Think you’re ugly? You’ll be more dedicated to your career, according to the “Daily Mail,” which has a spectacularly sexist and wildly creative interpretation of some recent research on women in the workplace.
Except the results of this study looking at what the authors refer to as a “briefcase over baby” (gag) conundrum are actually a bit more complicated; they were focused not on perceptions of physical attractiveness, but on how sex ratios affected activities in the workplace, with a secondary look at how self-assessment of attractiveness played into career decisions.
Both the study and the subsequent reporting fail to account for the tremendous array of very complex factors that determine how women map out their careers. With sexism at every turn, women aren’t working in a vacuum, and that fact needs to be considered, and controlled for, when doing any kind of study to look at the kinds of careers women develop and the motivations that go into them.
The “Daily Mail” reporting suggests that women look around, see a shortage of men, shrug and decide that since they can’t go into the kitchen, they might as well get jobs. Then, of course, those silly women go and get themselves educated and work their way up the career ladder, so their “mating standards” rise to impossibly high levels and they’re alone and single forever. That goes double for ugly ladies, who know that they stand no chance in a heated dating market.
Uh, okay, “Daily Mail.”
Yeah, obviously women with careers are all freakish monsters.
There’s actually been a lot of research into attractiveness and how it operates in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, people who are considered conventionally attractive make more -- about 5% more than people of “average” appearance, actually (and 9% more than “plain” coworkers, whatever that means) -- and they’re more likely to get positive responses on interviews, during job reviews, and in other important events during their employed lives. Being pretty, in other words, pays.
If you’re a woman, that is. Women are repeatedly advised not just to maintain a “professional” appearance (which can be very costly), but also specifically an attractive one; many of the tips offered to women establishing themselves in the workplace aren’t just about looking neat and put together, but also pretty.
Choose heels over flats, understated makeup that brings out your nice features, well-cut garments that don’t just sit right, but also make you look good. On its face, such advice isn’t necessarily bad -- many ladies like to look pretty! – but it adds to a culture of reminding women that they have an obligation to be pretty.
And women in the workplace are well aware that if they want to get and keep jobs, let alone get raises and be considered for promotions, they need to meet high standards of attractiveness. Of course, you can’t be too pretty in the workplace, or you’ll be fired for being “too sexy,” which a judge recently ruled is perfectly legal.
WOMEN WORK HARDER FOR LESS
But pretty is as pretty does; even being a pretty woman doesn’t mean you’ll be treated equally in the workplace. Numerous studies have also shown that women work harder in the workplace, complain less, and...get paid less. Women also feel tremendous pressure to work harder, and feel that the expectations placed on them are higher; those expectations go double for women who aren’t considered attractive enough for the standards of their workplaces.
Even after controlling for numerous factors, the authors of “We (Have to) Try Harder: Gender and Required Work Effort in Britain and the United States” found that there’s a huge gender gap in terms of performance expectations and self-perceptions in the workplace. They noted that women must constantly prove themselves in the workplace, unlike their male counterparts.
SCIENCE SAYS: “SEXISM!”
Taking this into account, the results of the study as reported by the “Daily Mail” start to seem a bit dodgy, don’t they? That particular publication is notorious for its sexist articles about how women really all belong in the kitchen and just turn to careers as a secondary option while they wait for something better to come along, so it’s not surprising to see them spinning study results this way, let alone refusing to analyze those results more carefully.
Of course women are going to work harder and throw themselves into their careers: they’re expected to, and they’re well aware that people are going to judge them. And naturally, women who don’t think they’re as pretty as co-workers are going to work even harder, because they’re aware of the “attractiveness bonus” and know that they’ll have to stand out if they want to rise in the ranks and get equal pay. There’s nothing at all surprising about this information: what is surprising is that the researchers chose to link women’s performance with a scarcity of men, a conclusion I find rather suspect.
Is this really a gender balance issue? Are all women who seek high-flying careers just doing so because they fear they can’t get husbands? No. This is a sexism issue, and continuing to pit workplaces against family life adds to that sexism. Men are never asked if they’re choosing “briefcase over baby,” and no one ever asks why it is that men work so hard to achieve high ranks in their workplaces.
Men are to the corner office born, right? Whereas obviously women who want to head their own companies or work high-up in management are behaving abnormally and must be viewed with extreme suspicion. They’re getting ideas above their station! Why aren’t they in the kitchen baking pies?! Quick, someone come up with a pseudo-scientific explanation!
So no, “Daily Mail.” Women aren’t “more likely to pursue top careers if they fear they might not find a husband.” Women are just...women. Working. And overcoming tremendous amounts of sexism in the process.