President Obama, on Friday, apologized to California Attorney General Kamala Harris for having commented on her looks during a fundraising speech the day before. Here’s the quote:
“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake,” said Obama. “She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. It’s true. Come on. And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years.”
A few days before, a NY Times article ran an interview with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, describing her new book, “Lean In” and the struggle women face with glass ceiling issues, citing the oft repeated contentions that women don’t get enough big, important jobs and don’t get paid as much as men.
The news media have been all over this, with various questions and suggestions as to the insidious marginalization, by men, of women by virtue of their continued objectification, one oft-spoken example of which is that President Obama never refers to men as “good looking”. (Actually, he does exactly that, quite often).
As with most platitudinous utterances, when these kinds of assumptions reach a critical mass, they become ostensible truisms. When uttered, those within hearing distance nod their heads in sycophantic accord, as if this is settled science, no less valid than the earth revolving around the sun.
These graspers of all that appears obvious suspend critical thinking by doing so, however, since there are facts which betray this group-think. Some of them are:
1. When a woman goes to college, gets a degree in computer science, works in her industry for five years, gets married, has children, quits her job for 5-10 years to raise those children, then re-enters the workforce at 36, with 10 years less experience, as well as experience that is 10 years out of date, she will likely get paid considerably less money than her male counterpart. This happens often enough that it leads to #2.
2. When employers see a 21 year-old female college grad apply for the same job as a 21 year-old male college grad, they have no choice but to consider the possibility that, after investing 5 years in the training of both of those employee, #1 could occur at any time, with no obligation on the part of the female to forgo doing so for the benefit of the company. That woman has the right to leave to raise her family whenever she so chooses. This is as it should be, but as long as it is a possibility, the employer is obligated to his company (and often his shareholders) to maximize the value of every employee. This puts women at a long-term pay disadvantage.
3. Women, as group, statistically are more inclined to value their home life at an equal level to their working life, and are often not willing to work the extra hours and sacrifice their family life for the benefit of the company, as many successful men are often willing to do. This is not a value judgment as to whether they should, but is statistically accurate.
Now, let’s talk about those women who have broken that oft-cited glass ceiling. I’ve picked five, in an effort to comment regarding the justification or lack of same for President Obama committing the offense of referring to one of them as “good looking”.
When a person’s looks are important to them, but they are not trying to stand out from the crowd and be noticed for their personal attractiveness, you can usually tell.
Elena Kagen, one of our youngest Supreme Court justices.
Hillary Clinton, who exudes brilliance, professionalism and strength.
There are many successful women for whom the opposite is true. Examples:
Here is one of Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo.
Not only is she quite attractive, she also doesn’t seem to mind wearing business attire that is quite a bit brighter in color and sleevelessness than most men would consider, wouldn’t you say?
And in this widely distributed glamour shot of Ms Mayer, she is, dare I say, damned hot, in her very tight, figure-revealing, bright-red dress. Hoo-waa, indeed!
Next, we have the aforementioned Ms Sandberg, ready for a rough and tumble board meeting in her red business suit. Yeah, I think I once saw Bill Gates wearing that same outfit.
More of Ms Sandberg, attempting to look sultry, showing off her well-toned arms, again in red. Could she have gotten that idea from Warren Buffet’s wardrobe?
Finally, the woman without whom this tirade would not have been necessary, Kamala Harris:
Here she is looking quite respectable in what appears to be a business suit. The color, white, is certainly favored by Harry Reid, John Bohner and Joe Biden whenever they give speeches, isn’t it?
And at last we come to the ubiquitous glamor shot that so many of these women feel the need to ensure is available to the public. Like it or not, this picture shows just how “good looking” Ms Harris really is. And she is.
All these women chose to look the way they do in these pictures, in bright colors, with lots of attention to their hair and make-up. The decision whether or not to look attractive to others was theirs to make. It is no accident that these women look pretty. It is no accident that they want those around them to recognize that they are pretty.
The point of all this should be quite obvious. If women want to be treated EXACTLY the way men are treated, with virtually no attention to their looks, then they have to stop bringing attention to their looks. If women want the EXACT opportunities that men have, then they have to treat their careers the same way men treat theirs.
It’s tough to try to regulate what people notice about you. If you exude intelligence, you should expect to be reminded of it on occasion. If you exude physical beauty you should expect the same. If you exude both, you should expect both!
In the 1960s, women complained that if they were too attractive, they were by extension assumed to be stupid-the “dumb-blond” syndrome, if you will. All that men supposedly cared about were looks, Mad Men style. If a woman achieved any degree of success, she was assumed to have “slept her way” to the top. In writing this piece, I understand the sensitivity that many women might still hold as a result of this period in our not-to-distant past.
Today, we have these five, among countless millions of highly successful women; having overcome the difficulties associated with careers and family life and achieved previously unheard-of academic, corporate and financial success. They, quite obviously, also spend some time on their appearance, yet there are some who would have us ignore the fact that they do.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that men and women will ever be so equal as to be interchangeable. What a horrible thought that would be: to have women look, act and dress so much like men as to be indistinguishable from them.
It’s a good thing for men and women to have equal opportunity. It’s a horrible thing to think that while striving for that equality of opportunity, we lose sight of the fact that, by our most fundamental instincts, by our most basic drives that help to propagate society itself, we don’t always see each other only as co-workers or view each other by what we’ve achieved, but as beings who embrace the sentience to acknowledge that, irrespective how important you might be, sometimes you might also just look nice.