Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Calculus, coffee, cars, and cleavage

In the past two days, Salon's Broadsheet has covered two instances of businesses using sex to sell their wares. Yesterday, they covered the edifying combination of sex and tutoring in Hong Kong, where one of the largest tutoring competitors boasts it has the sexiest (female) tutors around. And today, honorable mention was given to a delicious Seattle story about a coffee shop where a very scantily clad woman works it while steaming milk.

So I read this story with compounded disgust: A Bay Area Lexus dealer has settled a lawsuit alleging that at least five women were not only treated to the usual in sexual harrassment, but generally forced to use their sex appeal to sell cars, encouraged to show cleavage during sales, and, in one case, subjected to having a skirt pulled down during a pitch in front of a customer.

Apart from the combination of sex and sales, the third story is significantly different from the others. The sexy barista is shaking while she stirs of her own accord, presumably because she finds it helps to bring in customers. And I guess the tutors know about the Hong Kong company's ad strategy when they take the job. Perhaps a few pretty (and I hope smart) women sought the job because they knew they had the bodies for it and could make decent money.

The women employed by the car dealer, on the other hand, were subjected to expectations and treatment beyond their own desires. But the three stories make me equally uncomfortable, and seem somehow related. Women in all three are encouraged by the prospect of increased sales (or by men who are enticed by the prospect of increased sales) to use their bodies to sell. Say what you will about a striptease empowering women; to me, these stories provide a cautionary tale, for both women and the men seduced into spending by them. Not that individual women who are objectified deserve to be, or that individual men who objectify women are not responsible for their behavior, but that, on a larger scale, if we as a society take frequent advantage of the fact that objectification sells--on either the buying or selling end of the deal--I fear that we must be saddened but not too surprised when the objectification slips out of our control.

No comments: