This interview initially appeared in the Danish newspaper Universitetsavisen. Since most of our readers don't speak Danish, I decided to translate it.
INTERVIEW WITH VINCENT HENDRICKS
BY ANNA MEERA GAONKAR
Vincent Hendricks was criticized for sexist behavior, when he was posing surrounded by half-naked girls in a steamy men's magazine in February. Henricks also used the photos to promote a course at KUA [a campus of University of Copenhagen]. Universitetsavisen is here investigating these issues.
A: First, why did you agree to be photographed as ‘the man of the month’ for Connery.dk?
V: I, along with many other Danes engaged in cultural, political or business projects, help promote a nonprofit charitable project called ‘youmeshopping.dk’. The pictures for Connery.dk were made in collaboration with youmeshopping.dk to build awareness of the charity initiative. This is the reason I agreed to be the man of the month in February. It is in this context that the images should be seen and understood. I consider youmeshopping.dk an important initiative that is involved in creating a connection between citizens and companies in an attempt to support various charitable organizations, such as Dansk Flygtningehjælp [The Danish Refugee Council] and Kvindernes Ulandsudvalg [The Committee for Women in Developing Countries].
A: But wasn’t the criticism directed at the photos as displayed in a different context, namely that of your own website?
V: I used some of the images on my private website in connection with a site that advertizes my logic course at University of Copenhagen. It was the connection between the photos and the course advertisement that lead to some criticism, especially in the U.S. Some saw the pictures as sexist. As I see it, I shouldn’t have placed the pictures on my private website without providing the context for the photos. I have officially apologized, and I immediately removed the images when the criticism was raised. Let me also point out that the criticism ended, even in the U.S., as soon as it became public that I did this as part of a charity initiative.
A: What was the purpose of advertizing a logic course using photos of yourself surrounded by half-naked women dressed in school uniforms?
V: I initially thought it would be humorous and ironic to use these photos to advertize for a logic course. It was not my intention to provoke people or make them feel offended. It was an effort to promote a logic course, a course that would not otherwise appear particularly interesting to most students. I also wanted the course to have some appeal to young men who read these kinds of magazines but who rarely sign up for logic courses. Remember in this connection that there is a long video interview with me on Connery.dk as part of the launch of the charity initiative. In this interview I make some comments about my background and argue for the importance of perseverance, persistence, knowledge, information and informed basis for informed decision and action (something I regularly do through my columns and commentaries in newspapers and in my co-authored books: Tal en tanke, Oplysningens blinde vinkler, and soon NEDTUR! Finanskrisen forstået filosofisk).
A: You say that the pictures are self-mocking. How so?
V: Look, what’s the chance that a professor at a university would be associated with anything that might even remotely resemble the scenario depicted in the pictures? It's not my world. I am Professor of Formal Philosophy. I'm not a Clark Kent, model or rock star.
A: Why did you delete the photos from your website and make a public apology?
V: There were a couple of blogs criticizing the pictures. I have no interest in hurting anyone’s feelings. The photos were seen as expressions of chauvinism and as making women look bad. I really regret that. When I interact with people I see them as individuals before I see them as men or women. But the misunderstanding is deeply regrettable. That is why I deleted the photos from my private website and apologized publicly immediately after reading the first post from critics who saw the photos as an expression of sexism or chauvinism.
A: Does this mean that you regret that the pictures were taken? They can still be found on Connery.dk.
V: I feel bad about the way the pictures were perceived. I made myself available for the charity initiative youmeshopping.dk, a venerable and important initiative, and that was my only motivation for agreeing to have the photos taken.
A: Many of your critics are philosophers. Do you think that people in philosophy are too uptight?
V: I don’t know whether philosophers are more uptight than others. However, the consequence of the pictures has been that some people were offended. I have no reason to bother other people. In a world like ours, where everything is constantly globalizing and we must live together, there is every good reason to be cautious. I failed to realize that in this case, and I take full responsibility for that. The debate over the photos, however, calls for a general and important discussion about how globalization can make it difficult to communicate to specific audiences on the internet, because there are others who will have access to the communication and who will see things differently. This is a problem we will have to deal with on a more general level both inside and outside of Denmark. The issues here include the dissemination of policy to educational and research sectors. I discussed this problem in an interview on TVTVTV! on DR2, Monday March 5, 2012.
A: Didn't you realize that the pictures could perhaps seem a bit offensive?
V: Yes, I did. But I believed their provocative nature would help support a charity initiative for which I was appointed as an ambassador. The photos placed on my personal website were meant to be a self-ironic and humorous commentary on my logic course at University of Copenhagen. However, my main incentive was to participate in the charity project. The key mistake I made was to fail to clarify where the photos came from and what purpose they were serving. I regret not doing that.
A: The photos have been criticized for maintaining gender stereotypes, and for being quite sexist. Is it okay to display sexist pictures for the purpose of charity?
V: It is, of course, reprehensible if charity work adds to chauvinism or sexism, racism or other prejudice. It was not sexism or anything like that that was driving my willingness to participate, and I don’t think the charity initiative youmeshopping.dk or magazine Connery.dk intended these photos to be an expression of sexism. I am not the kind of person who would want this to happen, and I certainly do not want to be perceived as a male chauvinist.