As I See It: Boob Job
August 8, 2016 Victor Rozek
It’s no secret that attractive people have an advantage when interviewing for a job. Studies show that appealing people are assumed to be more intelligent and better educated. They are believed to possess superior motivation and greater capability. If hired, they will almost certainly earn more money than their less attractive counterparts, and are more likely to be promoted. It’s a form of genetic favoritism, amplified by the preferences of the observer. And while a face may no longer launch a thousand ships, it sure can quick start a career.
Although many forms of discrimination have either been legally banished or, at the very least, have become socially taboo, unequal treatment based on personal appearance remains stubbornly intractable. More job applicants report experiencing appearance prejudice than gender or racial bias.
“To many observers,” writes Deborah Rhode in New Republic, “appearance discrimination seems a rational response to customer preferences.” Airlines, for example, long believed that businessmen preferred being served by attractive women. But losing a gender discrimination lawsuit dissuaded them of that notion and, with the stroke of a jurist’s pen, stewardesses morphed into flight attendants. That was followed by a lawsuit that challenged weight limits for female flight attendants. Apparently the court decided that male preference was a piggish justification for prejudice. The airlines lost that suit as well. With those two rulings any opportunity to institutionalize sexism in the airline industry all but vanished. Businessmen adapted, happy to get their drinks from women and men of all shapes and sizes. But legal decisions that cause quantum shifts impacting entire industries are rare.
“Of all the major issues that the women’s movement has targeted,” says Rhode, “those related to appearance have shown among the least improvement.” There is such a cultural premium on beauty that chasing the ideal body image has spawned extreme remedies from eating disorders to cosmetic surgery. “Almost half of American women are unhappy with their bodies,” notes Rhode, “a percentage higher than a quarter century ago.”
So on the one hand, women have struggled mightily to move beyond objectification, but on the other, anxieties over appearance are more prevalent than ever. Anxieties, however, are private matters, while workplace behavior is public and therefore open to scrutiny and judgment.
The rejection of sexuality as a means of manipulation and advancement has become increasingly common as women gained empowerment. But evolution grinds slowly, and although legal restrictions discourage certain discriminatory behaviors, they are much slower to change attitudes. If a recent Yahoo News article is any indication, a great many men have yet to discover that sexism is wrong, but have determined that it is simply unfashionable, and must therefore be exercised judiciously.
It’s an article of faith that a woman should not flash excessive cleavage during job interviews. That belief was tested by researchers from the Sorbonne University in Paris. They responded to hundreds of job ads and, as is the custom in France, included a picture of the applicant with the resume. Photos of two women were used and both applicants had nearly identical skills and job histories. But in the accompanying picture, one wore “a low-cut top,” and the other “a conservative high-neck blouse.” Out of 200 sales job applications, the woman with the low-cut top received “62 more interview offers” than the equally qualified, conservatively dressed woman.
It’s tempting to discount the numbers because sales, as a profession, traditionally uses sex to sell everything from toothpaste to tires. So perhaps the numbers are skewed. But researchers repeated the experiment with accounting jobs. Apparently accountants need titillation more than salesmen. The low-cut applicant received 68 more interview offers.
Yahoo, with proper disclaimers, concludes that: “a bit of skin during the recruitment process can help a woman clinch a job interview.” Certainly the increased interview offers are substantial and many women would opt to use whatever leverage they had to secure employment. It seems a small concession to a rigged system. But others are left in the uncomfortable position of having to pick between self-respect and self-actualization.
I asked my wife who, in the interest of full disclosure, is generously endowed, if she would consider attaching a cleavage photo to a resume. All I can say is thank God I asked in an email and not in person. Because if you ask my wife about giving in to sexist preferences, you’d better be wearing pads and a helmet. Here is her unedited reply:
“Hell no! I can’t imagine ever sending my resume to 200 companies. Geez! How desperate would you have to be to do that? Besides attaching a cleavage photo would be a manipulative and sexist thing to do. Many women sexualize their appearance to gain ‘control’ over men. Sexism works both ways. Sure, men are sexist towards women, that’s the easy conversation. But women are sexist too and inappropriate sexual seduction is one example. Regardless, I would not want to work in a business culture that would hire me because of my boobs!”
Other than the brief digression about the indignities of sending out 200 resumes, I think the answer is a resounding nyet. On the other hand I know women who would flash the cleavage, take the job, then go to work in something resembling a nun’s habit.
The weight of prejudice against women, minorities, the disabled, gays, lesbians, even transgender people is gradually being lifted. But the struggle to be accepted just as one is, goes on. The reality is that, however worthy, no struggle is linear. Every spark of enlightenment is met with an equal measure of darkness. Hatred lies dormant, only to be reawakened. Progress is made, progress is lost, sometimes in the most appalling way. To the nation’s eternal shame presidential politics have devolved to ridiculing the appearance of an opponent and the handicap of a dissenter.
Sometimes it seems we haven’t come a long way at all.