Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Selling Out

So I was watching one of my favorite shows, Community, yesterday and it got my attention in a more-than-entertainment kind of way. One of the episode’s plot points was that the two young, attractive girls of the group were working together in an effort to raise money for the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill.

One girl stood on her soapbox, yelling at people about how mankind was destroying the environment and that nobody understands how serious the plight of these affected lifeforms is. The other batted her eyelashes, twirled her hair and giggled. The first barely made any money, the second made a bunch.

The unbalanced earnings caused bitter feelings from the first, fact spewing girl toward the other. She accused her of selling out her sex, which she very much was. But at what cost? She was still raising money for an important cause. But she was also allowing men to think she was a helpless, stupid girl.

If you were raising money for something you were passionate about – vaccines, say – would you bat your eyelashes or flex your muscles, knowing it was exploiting your sex? Do you think it’s ok to put on an act in certain situations as long as the outcome is positive?


Chelsea is the proud mama of an amazing toddler-aged girl. She works in the retail industry while vehemently disliking mankind and, every once in a while, her bottled-up emotions explode into WordPress as a lengthy, ranty, almost violent blog. These will be your favorite Chelsea moments. Follow Chelsea on Twitter: chelseaepp.

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  1. The point was to raise money. The first girl was an abject failure in her purpose, the second achieved her goal. You use the method that works. After all, it was about the Gulf, not feminism. The cost? Just being hassled by the failure.

  2. Let’s face it, sex cells. You see it everywhere. To get someone’s attention, you need a hook. Why else do you think PETA has the “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign filled with attractive women?

  3. The pragmatic nihilist in me says “yes.” The incredibly effeminate non-masculine sissy boy in me says “that might be a terrible idea.”

    I say, if it works, go for it–if your only goal is to raise cash. If you’re looking to actually educate people, sex will only undermine your purpose.

  4. I saw that one too. Both approaches sucked and they’re smart enough characters to have come up with a third, better way. But that wouldn’t have been nearly as funny nor would it have lead to the oil wrestling mrmisconception mentioned. :-p

  5. Putting on a show is fine. Putting on an exploitative one, though? The oil disaster is a good cause, but so is feminism. You don’t want to make short-term gains in one area just to wind up making more work for yourself later.

  6. Aphorism time: The ends do not justify the means.

    If you can’t convince people that your cause should be their cause it may simply be because what you care about isn’t something they care about. Manipulating people’s spending habits through sex is no different than manipulating people’s voting behavior through fear (re:Fox News). In both cases you are purposely bypassing the cognitive portion of their brain to push the buttons of the lizard portion of their brain.

  7. Miss Bats-The-Lashes can do whatever she’d desire. Although it certainly doesn’t sit well to have the fact using woman shortchanged. I’m assuming for the sake of commenting that generally everything else about this is equal.

    I would like for Miss Facts to have scored better and that might be an excellent metric for judging the advance of society over time. I don’t mind the fact that Miss Giggly got noticed. It does bother me that it appears to come at the expense of Miss Facts.

    The fact that oil wrestling won the day is even worse. But when we’re comparing soapboxing to eyebatting to oil wrestling we are possibly getting three bad options. Maybe these specific women weren’t very clever.

  8. I reject the dichotomy between success and honesty. The most effective tactic will be one that manages to conveys the passion the environmentalist feels to an audience, which neither girl accomplished. Wouldn’t it be nice to get someone else to raise money along side you?

    Failing that, you might be inclined to work more and give of your own money to the cause, which is essentially what the second girl did.

  9. I watched the show, and just to make a comment on the show and not this issue:

    I don’t think Annie was doing it on purpose because her character is like that already (she admits it later, but that’s nothing unusual for her at all.) Brita’s character was true to form too. I don’t think either one was putting on an act, it just so happened that Annie’s more obnoxious girly-ness got more attention :-P

    Now to address the original question:

    I don’t suggest outright acting out of character but I will admit that I tried to get smaller, better fitted t-shirts for all of the girls in my environmental group in college (IF they wanted them, and we were all girls anyway.) I think that leans more towards just looking more presentable though, since a ill-fitted shirt on a man doesn’t seem professional either.

    I think there really is a fine point when it comes to acting out of character to sell a cause, and embracing who you are for a cause.

    If you’re not normally a flirty girly girl, this is a problem., but the skepchick calendar embraces everyones feminity and none of the Skepchicks seem to put on airs while participating in the discussions here.

