Calendar Girls

What is it with the techie women pin-up calendar business?


First, we had the loathesome Geek Gorgeous calendar.
Then came the misbegotten IT Screen Goddess calendar.
Now Skookumchick brings us news of young women engineers at the University of Illinois who have posed, scantily clad and nearly naked in some cases, for a pinup calendar.
Here’s what I had to say in the past about such calendars:

The participants think they are saying to the world, “Look, I’m smart AND sexy!”
But what they are actually saying to the world is, “Look! No matter how smart I ever am, you can count on me not to threaten the stereotypical understanding of the female role in society, which is to be constantly available sexually to any male who wants me, to be constantly concerned with my appearance and whether or not I am attractive to males, in the way that society defines as attractive, according to current standards of beauty on display by anorexic models and Hollywood actresses whose airbrushed images are plastered all over the media. You may now jerk off while gazing at my hot body. Feel free to disregard my intellectual accomplishments, except insofar as it makes you feel superior and powerful to imagine yourself sexually dominating someone like me and seeing me reduced to what I really am, a cunt, no matter what I say about my fancy education and career. This should help you in treating other women the same way, no matter who they are or what they’ve accomplished as well. Happy jerk-off!”

And here is what I had to say in response to one young woman who was very disturbed by my critique of these calendars, and declared that she would be completely comfortable posing for such a calendar:

I know you that you would feel comfortable being photographed for the Screen Goddess IT calendar; perhaps you would even feel proud to be chosen for it, and that makes me really sad. If you were my daughter, I would not feel happy thinking of your picture on a pin-up calendar, being ogled by adolescent boys and pervy men who felt they could discount your intellect and accomplishments because all that really mattered about you was your tits and ass. The problem with such calendars, Ellen, is that you can’t impose your meaning on them for the rest of society. The rest of society is going to see you as a fancy whore, maybe a fancy whore with some IT credentials, but still a fancy whore. Go back to my example of Hedy Lamarr; how many people remember her for her intellect?

This, indeed, is the problem with such calendars. You can proclaim from now till queendom come that the calendar is all about showing that women can be smart and sexy. (And how pathetic is it that in 2007 we are still talking about this issue, that so many people still assume the two are mutually exclusive, that so many men don’t see intelligence as a sexy attribute in a partner?) You can make all the assertions you want, but you can’t control what the culture makes of you and your nekkid body in the pinup calendar photo. What the culture makes of you, is that you are an object that exists for the gratification of men’s desires. Everything else is irrelevant, or ancillary at best. She has great tits! And she’s an engineer. Yeah, but look at those tits! Who cares what she does, if she’s got tits like that?
That young women so willingly participate in their own stereotyping and objectification in projects like this is unspeakably depressing.

  1. JD
    February 11, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    So…any comments for the Skepdude calendars?

  2. February 11, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    I read about this, too, and wrote about it over at She’s Such a Geek! Not only is everything you said true, but these calendars are so cliche to boot. Maybe the “tongue-in-cheek” pinup calendar thing seemed fresh when those British gardening women did it a dozen years ago, but now it’s so trite. So on top of being degrading, it’s boring as well.
    But as Zuska knows, there’s a book that includes some interesting essays that deal with sex and the female geek. There’s never been a book like this before! And these writings succeed in showing the multidimensionality of technical women far better than any silly pinup calendar.

  3. February 11, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Kristin, for some reason when I clicked on your link it wasn’t working, although in my email of your comment it seems to be formatted just fine. In case other readers are having the same problem, here’s the link to the post Kristin is talking about: http://www.shessuchageek.com/2007/02/10/cheesecake-calendars-are-so-cliche/
    JD, I just looked up the Skepdude calendar on the web. Again, I just have to ask: WTF????? What is up with seemingly well-educated people being so anxious to shed their clothes and appear on pinup calendars? I’m no prude (as anyone reading my “She’s Such A Geek!” essay would quickly see) but I really don’t think these type of calendars represent anything positive for women in any possible way. And please don’t tell me it’s “art”. You can make the photos as artsy as you wanna; the final message in the culture at large is still going to be “look at those tits!”
    Is it any better that these calendars include Skepdudes as well as Skepchicks? I don’t think so. Go read what I had to say about a fireman’s beefcake calendar in a post on my old blog site, “Let Them Eat Cake: Beef vs. Cheese” at http://radio.weblogs.com/0147021/2006/08/01.html#a161

  4. February 11, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    I was dismayed to read about that too. I am a graduate of UIUC and I always thought Illinois was relatively enlightened (at least compared to where I live now). But I do get a certain passive-aggressive satisfaction from the fact that it was a money-losing venture!

  5. Frumious B
    February 12, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    Zuska didn’t quote herself, so I’ll do it:

    What’s the difference between the Flame Calendar and the IT Screen Goddess calendar?
    Beefy lad with long hose = Very, very macho man = Very competent firefighter
    Nekkid lady with rose petals = Male erection = Yeah baby, I’ll give IT to you all night long

    It doesn’t matter how much clothing the people in the calendars are wearing – like Zuska has said before, we don’t get to choose the subtext. Women are objects even while clothed; removing their clothing merely reinforces their availability to men. Men are not objects, and taking their clothes off does not make them so. Remember, boys and girls, it’s not the “sex” part that’s the problem. It’s the “object” part.

  6. February 12, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    You know what would be great? If former U of I alums would let the U of I know how disgusted they are with this calendar. The calendar is still being advertised as a “U of I” thing, so they should know their name is being dragged through the jello. Particularly as all of this publicity has ensured that the calendar sales have picked up… I’m rather sorry to have contributed to that.
    Also, beware of trolls commenting on this topic. I had one over at my place, and they seem to be apparent on the Daily Illini website too.
    Finally, a disclaimer – I heard about this story from Random Questioner at I ask a lot of questions.

  7. February 12, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    You know what would be great? If former U of I alums would let the U of I know how disgusted they are with this calendar. The calendar is still being advertised as a “U of I” thing, so they should know their name is being dragged through the jello. Particularly as all of this publicity has ensured that the calendar sales have picked up… I’m rather sorry to have contributed to that.
    Also, beware of trolls commenting on this topic. I had one over at my place, and they seem to be apparent on the Daily Illini website too.
    Finally, a disclaimer – I heard about this story from Random Questioner at I ask a lot of questions.

  8. February 15, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Check out the Inkling magazine photo contest that invites images of geeky wome with their clothes on.
    She’s Such a Geek Photo Contest

  9. tobo
    February 15, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Ariel Levy does a good job of explaining this pin-up phenomena in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs. I’ll try to summarize her point. She talks about how pin-up, burlesque, porn, etc,… culture is portrayed as something that smart, assertive young women will want to take part in by choice because they are in control of their sexuality. And for those of us who don’t want to take part in it, well we are uptight, asexual yeachy women who aren’t desirable. So this sexing up of empowered young women simply reframes self-objectification as further empowerment. Most of the women she interviews are not satisfied with it at all. It is really similar to women in the 50’s having to dress up to greet their husbands at 5 pm sharp. Just one more expectation to fulfill men’s desires and assure them that in the end – we are what they want – not what we want. It is all still so prescribed and not invented by women for women.
    I wouldn’t contact the university alumni because the argument could easily slip into a censorship issue or seem like you are trying to say that women aren’t supposed to be sexual in any public forum. I would get some men to let you photograph them masturbating with the calendar. Of course the photos wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing at all… That might do the trick quicker for all involved.

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