Life’s Tough When You’re a Girl (or a Boy)

June 8, 2010 | 16 comments
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300px-Damaliscus_topiTwo thoughts on women and men — apparently I’m on a gender role roll!

1. A girl I know was considering taking a commissioned sales job at a truck stop. She commented to me, “Maybe I’ll wear a tight shirt and a push-up bra. I bet that would help with my sales numbers.” My immediate reaction was, “Don’t sell yourself like that!” I’m told that there is a correlation between a man’s physical height and his achievement in traditional measures of success (fame, fortune, etc.). I’d bet that there’s a similar correlation for women and bust size. So why would I feel comfortable encouraging a man to use his physical traits to advantage in his work, but uncomfortable encouraging a woman to do the same? Is this an issue of modesty? Of distinct gender roles? Or something else?

2. Until recently, women haven’t had a lot of options in terms of acquiring temporal wealth. Traditionally (looking back a few decades), a woman’s financial station was largely (often wholly) determined by her husband’s success in his career. I wonder if this provider/dependent relationship is the source of the stereotypical “nagging wife”. The provider lives in a world of correlated performance and reward. His level of income is more or less tied to his level of work. The dependent, however, doesn’t have the benefit of this “increased effort leads to increased reward” paradigm. Her level of income is more or less arbitrary, and not correlated to her effort as a wife or mother. When the only path to achieving one’s goals is through someone else, I imagine that it creates a lot of motivation for her to focus persistently on the one who can provide for her. Sometimes this comes through as encouragement, sometimes it comes through as nagging or pressure. So I guess my point is that freedom can’t be achieved by only one part of the population. In order for men to be free, women must be free too.

16 Responses to Life’s Tough When You’re a Girl (or a Boy)

  1. ESO on June 8, 2010 at 8:29 am

    RE your #1: what correlation do you see between bust size and “success”? MOST of the world, I would guess, is not a Hooters kind of world. I would not be surprised if women with large breasts are actually penalized for it, being thought unprofessional. Just my guess. That which helps a man get a mate (being tall) may make him more commanding; but for women, it makes them the butt of more jokes.

  2. Dane Laverty on June 8, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Good point, ESO. I just saw this bit — http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/06/07/earlyshow/main6556691.shtml — about a woman claiming to have been fired from a job at a bank for being “too attractive”. I don’t know if there’s any merit to the case, but the fact that she’s getting national support over it indicates that you may be right.

  3. Course Correction on June 8, 2010 at 10:08 am

    “freedom can’t be achieved by only one part of the population. In order for men to be free, women must be free too.”

    Nice post, Dane. Forcing families into a situation where the only acceptable choice is for the husband to be the sole breadwinner puts a lot of stress on men–and creates less security for a family. Men and women need equal opportunities to work and earn and families need the freedom to make the choice that works best for them.

  4. Dane Laverty on June 8, 2010 at 10:42 am

    #3 — and to clarify, I think it’s wonderful to have one parent working full time and the other home with the family (that’s the setup we’ve got going). But I feel that whatever arrangement a couple decides on, the decision should be based on consideration of the particular needs of the people involved, not merely because “that’s the way things are done”.

  5. Paradox on June 8, 2010 at 10:55 am

    1. When you can prove that, you’ll have a valid point.

    2. Maybe in middle and upper classes in this country–a large reason of why I don’t buy the gender role argument. Family history research is a great thing. It saves us from these kinds of assumptions.

    If a woman in pastoral Virginia thought she was going to sit on her butt and not contribute, she didn’t eat. If she wasn’t pulling her weight on the farm and in her home, that work did not get done. Her contribution was real and valuable, and her lot was not uncommon–despite your inferences to the contrary.

    I hope you also realize that you’re equating freedom and worth of contribution to a paycheck. Not everything of worth is silver and gold, especially in the lives of women. I personally would be happy if I had the means to be with my children without having to work because there’s nothing I want more than to be with them. To be at a job and away from them would not be freedom to me. And the difference I would make in their lives is worth more than money because they can actually take it with them when they leave this world.

    Your image of a liberated woman may be popular, but the problem with her is she is lacking in lasting substance. That’s a large part of why feminism has failed to produce what women have been trying to obtain for generations.

    Sure, women work more now. The can go out and get a big paycheck. So what? If all they care about is work, their priorities are whack and they’re never going to happy.