  10. Hi there!

    It’s strange how objectification works differently for men.

    I was discussing some movie with a female co-worker, and there was some kind of gratuitous nude scene with the female lead, and my co-worker said dismissively: “I just don’t understand how some women can degrade themselves like that” . Yet when Harvey Keitel does a full-frontal nude scene, he’s lauded on how “brave” it is for a male to appear naked on film.

    (and yes, I know that neither of these girls raising money for the Gulf victims were naked, but it goes toward to the idea of objectification)

    If someone said to me: “Yeah, we’re going to let you parade around and pose sexily in front of a bunch of women while they oogle you like some kind of cheap sex object”, I’d say: “Where do I sign up!?”.

    Then of course they’d say to me: “Hold up, pervert, we weren’t finished yet!! Gah! There’s more! Not ONLY will you parade around in front of these women, (and probably some guys, too, because we don’t discriminate) while being oogled like a cheap sex object … AND … then they’ll give money to your favorite charity, you worthless man-whore you … “.

    Sounds to me like a win-win situation. [shrugs]

    So … when is the next Skepdudes Calendar coming out?

    — Craig

  11. “If you were raising money for something you were passionate about – vaccines, say – would you bat your eyelashes or flex your muscles, knowing it was exploiting your sex? Do you think it’s ok to put on an act in certain situations as long as the outcome is positive?

    No, and no. False presentation is a lie, and lying is lying, and when it comes to important issues (which is what we are talking about here; not “little white lies” to protect the innocent), truth, and not adopting the tools and methods of the enemy is more important than ever.

    If someone openly adopts the false sexual advertising of a car commercial to get me onside to giving money for their supposed worthy cause, what on earth is there in such a deceitful approach to make me believe their integrity, their committment, their sincerity? Not very much.

    Honest passion about the issue, and a clear statement and expression of committment should suffice.

    To paraphrase Rebisaz said, if current approaches suck come up with a better, more fundamentally honest way.

    Now, all that being said, it might be true that your average prole out in donate-to-me land is so corrupted by the mendacity of contemporary advertising and marketing methods and the whole propoganda mechanism that false advertising is the only thing that works.

  12. The thing is, no one is going to give you money if you don’t give them a reason to. You have to draw them in.

    But they’re also not going to give you money if all you have is a hook. You have to do something once they’re paying attention. And that something can’t be looking hot with your hands out.

    There’s a balance. And there’s nothing wrong with appealing to people’s senses or emotions to get them to pay attention.

    I guarantee no one who donated to the eye batter did it thinking that saving the environment means that more chicks will show off their boobs.

  13. The premise is wrong. Annie, or any other person, is not exploiting their sex by using sex appeal. She, nor any other woman, is under no compulsion to be a paragon of any idea of womanhood. Not even her own ideal, much less some politically correct image handed down by some goddess-on-high.

    If you think she is exploiting women you may want to examine your own values. If she tattooed “No wars for oil!” on her cooch and put that on display it might change my opinion of her, but it would not change my opinion of other women. It would be up to me to ask “What should wars be fought for?” and find out if she has a just war theory or simply a puckish inker. Even in that extreme situation one has to rely on her audience to think about her message.

  14. I’ve not seen the show so I can’t really comment on the methods used by the two girls in great detail but the possibility occurs to me that maybe the second girl raised m0re money because less people were inclined to donate to someone who was shouting at them and telling them that they were destroying the world.

    I can only speak for myself here but if someone ranted at me that I don’t understand the plight of dying animals in an oil spill, I’d be inclined to walk away as quickly as possible and forget about it.

    Of course, I’m not saying that getting your boobs out (or whatever it is that guys get out when they are trying make an impact- maybe a future Afternoon Inquisition topic) is the best way of raising awareness to a cause, but being nice and non-ranty probably is a better approach than shouting at passers-by and trying to bully them into donating.

    As I said though, I haven’t seen the show so maybe the first girl didn’t come across as the psychotic ranting maniac that I’ve just imagined her to be. Maybe she was really quite nice but people prefer giving money to fluttering eyelashes and a stunning rack (just as I imagined the first girl to be foaming at the mouth, I’m imagining the other girl to be stacked, it doesn’t really help the discussion it’s just more indicative of how my mind can wander. Sorry).

