My sister and I often have talks about whether or not it’s self-destructive for women to use their looks and sex appeal to get what they want from men. This can pertain to using cleavage to get into a restaurant or flirting with a boss to move up in the business world. Are these examples of women turning an unfair disadvantage (i.e. a society eager to dehumanize/over sexualize women) into an opportunity to strategically get ahead – thereby sticking it to those who are willing to value women on such a superficial basis – or are these examples of women enabling themselves to be socially confined as sex objects, therefore, further promulgating the female “other,” or “lesser,” status of which de Beauvoir spoke?
For example, if a woman is table dancing at a bar and, as a result, getting free drinks the whole night, is she actually in a position of power/control? She has gotten what she wants from the men (free drinks), but she got them only because she represented herself in a sexualized manner. So, was she pandering to the men or manipulating them to get her own way? Another example: if a woman gets a position for which she is totally qualified, but gets it in part because she flirts with her male bosses, does that discredit the qualities that actually make her worthy of the position and undermine the accomplishment altogether? In Machiavellian terms, do the ends justify the gender-deprecating means? When it comes to women and the strategic implementation of sex appeal, I feel like there’s a blurred line between empowerment and letting oneself be belittled or demeaned. But that in and of itself is somewhat disturbing – how is it that two opposites (1. being in a position where you are in control/empowered and 2. being in a position where you’re actually subjecting yourself to oppression and disparagement) can be so socially distorted that they are mistaken for each other? Why isn’t the line between empowerment and oppression clearer? Given what we’ve read, is the use of sex appeal just affirming the female status of “other”/ “subordinate” to males and sending the message that a woman’s ability to sexually entice men is more important, or at the very least, more effective in getting ahead, than who she is or what she’s capable of? And, if it is the case that using sex appeal to get ahead is oppressive, how has society managed to camouflage it so well that using sex appeal to get what you want is sometimes mistaken for empowerment?