Women of the Workforce: Are You Attractive Enough?
For the past few weeks I have been dating a smart, successful business man who works in retail.
We met at a gallery opening in Mayfair and I was immediately attracted to him. For one thing, he was interested in modern art and, for another, when he asked me if I fancied a glass of wine I recognised an extremely sexy Dutch accent. I have an unbelievable weakness for foreign men who need help with their pronunciation.
It had all been going so well until this Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, as we were discussing our respective days over a couple of cocktails, he said something unforgivable.
He had been interviewing for a new sales team all day and, when I asked him about the candidates, he began to tell me about the final interviewee. Rather than focusing on her qualifications, education or communication skills, he told me that she was apparently “overweight”, before adding that when it came to employing new colleagues he had one important rule: “I only hire hot women”. I knew he expected me to express amusement at this remark but it is exactly this kind of sexism, dressed up as a joke, which has become common place and really irritates me.
Women are expected to laugh along with comments like this. If we don’t, we’re considered prudish killjoys and told, “Oh come on, I was only joking”. But the truth is, it isn’t a joke and we shouldn’t perpetuate this attitude. Even in the workplace, many men constantly compare and judge women based upon their looks. We recently hired an intern in the gallery and when it came down to the final two candidates my colleague informed me that our boss would “definitely go for the pretty one”. Sure enough, he did.
As I shifted uncomfortably in my seat (Mr Holland could tell I was not impressed) I was reminded of a recent exchange with an art critic at a gallery opening, who asked me if I wanted to get married. He had, in fact, suggested it as my next career move: “I suppose the next step for you is to get married”, he had said in all seriousness. When I looked offended he pointed out that in the art world, gallery girls just “seem to disappear”. Thinking about it, I knew he was correct; in Mayfair, over 90% of the Gallery Managers and Directors are men. But I also thought to myself that surely it is now time for this to change.
As we split the bill, at my insistence – my rule is that if I’m not going to see the man again then I must pay half; I neither want to feel that I owe him anything nor do I want him to feel cheated – I thought about Laura Bates’ brilliant Everyday Sexism Project. She catalogues instances like these – and many much worse – showing that sexism has become normalised in today’s society, including the workplace.
Thank goodness we are beginning to talk about it now, because we should not be hired or valued in our jobs for the way we look.