Jessica, over at feministing, has post up about a writeup The Politico did about Althouse. In the feature, the guys at the Politico make the comment "Valenti isn't shy about her body" and bring up the whole "boobgate" uproar from the past.
For those out of the loop or not in the know, Jessica appears in a photograph with former president Clinton. When the photo came out, the discussion of said photograph was largely focused on whether or not Jessica's breasts were too obvious, and whether she could really be a feminist, since she dared to post for a photograph.
Jessica was, understandably, I think, annoyed by this. It can't be a good feeling to have worked your ass off, get an offer to meet the former president as a result of your hard work, only to have a bunch of knuckle dragging asshats take away from that by focusing all the conversation about how hot or not you are, and how nice or not your breasts are, and whether they would or would not fuck you. It's a rather perfect illustration of how much sexism is still strong and well. A woman is invited to meet the former president, and because she doesn't wear ill fitting, ugly clothing, she's targeted.
That's not my point, though. That topic has been done to death- she's commented on it at length, and so have many others.
What I'm more interested in, is the ways that people come to her defense. See, there's a large group of people who say "Hey, that's bullshit!" Which, it is. There are some people, though, who say things that make me cringe almost as much as the original comments did. They're the people who respond to the comments with things like "Jessica, you are a very beautiful woman and have nothing to be ashamed of. And you look amazing in that picture!"
I get what the writer is trying to say, but the problem I have with comments like that is that they reinforce the problem, they don't work to correct it. The problem isn't that Althouse or the myriad people commenting on her blog thought that Jessica was ugly. The problem isn't even that they think she was dressed inappropriately. The problem, as Peepers so nicely put it, is having "discussions like this focusing on [her] attractiveness, rather than [her] intellectual and social contributions."
See, it doesn't matter how hot or not Jessica is. She wasn't invited to the conference because of what she looks like. She was invited because of who she is. When people respond to these sorts of things with "but you look great, Jessica!" they miss the point, and, in fact, add to the problem, because what they say isn't "they're wrong, it's your achievements that count, and commenting on your body detracts from that" but rather "they're wrong, you're great looking."
In other words: the later ignores her contributions and her work just as much as any comment that focuses on how tight her shirt is, or how attractive/unattractive she might be. Just because you perceive yourself to be flattering doesn't mean that the comment isn't every bit as beside the point as the original comment was.