Monday, September 04, 2006

The Politics of Pretty

The picture above is of Angelina Jolie, certainly one of the world's most beautiful women. The picture below is of Brad Pitt, her new husband, and probably one of the best-looking men around. These are very 'pretty people'.
Beauty has power in this society. Everyone strives for it. Many achieve it. People love the power and control it gives them over other people. They like the options. A beautiful woman can use it to filter out the less desirable men and just accept the most desirable men. The better-looking, rich, powerful, successful men that they want most.
We, as a society, give them that power. Here are pictures also of Catherine Zeta-Jones, another spectacular beauty I first saw her in The Mark of Zorro, and thought she was the most beautiful Latin woman I had ever seen. As it turns out - she is Welsh! Nevertheless, I have seen her in many movies since as her beauty continues unabated, even when pregnant, she was gorgeous.
And let's not forget a classic beauty. Raquel Welsh has been synonymous with extreme beauty and the concept of a sex symbol since the 1960's, and although she is older now, she is still stunningly beautiful. Not just beautiful for her age, but beautiful period - for any woman and age, any time. And yet, she is concerned about her appearance and has a few things to say about beauty. Raquel Welsh said "Having beauty is like having money in the bank, except that instead of gaining value over time, it diminishes over time. Time is the enemy of beauty." She said, "You get used to having the power and wealth that comes from beauty, but you have to face the fact that every day you are going to have a little less than the day before."

Why do we value beauty so highly? Let's face it, the effect of it wears off before too long. If you marry the most beautiful woman in town, eventually, the novelty of that wears off, and it is the person inside that counts. In fact, that happens rather quickly. Also, beauty is fleeting. Gone before you know it. For most of us, the signs of age begin appearing when we are around 30 years old. Considering that we are children until we are 20, that only gives a span of about 10 years out of a possible lifetime of say, 90 years when some significant number of people can enjoy being attractive to the opposite sex and enjoy having the power and options that come with that.

Sexual Harrassment
One of the most politically-charged aspects of the power of beauty in our modern society revolves around sexual harrassment. In days gone by, and still in some patriarchal societies around the world today, men have treated women as beautiful belongings, and as part of the priviledges of power and position.

President Clinton was hardly the first political leader to have sexual favors from a young woman impressed with her personal, private sexual access to a powerful man.

Over the past years, it was very common for men to use their position in a company to get sexual favors from women, and for women to use their sexual favors to advance their career. I personally do NOT condone or encourage sexual relationaships with other people at the workplace for several reasons.

Normally, sexual harrassment is considered a women's issue, and it's all about the woman that is being harrassed sexually by a male boss who is using his higher position to leverage sexual favors. That certainly happens and it is a bad thing, but I'd like to offer a slightly different perspective on why it's a bad idea.

First, it puts both the people involved at a disadvantage, and secondly, it puts the OTHER people in the office at a disadvantage, and thirdly, it affects the productivity and efficiency, and the potential legal liability or even the survival of the company itself.

For example: what if the woman does not want to give sexual favors to get ahead and yet is forced to? And what if an older, less attractive woman in the same office is willing to give sexual favors for advancement, but is not desireable enough to get the offer? And what if the man in the higher position has sex with a beautiful young woman, but then she uses that to blackmail him into doing her bidding, giving raises, higher positions, etc. or she will report him to the senior management - or to his wife? Before the event happens, the man might have been in control, but once it happens, the control shifts to the woman. SHE now holds all the cards. What if there is a misinterpretation of sexual harrassment (deliberate or not) and there is a lawsuit that cripples the company or even puts it out of business entirely? There are consequences all around. From a morality standpoint, it is wrong to press your advantage over another person, regardless of the source of your advantage, whether it is your position in a company, or your physical beauty, or whether you have information that can damage someone else. But even the moral implications notwithstanding, just from a purely practical, logical, and risk-management perspective, it is simply better to shop somewhere else for a potential mate.

