Sunday, June 21, 2009

Perez Hilton is a Sexist Bigot: A Rant on Misogyny and Math

While researching for my last post on Fox News and informed blog readers, I read too much Perez Hilton. Perez Hilton traffics in negative stereotypes damaging to young girls. He thinks stereotyping himself gives him license to stereotype others.

In a recent post on Jessica Alba playing a mathematician in an upcoming movie , Hilton wrote:

They want us to buy into her as a math genius?

Ha ha ha ha!
To help things along, we bet she's going to do the 'ugly' thing, a la Charlize Theron in Monster, right?

What a joke.
The formatting is the original with internal links suppressed. Perez Hilton thinks that hot chicks can't do math. I have taught math to children of a variety of ages. It is difficult to convince young women in our society that they can do math. Young women often lack self-confidence about mathematics. Many of them think that "only the ugly, unpopular girls" do math. One high school student once told me that she didn't want to go to a summer math program because if she did "everyone will think I'm uncool."

Perez Hilton reinforces this perception. Hilton is gay, an oppressed, frequently stereotyped minority- and he fits the stereotype. He does after all work as a "reporter" on celebrity gossip. He thinks stereotyping himself allows him to do the same to others.

One might say: "well, maybe Perez is correct." He's not. Danica McKellar, who played Winnie on The Wonder Years, is an accomplished actress, a published mathematician, and is smoking hot. There are many examples of female accomplished scientists and engineers who are very good looking. Julie Payette is Canada's most accomplished astronaut and was described by one teenage acquaintance as an "AILF," an acronym I will not spell out so I can keep this blog's PG-13 rating.

Perez, sir, you are an ass. You are actively harming young children's education. You are perpetuating damaging prejudices. Think before you speak. Or even better, just do the mathematicians and math teachers of the world a favor and shut up.

16 comments:

Shalmo said...

I had no idea that there was an unwritten rule that to do math and be a women, you have to be good-looking.

For that matter why do women have to be good-looking at all?

Personally I am all for banning the fashion industry, banning the make-up industry, and pretty much dismantling Hollywood and the whole beauty obsession. You wanna stop objectification of women, then start at the source.

PS: I'm guessing you already know my ideal of beauty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0STp3VuVM6o

Jay said...

My 13 year old daughter has both of McKellar's books, and they've been very helpful to her.

I think if one really wanted to level the playing field for women, though, you've got to do so at a much more fundamental level than the fashion/beauty obsession that Shalmo mentions. Our gender roles and stereotypes have much deeper roots than that.

Excellent post, Joshua.

Joshua said...

Shalmo,
I agree that there are much deeper problems with societal attitudes about females and that the emphasis on female beauty is not a good thing at all. However, I'm not going to be able to change that in the short run. The post solely focuses on the matter of Hilton: It is possible for someone to be both conventionally good looking, well-dressed, popular (whatever any of those mean) and still succeed in math and the sciences.

Jay, I think you are correct about much more serious deep gender issues.

Overall, this one intended as a rant about a specific, small aspect of this problem, not a manifesto about gender roles in Western culture. Such an essay would be much too long for a blog entry and I also wouldn't have much to say that hasn't been said better by other.

SamIAM said...

I'm not sure Perez is saying good-looking women can't do math. He asked "They want us to buy into her, Jessica Alba, as a math genius?" Jessica Alba is not widely known for her amazing computation skills. I think it's possible that he's merely making a comment about his perceptions concerning one individual, not all women.

sniffnoy said...

But she's an actress. She's going to be playing a character. And the movie is going to have, you know, a script. If he's failing to distinguish between actor and character, well, that's just amazingly dumb.

SamIAM said...

If he's failing to distinguish between actor and character, well, that's just amazingly dumb.

Dumb? If I told you Hulk Hogan was going to be playing a genius physics professor in an upcoming movie (a non-comedy), you're saying you would have no problem suspending your disbelief? Please.

sniffnoy said...

OK, but Hulk Hogan is very typecast - no, more than that, he really just *has* the one character, Hulk Hogan, to the point that, well, we *can* just refer to him as Hulk Hogan. Briefly looking things up, it looks like most of his other roles were cases of "the same character but in a different situation". It also doesn't help that he was a professional wrestler, and proffesional wrestling often tries to at least make a show of pretending that the actors really are the characters. So yeah, that would surprise me, but it's such an extreme situation that I don't see how it's at all a good analogy. Takign a brief look at what Jessica Alba's done, I don't see any obvious pattern; if she's typecast, it's to nowhere near such an extent. And if such a thing were to occur, and were to honestly be that actor portraying a genius physicist rather than that actor as Hulk Hogan as a genius physicist, he probably wouldn't do it under the name Hulk Hogan. And if you told me not that Hulk Hogan were to play a physicist, but that Terry Bollea, the same person who plays Hulk Hogan, is to play a physicist, I think it's safe to say I'd be considerably less surprised.

ncm said...

Did you buy Denise Richards as a physicist (or something) in "The World Is Not Enough"? 'Coz i didn't. Still, Gwyneth Paltrow was entirely believable in "Proof".

Anyway, I would like to call your attention to http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf

Joshua said...

Harry, did you know Hulk Hogan's actual name off the top of your head or did you have to look that up?

NCM, yes, but that's because Denise Richards is a ditz who can't act at all. It has nothing to do with what she looks like. Thus, Paltrow act act and so was reasonably plausible in that role.

Also, interesting that you point me to that piece. I'm actually working on a blog entry on that subject. Should be up in a week or two.

It is also interesting that you mention that piece because I'm actually working on a blog entry about it.

sniffnoy said...

No, I had to look that up. I don't follow wrestling.

Joshua said...

Also, SamIAm note that Perez Hilton suggested that they make Alba look "ugly" to do the role. That strongly suggests that this has nothing to do with the Hulk Hogan problem and is simply that he doesn't think someone can be good looking and do math.

Jay said...

Is there really a debate over whether Perez Hilton is a superficial twit?

Etienne Vouga said...

I don't necessarily disagree that Perez Hilton is a sexist bigot, but I do believe from experience that the simple observation,

"the 50% most attractive women are weaker at mathematics than the 50% least attractive women,"

is true, with all of the usual disclaimers: (social conditioning is likely most at fault for this disparity, not innate disability; "attractiveness" and "strength at mathematics" have been left imprecise for the moment; etc.) That there exist (a few) exceptions to the generalization does not disprove the generalization.

Supposing we agree on the above (and perhaps we do not), I would concur that Hilton's comment is unhelpful as it reinforces the stereotype. But where is the line between poor taste and sexism? It doesn't quite sit well with me to condemn anyone for making a true statement, no matter how disparaging that statement may be.

sniffnoy said...

Sure, except that isn't the statement he's making - he states that someone who looks like her being a math a genius is not merely unlikely, but so unlikely that audiences will have trouble buying into the character!

Shalmo said...

off topic, but just on that Iran thing we were talking about earlier; please read this:

http://www.muslimnews.co.uk/news/news.php?article=16391

Sara said...

All the people from this industry are sexiest, almost all the world is, i have a group on whatsapp with my friends where we talk about it, i just want some more time to talk about it, maybe if i can get whatsapp pc