Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Feminism and preferential treatment

I have a confession to make. Today I stopped at an auto shop to have them run a test on my engine (the check engine light was on). Instead of charging me $20 for this like they were supposed to, the guy there just said "don't worry about it." Was I outraged at this seemingly preferential treatment?

No! I was super excited about saving my $20!!

Does that make me a "bad" feminist? Or more importantly, does this type of reaction undermine the goals of the feminist movement?

Now before anyone rushes to conclusions, I did not bat a single eyelash for this outcome. Nor did I look particularly attractive as I rushed there stressed out from work. No sweet talking either... I just stood there looking grouchy. So perhaps this was an act of pity from the guy at the auto shop who saw I was stressed. Or maybe he saw that I was obviously a student and felt like helping me out. Who knows? But this whole thing got me thinking about the various reactions women have when they feel like they are being treated better just for being a woman.

Now having someone open a door for you might not be such a big deal, but what about getting free drinks? Many women would say no, but what about a police officer letting you off for a speeding ticket because you are a woman? How many women would say "That's sexist officer, please give me the ticket"?

Another related concept is beauty privilege (which also applies to men). This idea stemmed from the lists of male privilege and white privilege that have been widely discussed. Beauty privilege describes the advantages people who fit society's conventional beauty standards have over others. There are numerous articles and blog posts on the internet about this subject, but what do you think? I don't think that there is anything wrong with embracing your femininity, sexuality, using makeup, or (in the extreme) plastic surgery if that is what makes you happy*... and you are not using your advantage to hurt someone else.

[*as long as it's truly for you and not stemming from a desire to conform to the expectation of someone else (or society)]

This quote from the beauty privilege blog post sums up my feelings:

"Beauty privilege needs to be recognized in the same way as the other privileges are. We don't tell white people they are useless or hetero women that they can't be feminists. No, we just expect them to understand their privilege and use it for good and not for evil..."

Or, as my favorite cricket once said, "Let your conscience be your guide!"


Kate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

Love this post- it's fascinating and thought-provoking and I'll probably be back to make a more substantive comment later. For now, I just wanted to give you a heads-up that your second link (in the quote) to Feminist Gal is broken.

Sorry for the delete and repost- the lack of edit function is so annoying. :(

2elle said...

Fixed the link! Thanks for letting me know! :)

Rebecca said...

Let's face it, beauty equals power!
Even way back into ancient times, women were concerned about their looks.Think aboutCleopatra or Nefertiti who were the beautiful women of their times. The cosmetic industry is well aware of the beauty/power connection and know that women will go to great lengths to look beautiful. That's why the cosmetic industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.

The power of beauty is not just confined to women, however. Given that every student at King Hall is trying to land jobs in the near future, this is a practical reality we must face. If you are attractive, all else being equal, you are likely to have a better chance at getting a job.

In a Psychology today article http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hidden-motives/201007/the-power-beauty

they spoke about a survey by Newsweek that reported "Fifty-seven percent of hiring managers [said] unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time landing a job, while more than half advised spending as much time and money on ‘making sure they look attractive' as on perfecting a résumé. When it comes to women, apparently, flaunting our assets works: 61 percent of managers (the majority of them men) said it would be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure at work."

The same Newsweek article also notes: "Handsome men earn, on average, 5 percent more than their less-attractive counterparts (good-looking women earn 4 percent more); pretty people get more attention from teachers, bosses, and mentors; even babies stare longer at good-looking faces (and we stare longer at good-looking babies)."

Chez Marta said...

But then again, Rebecca and 2elle, there is another beauty bias, the one that says beautiful people cannot be talented, brilliant, studious. Two striking beauties, Diana Krall and Norah Jones, were both dismissed by the jazz community as "just another pretty face," says Pandora.com: http://www.pandora.com/music/artist/51ad9b891e79853a. Pretty overachievers are disparaged and accused of sleeping with their superiors. Everybody heard of the "casting couch" phenomenon: did so-and-so get the role because she slept with the Director?

