Leah applauds these initiatives, not just because they encourage objectification, but because
I’m glad that people like Albers, Girl in Four Colors, and Escher Girls are speaking up and making it easier for guys who intend to be nice guys to notice when the culture is leading them astray.I think there's a lot to admire about the work of calling attention to the ways in which the culture encourages an overtly sexualized view of women, but the phrasing here, "making it easier for guys who intend to be nice guys to notice when the culture is leading them astray", troubles me. I've noticed this formulation in several discussions lately: "I know you think you're good guys, and you want to be nice, but you just need to be set straight". It seems to me to be, in attitude, very much related to the equally problematic assertions I've seen men make in discussions of modesty: "I know that even nice girls don't realize how much they distract men by their clothing/body language/etc., so let me set you straight." Both of these are not only really patronizing statements, but also set up relationships between men and women that either set the sexes in opposition, or put repentant offenders into the position of being useful idiots trying to placate an offended constituency: "Oh gosh, I'm so sorry I didn't realize how the culture was making me sexualize these poor women! Gee, I didn't know that the way I dressed was making these poor men sin! You're so right!"
A man shouldn't not sexualize women because he wants someone to think of him as a "nice guy"; he shouldn't do it because it's wrong and degrading. A woman shouldn't dress modestly because men are too weak to control themselves; she should dress modestly because she is inherently worthy of respect. I cannot force you to think virtuously, but I can behave virtuously myself.
This is an important moral distinction because choices not based on what is right and good often just channel bad behaviors into other areas. Simply eliminating unrealistically sexy drawings of women won't automatically mean that illustrators believe that women have an inherent dignity and deserve to be depicted as more than a collection of variously shaped attributes and a sultry glance. It doesn't mean that suddenly men who had been consuming these images will begin to treat their wives or girlfriends or co-workers or internet interlocutors as the image of God. The images are a symptom of the problem, not the cause -- people don't have less regard for the dignity of others because they are inundated with sexy images; they create and consume sexy images because they already lack that regard.
Of the comic illustrations, Leah says
What these illustrations are eroticizing is the absence of a woman’s consent to be interacted with sexually. They’re promoting her own interest and pleasure as irrelevant to the man’s enjoyment, instead of amplifying it as lover and beloved both will the other’s good.I would actually take this a step farther. The problem with with pornifying women in any context is not that the woman does not consent. "Consent" does not equal "good". Women and men consent daily to affairs, to make or watch pornography, to degrade themselves for money or the enjoyment of others. And these things are wrong -- no consent ameliorates that. For that matter, the harm done by a sexualized comic image is not that the image can't consent -- that's ludicrous -- but that the illustrator, in creating, and viewer, in partaking, are making harmful moral choices which have consequences in how they then think about and treat other people.