Hey, You Got Your Social Awareness In My AI!:
About Sexism In The AI Images On This Site

Hey, You Got Your Social Awareness In My AI!: About Sexism In The AI Images On This Site

A number of the AI-generated images on this site contain artistic depictions of nudity, presented in a way that might seem to reasonably suggest some confusion between real artistic or aesthetic value, and what gives some people some level of simple va-va-va-voom visual jollies.

Put simply: there’s a lot of images of naked, topless, or scantily-dressed women in some of these galleries, but not so many men. Almost none, in fact.

Although it’s in several galleries, this is most evident in, say, “Previsions of Johanna“, where the many female figures, and only the female figures, all came out either nude, topless, or wearing a low-cut dress, while the male figures are always fully clothed from neck to wrists and ankles. In fact, the lone arguably male figure in that entire set that is wearing a loose tank top rather than some kind of suit, is decidedly androgynous.

Interestingly, I never specified anything like that in creating the images, and in fact, most of the images containing nudity were generated using Stable Diffusion XL, which is actually designed to block creating intentional NSFW images. There’s even a few around created with Bing’s instance of Dall-E, which is highly censored, but which include the odd bare female breast.

So, in recognition of the fact that some viewers will notice in many galleries on the site the huge discrepancy between the high visibility of female skin, and the total absence of visible male skin besides face and hands, something there’s absolutely no objective artistic argument for: this simply is an example of how generative AI can carry forward and even promote* existing cultural biases, in this case a bias towards nude or revealingly-dressed females in the visual corpus the AI analyzed in building its semantic maps. (*Yes, “promote”, because I believe any depiction at all in a mass medium is, to some extent, intrinsically promotional, something I’m working on a separate essay about.)

So, that’s the reason why. How I plan on going forward (which includes the simple ongoing choice to keep those images featured on the site) is a different question. Let’s talk about it.

I’m not sure I’d want to do away with nudity entirely. It does have artistic value. I done believe that in terms of art, aesthetic or even semiotic values there’s no any reason one gender should appear nude more often that the other (bearing in mind that artistic value is a completely different thing from sex appeal or attraction, though in pop culture they get conflated for commercial purposes.) But I imagine it would be possible with careful prompt engineering to at least level the gender balance out a little bit.  I don’t know for sure it could be done, but it might. I did consider that, and continue to, going forwards with future projects.

But, that having been said, the fact is, these are the images that were generated so far. My use of generative tools in visual art, in fact I think everybody’s nowadays, is experimental. These are my current results to date of the ongoing experimentation, and, as attested to by their presence on the site, taken on their own merits, as individual pieces of visual art, I like them.

Another factor that bears consideration is that much of my digital illustration is deliberately referential towards established styles, often historical artistic styles which are visual favorites of mine but, despite their many aesthetic merits, unfortunately also often contained sexist tropes to one degree or another, a reflection of society in the times during which they arose.

The idea that female anatomy is somehow artistically superior to male anatomy has been so deeply ingrained for so long that I suspect a lot of people would still reflexively regard it as foolish to even question whether it’s true. So in referencing some established styles which are wonderful in really every other way, the tropes can be difficult to avoid. Especially with an AI, which doesn’t understand direct instructions.

Similarly, in the featured image for “Shower Thoughts“, there is a male figure—albeit a statue—wearing a loose toga, with arm and shoulder exposed, because the idea was to evoke a Greek statue, and that style of dress for men in that style of statue is common enough for the AI algorithms to have picked up on it as relevant. Had the statue in that image come out as a nude man (not a far stretch for either Greek statuary or photos set in a shower) but been otherwise the same as it is, I would have used it. It’s incidental either way, but once you use an AI prompt with a particular idea in mind, you get all the baggage that comes with that idea.

On a certain level, I’ve made the choice of what I want to evoke, and I think I’ve managed to stay in the safe zone where the harms are low enough when less-than-equitable historical tropes are included that to parse it much further would be to start letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, or at least, the not-too-terribly bad, to a net negative effect.

So it’s my hope that understanding the perspectives of people who feel strongly about such things—in fact, in many ways agreeing with them—and at least going forward having given it some thought, and continuing to bear in mind both that understanding and a basic sense that I’d like to accommodate it as best as possible, will have some practical redeeming value beyond just an excuse to nod and smile and uphold the status quo.

By the way, it bears saying at this point: I’m aware that nowadays, in some regions outside of my little Mikeycosm, there’s a derogatory term for being aware and considerate of other people’s viewpoints, or acknowledging ways in which things you, yourself, were raised to be used to and take for granted as perfectly fine may in fact be helping make the world a tangibly worse place for others. Or maybe even, worst-case scenario, out of consideration for others, god forbid, making the trivial effort to change your habits in some minor way.

I’m not especially concerned about what those who use that disparagement might think. What, do they want me to put a trigger warning on this, to help them avoid seeing me do the right thing? Or, since it bothers them to see me accommodate what bothers other people, am I supposed to not do it at all, just to accommodate them?? To them I say: “Sorry if my consideration for others bothers you, snowflake, but, really, maybe instead of getting mad at me, you should try to find some way to grow a little thicker skin and not let something I said to other people, about something that is solely between me and them, get to you that much.”