This myth persists, as if we got only a limited amount of these goods from our Creator, so that if one receives an acceptable outer shell, then the insides must be shallow, empty, useless. Or that because SOME women who possess a pretty face or body rather choose to not develop their intellectual skills, the principle should equally apply to ALL women. According to this myth, "ugly" women must be rocket scientists, and all blondes are assumed to be "bimbos." And we all heard one too many Blondie jokes already!

gtg263r said...

Regarding the idea of a "female privilege," I think the acceptability of this type of practice probably depends on the context.

For example, a man buying a woman drink at a bar does not strike me as particularly outrageous, when considering the motivation. He is probably buying the woman a drink for any number, and combination, of possible reasons. To the extent that he is courting the woman, buying her a free drink as a sign of friendliness and financial stability doesn't seem very offensive to me. He may not buy a male platonic friend a drink because he does not have the same motivation to.

Looking at an analogous situation in the work context, it would be unacceptable for a male supervisor to offer a female subordinate a pay raise or a job promotion over a male subordinate on the basis that he wants to develop a romantic/sexual relationship with the female worker because that is not valid criteria for determining a pay raise or job promotion in the work context.

In the end, women may receive preferential treatment in particular ways, but I do not think this automatically makes the preferential treatment suspect.

Alcestis said...

All very interesting comments, especially g2g263r's about motivation. But going back to 2elle's original post, I guess I too am never outraged by this seemingly preferential treatment.

However, this may be really naive of me, but anytime that happens, whether it's a free drink or a discount, I always thinking it's a "pay it forward" situation. Sometimes it just makes people feel good to do nice things for others. So when people do nice things, I do nice things back (whether towards a guy a girl). While for everyone's sake I hope I'm right. It is interesting to think about the motives behind kindness to complete strangers and whether women really do get the better end of the stick on this one.

Betty said...

How many women would say "That's sexist officer, please give me the ticket"?

This struck a chord with me and rings similar to situations in the classroom where if a professor accidentally scores you higher than you deserved or missed a question that you clearly answered wrong, most, if not all, of us would turn a blind eye to this and reap the benefits of their oversight. Their "oversight" often then translates to other forms of mistakes or unequal treatment such as you mentioned in this system of preferential treatment toward females. I clearly am not going to turn down a drink that I want even if I'm aware of the fact that a man is buying it for me solely based on the fact that I'm a female or that he finds me as an attractive female. I think where we draw the line in these situations is if we feel like it's unduly taking advantage of the other side or just so off balance that it bothers your own sense of morality (i.e., you shoul've been given $2 change back at the grocery store, but you got $200 or something extreme).

I guess my point is, if it's a positive "pay it forward" type of general attitude that Alcestis claims it to be, I see nothing wrong or backwards about it. Only when it comes to the point where you yourself as an attractive female feel like you are using someone or cheating some kind of system is then where something should be said. Otherwise, enjoy the benefits you clearly deserve, is what I say! :)

Bijorn Turock said...

This is a very interesting post and I thank you for bringing it to my attention. “Female privilege,” as described by g2g263r, may depend, at times, on the context, but sometimes the context isn’t necessarily one that is appropriate.

I recently had the opportunity to go to Las Vegas, where I was witness to many instances of female privilege. I was approaching the first hour of standing in line for a club know as XS, when I noticed groups of girls getting picked out of the line to enter the club. It was very frustrating and it made no sense to me. Why is it that girls in high heels and mini skirts can get into a club without standing in line or paying the cover, where as other girls who don’t look as appealing (if that’s even the proper word to used) or men like myself are denied such opportunities. What is the context there? It may have to do with the fact that the owner of the club knows that people will come back to his club if he has a large group of “trashy”(sorry but that’s what they looked like) girls.

As for the infamous “can I buy you a drink line,” I think that it may have a more negative connotation than a positive one. The motivation behind the drink is usually (though not always) one that has to do with getting into the girls pants. This may be a bold statement, but I’m making it. Also, there is a subordination element to it as well. By agreeing to have a man buy you drinks, I feel that you are allowing the male to establish a sort of financial dominance. Furthermore, going back to the motivation, the guy is aware of the fact that the more she drinks, the drunker she gets and the more appealing he will seem to her. This type of manipulative motive hardly seems appropriate for what some may categorize as “female privilege.”