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orking Women and the Dilemma of Sex Appeal

Jill Anderson

Did you ever wonder where the leading female characters in television dramas learned to use their sexual prowess successfully to achieve phenomenal power?

The answer is: only in Hollywood. But my life isn't Hollywood, and the real world doesn't work like a screen play.

However, as art reflects life and life, art, the real world takes many cues from Hollywood and the media. The media's exorbitant use of beautiful women to sell has erroneously made beauty synonymous for sexuality. And everywhere you look, sexuality is used as a commodity-sometimes grossly out of context-to sell anything from eyeglasses to sports utility vehicles. Why? Because it works! And the beautiful woman in this environment does, indeed, have the power.

But off the set, power and sexuality don't always make such comfortable bed partners. In the "real" world of corporate 9-to-5ers, women often must struggle to persevere in the predominantly male environment. The world of business-a world of great power-has for centuries belonged to the man. Until World War II, few American women even considered a career outside of the home. And those who did work, didn't wield the power.

In today's world of "power," errant use of one's sexuality can either impede our progress, or catapult it dangerously and detrimentally into a realm where we may not be prepared to succeed.

As a single, blonde-over-blue female, I have experienced both tracks. My appearance, my sexual appeal, has gotten me jobs for which I know I otherwise never would have been considered. I have also come dangerously close to losing well-deserved opportunities because perceptions clouded by small minds-male and female-were unable to see past my appearance.

My first position as an editor was granted to me by a unique, computer kinda-guy, who later confessed to me that I was all he could ever think about, night and day; that he had never felt this way before; and finally, that he just had to know if he would "ever stand a chance" with me. This was after he promoted me from an intern position to that of an associate in just three nascent months of hands-on editorial experience.

This was, all in all, a very good experience for me. Not the actual conversation when I had to break his heart at the risk of losing my job, but because someone gave me, an unproven entity, a chance. Fortunately, I was able to fulfill the professional expectations, given my training, education and confidence. I learned a great deal about the publishing business from this position, but I didn't learn how to deal with the other track, the track where my sexuality imposed a threat and soon cornered me into a "traditional" female role as coordinator/organizer and overall baby-sitter.

My second position as an editor was for a computer gaming magazine. Talk about a man's world! Our reader demographic is approximately 98 percent male. In addition, I was the first female to be hired on the staff into a position of "power" as an editor. Ever.

Several months after taking the position, my boss informed me that he almost didn't give me the position after meeting me because, "[he] didn't think anyone [in the industry] would take me seriously." I later discovered from my daily frustrating experience of working with him, that it was because he was afraid that he couldn't take me seriously. This remark immediately followed his confession that he was ready to hire me-sight unseen-the moment he saw my resume and read my writing samples.

Within weeks of his clumsy confession, my editorial career with this magazine was circumvented and I was corralled into a secondary role which consisted primarily of creating yet another spreadsheet.

Although I did not deliberately use my sexuality to obtain either of these positions, it played a rather large role in the course of my career once I was hired. In a world where the politically-correct-language police watch over us like Big Brother, where an innocent, yet unwelcome invitation for a drink after work takes on the air of hostility and sexual harassment, in the world of "power," I strongly advise that women do not assert their sexuality for the purpose of attaining power, unless fully prepared to handle the consequences-good or bad.

As women in a predominantly man's world, we quite often must prove our value and strength, above and beyond that of our brothers. To this end, we must be prepared mentally and emotionally to perform our duties meticulously. This can only be accomplished through the proper training and education, combined with confidence and self-affirmation. That is, acknowledging who and what we are, knowing our strengths and weaknesses, and accepting and fostering our inner selves-including our sexuality. Our true power will bloom from within.

In this as-yet man's world, using one's sexual appeal in order to attain a position of power should be left for those professions where overt sexuality is power--on the big screen, and perhaps, in brothels. However, the reality is that we are sexual beings and this is not something we can leave at the doorstep on interview day, nor do I advocate trying to do so.

Many historians have attributed ridiculous and bizarre social behavior, such as the New England witch hunts of the 17th and 18th century, to sexual oppression. So we ought to recognize and accept our own sexuality (no, you need not be the next super-model to be attractive!) and carry it with us, not as an adornment to flaunt recklessly in the face of our peers as we ruthlessly climb the corporate ladder, but as an inert characteristic along the lines of intelligence, creativity and ingenuity.

In the long run, we will each find that these elements will prove our value and grant us true power. And at the end of the day, we can be proud to exercise true power.


Jill Anderson is an editor and writer residing in Oakland, CA, until the winds of fortune free her from the concrete jungle.