Yet we are forced to acknowledge that the workplace is the primary place where adults of similar background and social status meet each other on a regular basis. They can meet the other person, know their marital status, know their personality, and have the relationship grow over time from friendly to something more if they are compatible, because they have a reason to be talking and interacting. If you remove that, then that leaves bars as the number one place for finding a mate. And most people will tell you that is not an ideal place for finding a soulmate.
So if the workplace has the opportunities, and the best picks, then how do you avoid the minefield of sexual harrassment problems?

It has been said many times that sexual harrassment is not about sex, it's about power. I agree. However, I would suggest that the power-play is probably not one-sided. Certainly the boss can have power over the employee, but also the beautiful can have power of the ones who are attracted to that beauty.

Do you know what the real definition of 'sexual hararassment' is? For a woman, it is unwanted sexual advances made by a man toward her. Do you know what the definition of 'flirting' is? It could be said that it is welcome sexual advances made by a man toward her.

Therefore, the real difference between flirting and sexual harrassment is entirely dependent upon whether his advances are welcome or not - which is largely based upon whether she finds the man attractive or not.

Can you imagine how much pressure that puts on a man? He has to know ahead of time if he is good-looking enough to be allowed to talk to a woman he likes. It's VERY tricky - especially in the workplace. And of course, since that is where many of us spend 90% of our waking hours, then that is the place we are more likely to see people of the opposite sex.

If a guy is really interested in a girl at work, and he walks up to her and asks her for a date, if he is good-looking enough, he might get the date, and maybe sex, and maybe a long term relationship with the girl of his dreams. But if he is not good-looking enough, then he might be charged with sexual harrassment, he could get sued, and certainly fired, and, since that kind of information travels to prospective employers like wildfire through references and reputation, it might even destroy his whole career. The stakes are really high!

Unfortunately, there is no place the guy can go to get an objective, standardized, fair assessment rating of his attractiveness ahead of time, so he can manage his risk. There is no blood test that gives the attractiveness rating. The attractiveness factor by which he will be judged is entirely subjective, and relates only to the personal taste of the woman that he wants to ask. Essentially, he has to know her, and know her attitude and tastes in men before he can even approach her to start a conversation like that. He even has to know her mood, because what might be acceptable on Tuesday morning at 10am, might be unacceptable on Thursday at 3pm, depending upon how her moods might be at the time. Did I mention this is tricky for men?

On the other hand, I have told my daughter to be careful who she ends up dating, because you can fall in love with almost anyone. If you get close enough to another person where they start to share their spirit and their energy with you, you will see the essential goodness and value in them, and you can fall in love with that. And most people have that inner core of goodness and value and a certain percentage of higher spiritual being within them. That is where love comes from - it is when your inner spiritual being touches theirs and energy is transferred.

Have I ever met anyone who I was attracted to based on personality rather than just looks? Of course I have. Many times.

But I think I look at people differently than most others look at people.

A friend of mine looks at women as if they are a statue. A frozen image of relative beauty posed for eternity in that second, and empty inside. The inside is mostly irrelevent to him. The shape of her body parts and face are what counts to him. He does a mental assessment of which good attributes might make up for the other attributes that are not so good, ("She has an ugly face, but her body is perfect..." etc.) and then makes an overall assessment. And his standards get lower as he gets older, I might add.

Proust once said, "Let's leave beautiful women to men without imagination."

In my own case, because of an adventure I had in Greece in 1989, I firmly believe in the fact that we live multiple lives. When I came back from that trip, I read everything I could on reincarnation, etc. and learned quite a bit about it.
The reason this is relevent is because I see people, not as bodies, but as spiritual beings currently inhabiting a body. I see a child and realize that not so long ago, they were probably a wise old person, and that wisdom is locked inside that young child's body even now. So I respect everyone at all ages. After all, the current age is only one detail of their long life, - it's like judging a person based upon the time of day on one specific day, when you need to think of the whole lifetime.

