...] here to read the rest: The Swimsuit Debate continues (sigh)…. AKPC_IDS += [...]

  4. [...] response, Easterly then posted his final words on the subject in a February 26th post, titled, “The Swimsuit Debate Continues (sigh) . . .”: As I made clear to Robin in an email exchange, I don’t think this debate hinges on an empirical [...]

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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