  6. Dane Laverty on June 8, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Paradox, you’re right on both counts. I’m leaning heavily on stereotypes here. My #2 really only applies to, as you said, middle and upper class families in the past couple of centuries. That said, your example of a woman living on a farm illustrates my point — that when people, male or female, have a lived correlation between work and reward, it provides a sense of perspective, grounding, and understanding.

  7. Katya on June 8, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Dane (and Paradox),

    Stacey Tantleff-Dunn’s study “Biggest Isn’t Always Best: The Effect of Breast Size on Perceptions of Women” ( http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118908486/abstract ) showed a correlation between a woman’s bra cup size and being perceived as more professional by men, but the correlation was roughly shaped like a bell curve, with women who wore B or C cups more highly ranked than women with A or D cups.

    Working at a truck stop is going to be a different environment from giving a speech in a professional setting, but I’d imagine there would still be a correlation between perceived level of service and cup size, even if the curve has a different shape or a different maximum.

  8. Dane Laverty on June 8, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for the real life data, Katya. My big question is why I would feel comfortable encouraging a man to take advantage of his height if it would help in his work, but not feel comfortable encouraging a woman to accentuate her breasts even if it would help her succeed in her work? Is one more objectifying than the other? Or is it just a prudish sensitivity about what aspects of the body are appropriate for public attention? Is this sensitivity common among church members, or is it just me?

  9. jks on June 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    How exactly is a man supposed to “take advantage of his height”? Would you encourage him to stand close to small people (and women) and try to intimidate them with his size? I don’t think so. So you probably do have lines that you wouldn’t want a man to cross. My husband is a very tall, large man (think offensive lineman) and he does NOT use his size to try to intimidate others…..yet I’m sure he could and I’m sure it would help him in certain kinds of work (like the mafia?).
    I would encourage any man or woman to dress nicely and make the most of their appearance in a high standard, moral, acceptable way. That means wearing a bra that fits properly and wearing clothes that make you look attractive and are appropriate for the profession. This also means not selling your sexuality. I would never be a prostitute, stripper, Hooters waitress, pimp, etc. However, a lifeguard, ballet dancer, urologist, would be different.

  10. chanson on June 8, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    ESO @1 is right: big boobs will help you get ahead at some types of jobs (eg. Hooters), but in a lot of professional jobs, they can be a hindrance (as many men and women will dismiss you as the bimbo). If you want people to listen to you and take your ideas seriously, being taller benefits both men and women. It’s unfair and irrational, yes, but this is the reason why (as an engineer) I don’t spend any more time and money on my clothing and hair than my male colleagues do.

  11. Dane Laverty on June 8, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    jks, I don’t think the height thing is about intimidation (though at a very average 5′ 10″, I wouldn’t know too much about that). I imagine that a person “takes advantage” of it by not hiding it — not slouching, keeping your head up, all the good posture stuff.

    chanson, from your experience, is there a strong male/female divide in engineering? I’m told it’s a strongly male-dominated profession. How does that work out for the women there?

  12. jks on June 8, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Dane – then a woman simply needs good posture and clothes that fit properly…..like a man and his height. My point was that a man can go overboard in using his height/size/strength just like a woman can go overboard in using her natural good looks or breast size. So, perhaps you do not have a double standard because you wouldn’t want man to go overboard either.

  13. Bill of Wasilla on June 8, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    I am a little reluctant to add this comment, because to do so I must blatantly put out the information that I, the descendant of a early Mormon who gave Joseph Smith shelter in time of need, have become a coffee drinker. But it’s a fact, yet the story that I tell in this blog post does put another view on the same situation you describe above.

    I have no doubt but what it is a successful strategy and that it draws many male coffee drinkers to this kiosk. Yet, since I had this experience, I have not wanted to go back to this kiosk, not because I am a prude but quite the contrary:

    http://wasillaalaskaby300.squarespace.com/journal/2010/4/24/the-barista-her-nipples-and-the-hungry-baby-kalib-jumps-upon.html

  14. Mark B. on June 9, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Ah, the lonely lives of statisticians.

    Who else could with a straight face write a comment about breast size filled with references to bell curves, including curves for truck-stop employees with “a different shapes or a different maximum”?

  15. Katya on June 9, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    >14.

    Librarian, actually. And I was fully aware of the double entendres in the comment, but too lazy to think of a way to rephrase the comment. :)

  16. erinannie on June 12, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    As a woman who looks about 10 years younger than her age, and has a larger bust size, I can tell you it works against you. I regularly get comments from people that they didn’t expect me to be accomplished or smart. As soon as I hear that, I make a mental note to never trust this person’s judgment.

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