“Why don’t you make the Skepchick Calendars anymore?” Ever since I stopped producing not-quite-nudie calendars back in 2007, I’ve heard that question a lot. The problem is that I never have the 30 minutes I’d need to list half the reasons why I no longer do it. But now, I will list a few of those reasons in the desperate hope that organizations that need money or publicity or whatever will read this and make the decision to not produce calendars.
You see, in the past few days I’ve heard of two different calendar projects from within my circles: ScienceGrrl is a calendar of female scientists, and proceeds will apparently go to encouraging girls to pursue STEM degrees. New organization Secular Woman has also announced a calendar, which will feature nude atheists and benefit a cancer charity and the org’s own travel grants to send women to conferences.
This comes on the heels of many similar calendars in the past year: there was one of both clothed and nude male and female atheists to raise money for Skepticon (which I was in, clothed), another showing nude revolutionary atheist women as a statement on free expression, a British geek calendar (clothed, male and female) benefitting libel reform, and this ongoing “Girls of Geek” calendar that, when preordered, comes with a “Geeks <3 Boobies” bracelet, so you can tell everyone you meet what a giant shithead you are without saying a single word.
I’m sure it’s obvious that I don’t feel that all those calendars have equal worth, but I do want to make it clear that even for those that are well-produced and benefit great causes, I’ve got some problems. Before I expand on those problems, please have some background.
The Skepchick Calendar started as a fantasy on a forum full of skeptical men (the JREF forum): “Wouldn’t it be hotttt if all the women on the forum made a pin-up calendar?” And then it became a joke on a forum full of skeptical women (shout out to Mu.Nu!): “Wouldn’t it be funny if we made a pin-up calendar where all the pictures relate to skepticism?” And then it became a hobby: “Wouldn’t it be fun if we actually made the calendar, sold a few to friends, and used the money to send disadvantaged women to the The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas?”
So we did it, with each woman coordinating her own photo shoot and me doing all the organizing and the layout and the printing and the selling and the shipping. Despite all the work, it was a lot of fun – dressing up and taking artsy black and white pin-up photos with your friends? Fun. Definitely. And it was also fun how the calendars sold way, way, way better than we had initially planned. As in thousands, instead of the dozens we had assumed we’d sell.
The following year, everyone wanted more. This time, I wanted a male calendar as well, to satisfy the dude-loving buyers and because it just seemed nice and egalitarian. I drafted more people and did it again. And then again the following year. And then I stopped. Why? For some of the same reasons that I’m turned off by the current crop of calendars:
1. Regardless of the intent behind the calendars, regardless of how much fun we had making them, regardless of how empowering we found them, regardless of the racial and age diversity we showcased, and regardless of the fact that they were run by a woman and benefited women, pin-up calendars added to an existing environment in which women were seen first as sexual objects and maybe if they’re lucky they’d later be seen as human beings with thoughts and desires of their own. Back in 2005, I thought skeptics weren’t affected by the patriarchy and that misogyny was something left to the religious. In a community like that, a pin-up calendar of women would be absolutely fine. I learned that a community like that does not exist and it was naive of me to assume otherwise.
2. Adding a calendar of men did not balance out the calendar of women. In a perfect non-patriarchal world, it would, but what I realized was that the women in the calendars were not being seen in the same way as the men in the calendars. The women were objectified on a level unmatched by those viewing and commenting on the men. This was something difficult for me to objectively evaluate at the time and was just a hunch based on my casual observations, but that hunch was confirmed last year when I had shitlord after shitlord emailing me to tell me that I have no right to complain about being groped or propositioned at conferences because I posed in a calendar for skeptics (see my filthy slut photo as the featured image on this post). If Phil Plait ever complains about a woman grabbing his crotch at a conference, I’m confident that no one will forward him his entry in the 2007 “Skepdude” Calendar and tell him to stop being such a whore if he doesn’t want that kind of attention.
3. Sending women to large conferences isn’t that great of a cause. This is something that I’ve debated mentioning here, because I know Skepchick has continued to support scholarship funds like the very successful one Surly Amy has run, but one of the things that annoyed me about the Skepchick Calendars was handing over thousands and thousands of dollars every year to the JREF for tickets for women to go to The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, and not really seeing much benefit in return. Yes, I got to meet some great women. Yes, we increased the total percentage of women in the audience at that one conference. Yes, the women I sent had a wonderful vacation in Vegas. But did they really learn anything? Did it help them feel more connected to the skeptical community? Did they go home and get involved in their local skeptical group? I have no idea. I asked many of them to write me an essay on how they benefited from the scholarship they got, and I don’t recall ever actually getting one. There were so many better ways to spend that much money and benefit women, but I didn’t have the time to run a large nonprofit scholarship program that actually had solid goals, accountability, and reports on how the money was actually helping anything.
4. No one uses calendars. Okay, admittedly I can name three people I know who continue to take out a pen and write things down on a paper calendar. Every other person I know uses something on their phone and/or computer to keep track of appointments and tell what day it is. I have a calendar hanging in my office – it’s the nude revolutionary calendar, and I have it hanging up because I love the people who made it and want to show support, even though I forget it’s there and have to flip over two months each time I remember it.
5. Here’s the most important one for all the organizations currently considering making a calendar: calendars, and particularly nude calendars, are in no way edgy, interesting, or clever. Everyone has done it, including ambulance drivers, humane societies, rowing clubs, the staff of Marks & Spencer, Mormons, and two different coffin-makers. And as my list near the top of this post indicates, it’s not even special in our niche. There is now an abundance of skeptic, atheist, geek, and scientist calendars.
So please, organizations and people I love and support: find something new to do. If you want to make women in science more visible, put them somewhere people are looking. If you want to show the diversity of atheist women, you don’t need to make them take off their clothes. If you want to be revolutionary, come up with a new idea that no one else has thought of yet.
Maybe one of those novelty pens where when you tip it upside down the lady’s reliance upon appearance-based self-worth falls off.