  15. PETA’s approach works. Ideological purity does not. Some time ago PETA used to engage in aggressive acts like throwing blood (or a blood colored liquid) onto women on the street wearing furs. They only saw limited success from that strategy and they were basically preaching to those who already felt as strongly as they did.

    When PETA switched their strategy they had more success. You have to decide which is more important. Ideological purity or results?

    Environmental orgs that engage in direct action are less successful than those which are more inclusive and less focused on strict ideology. Everything depends on what one’s goals are.

  16. Done it already.

    As an undergrad, I TA’d the “Rocks for Jocks” lab. Since the curriculum hadn’t changed in, like, a million years, a lot of kids would show up for attendance and leave a few minutes after the introductory statements. Lots of friends to boost you over the hard parts with notes on campus so you didn’t have to waste 1-3 hours in actual lab.

    As someone who both loves geology and was really dedicated to my teaching (even then), I found this annoying. So being in possession of dark curls, huge eyes, a respectable rack, a toned butt and long legs, I would make a point – for the first couple of labs – to wear my short skirts with opaque tights, tank tops and over shirts with Doc Martens (think Bridget Fonda in “Singles” – this was the 90’s). And students were sitting and I was standing, so there was a certain amount of bending over on my part. Since I was in the middle of lab tables set up as a square, well, then it seemed to work well whether I was helping them or not.

    After two weeks of this, I had no problem getting the male students back to lab. (Female students either loved me for being so helpful or hated me for whatever reason some women hate other women for no reason.) And there wasn’t a party I hit on campus from my sophomore year to graduation where I had to buy my own drinks – invariably, one of my former students was there. Who subsequently admitted that while they thought I was hot, they ended up appreciating the time I took to actually teach them stuff so they passed lab with flying colors and actually found it interesting. One or two of those guys actually became Geologists, so hey, bully for me.

    In my senior year, I was part of a tag team – a previous student (a senior when I was a freshman) came back as new faculty. Since he’d taken me under his wing as a frosh (female Geology majors declared as freshmen were pretty rare then), I was immune to his ladies’-man ways, but I was totally aware of them. So we put our heads together, and he arranged to have me TA all his labs. Where he was charming and flirtatious and generally adorable, on top of being a really excellent geologist.

    Around the third or fourth week, we’d tone back a bit on the clothes and such, but we were still very attentive and encouraging. So our labs had the highest attendance rate, the highest pass rates, and the best GPA’s in general. If it took two weeks of ramping up the charm offensive and letting guys think they were sneaking a peek at my rack, then I consider that two weeks well spent. Because the reality is, they looked anyway. (Even with nearly 10,000 students on campus, I found out in later years I was widely known on campus as “That Hot Geology Chick”. Apparently my male colleagues in our small department acted as a crowd of big brothers to keep the more loutish at bay.)

    The football and basketball teams also requested me as their favorite tutor, whether I dressed up or not. Because I liked their sports, didn’t consider them idiots, and because I actually taught them stuff in ways they could understand. If they initially chose me because I was athletic and pretty, I can’t feel bad about it. They learned something – and again, one football player actually became a major because of it.

    Oh – and I was legend in my small company for doing Environmental Site Assessments for our Environmental department. They would send me to the clients that were really hard nosed – sent out on an industrial floor, I played stupid girl. Guys on the floor told me EVERYTHING. I got a few plants to stop spilling major chemicals. I don’t consider playing on their preconceptions as girl=stupid to be a bad thing, just at tool in my considerable arsenal. My boss used to laugh hysterically – I was so smart and so aggressive, but could play naive so well it absolutely floored him.

  17. The ends don’t always justify to means, however I see this as a matter of choice and personal expression. If someone, man or woman is willing to use sexuality to further his/her cause, and that is their choice… Good for them. Sure you can make an argument that the gender power inequity tarnishes the notion of pure choice. But I don’t buy that for this situation. This isn’t someone fighting for their basic needs, there is freedom of choice here.

  18. One girl stood on her soapbox, yelling at people about how mankind was destroying the environment and that nobody understands how serious the plight of these affected lifeforms is.

    When attempting to appeal to your audience, do not insult them first. It looks like the classic “bad cop, good cop” act, which is itself dishonest, IMO.

    I suspect that if there had been a third girl who was both respectful of her audience AND factual about the issues, while she did NOT bat her eyelashes, twirl her hair or giggle (and was not in the presence of the other two), she might have made even more money than the other two put together.

    One suggestion: Have one of the girls play a musical instrument and/or sing. That would be VERY attractive!

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