I look at a person and I see what they looked like as a child, and what they will look like when they are old. I see them dressed up in their finest clothes going to a social event, and dressed down to their sloppiest clothes for painting. I see them fat and thin. Drunk and sober. Happy, sad, embarrassed and proud. I try to see the WHOLE person in all their shapes, sizes, ages, and moods. I do this naturally all the time. It takes some imagination and observation, but It helps me understand who they really are.

With most people, I am impressed. What they lack in one area, they more than make up in others. People are flexible. They grow emotionally, and intellectually. They are ALWAYS more than they appear to be at first, and over time, they will become even more than that. There is a majesty in people's ability to become more than they are. This touches on the main reason for life itself. To grow. To improve. To become more than we are. If someone wants to know the core meaning of life, that's most of it, right there.

So, yes. There is much to appreciate about a person besides the current shape of their body. A homely woman can put an orchid to shame with the beauty of her love for another, and a man of small stature can tower above giants if his ideas are big enough. And both can be more worthy than the heroes of history if they have the compassion and integrity to match their best ideals. When some people will sacrifice their own needs for another, or sometimes even their own life for another, we can see the incredible nobility that lies within all of us waiting for the chance to shine.

When you look at people this way, the mere shape of a face is trivial in this larger context.


At 9/05/2006 2:50 PM, Anonymous igor said...

Ahm, I also love CZetaJ - but - in "Entrapment", not the zorros...

Oh, you didn't even mentioned Ms. Norma Jeane Mortenson ? Shame on you...


When I worked in a hotel (Renaissance chain ****-*****) we had a lot of exchange workers from different countries. Once we got a couple of male workers from our hotel in India. (or maybe it was Shi-Lanka, the guys were from the island, as for about where their hotel was I am not sure...). Very shi-lankan guys, very different from us).

One of them was pretty clever and a smart guy, even without book-education.
After spending 2 weeks in Moscow, he told us:
- "You know what's wrong with your women?"
- "What?" (curiously)
- "They smile."
- "????" (total incomprehension)
- "Yes. You know, in my culture, when a woman smiles towards a man - it's her signal that she wanted to be approached and wooed by that man. Signal of acceptance."
- "Aaaaa!! Polite smiles! That's why your people are so crazy about our women here in Moscow!"
- "Yes!! All your women smile whenever I try to speak to them. And then they refuse to go out with me. I don't understand."

a female collegue, who was listening intently, exclaims:

- "Aha! That's why you guys never leave us along, even when we say "go to hell" !!"
- "Yes! Your smile of polite-ness is the signal: "Please, woo me""
- "And how should I behave to repent those Don Juans?"
- "Don't smile! Don't reply! I'll show you - let I am a girl and you are a guy trying to pick me up..."

the girl giggles and they play their roles -
she says: "oh, you are so gorgeous,, what's your name, I am Juan,..." ,
he is silent, turns head and eyes away with frozen face expression like he has eaten half a lime in 1 bite ....

At 9/05/2006 5:23 PM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Good story! Thanks, Igor

At 9/07/2006 10:30 PM, Anonymous RobertG said...

I know about two incidents of sexual harassment at a company where I'd worked.

1. A very attractive woman was approached by a mid-level manager. She got enough on him to threaten him with sexual harassment. He got the company to pay for her graduate school to get an MBA. This woman was a stunner and seemed to be quite a nice person. I think she leveraged the situation to benefit herself.

2. A manager told her boss that someone in her group was becoming a problem and she was considering corrective action. A few days later, her boss says this problem employee claims she had sexually harassed him. I was very upset by this. She is a wonderful person, now a high-level manager with a lot of responsibility.

At 9/08/2006 8:30 AM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Good examples of what I was saying. Thanks!
Yes, in both those cases, it seems obvious that the woman is the one with the power.
If the man is in the authority position and uses that to get sexual favors, he is in big trouble if the woman decides to use that against him, but if the situation is reversed and the woman is in the higher position and uses that to get sexual favors from a man in her group, then the young man would probably not be taken seriously. People would laugh it off, unless the situation were extreme, and the female boss was especially unattractive, and the young man looked like a movie star or something.


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