Friday, May 09, 2008

La fea mas bella?

I see this Telemundo show sometimes in the tv listings, but I've never actually watched an episode of it. My Spanish is minimal but I know enough to translate it: the prettiest ugly girl.


I was especially struck by an anonymous comment I read today in response to this post on FSP.

Sigh. The upshot of the discussion on this post was that looks matter more for women, although it seems to be just as bad to be good-looking as bad-looking. But it might depend on where you are.

The post is an example from Europe where the committee actually told one female candidate that they would probably hire their other female candidate because she was better looking.

As I'm writing that I am still hoping it was said in jest (though it must have had some truth in it).

I'll admit to clinging to denial in the face of the most egregious examples of sexism. It. Just. Can't. Be. This. Bad. It's 2008. Can it really be???

In contrast, several of us noted that in the US, the women we're seeing hired lately tend to dress as much like men as possible. For women trying to get a science faculty position in the US, it seems to help if you're less-good looking.

It's a different kind of sexism, but still sexism nonetheless. I suspect they are actually stages, but I can't decide if I think that Europe is more advanced than we are or not.

---

I'm reprinting one anonymous comment here because it really hit home. I strongly suspect this is the same sort of thing, from top to bottom, that people would say about me (if I had any faculty interviews, that is).

Anon: "When I was doing the interview process to become a US FSP I actually thought that my looks and social skills were a detriment to my getting hired.

I was told on more than one occasion that although I interviewed wonderfully, all the faculty liked me, the students loved me, my research ideas were interesting and fundable, I was envisioned to be a great teacher and a wonderful mentor to my future students that I would not be hired because I hadn't convinced a few members of the faculty that my research would bring in heaps of money and I wasn't quite as good at selling it as I should be. Which I understand to a point"




I have heard, verbatim, the same thing this anonymous comment describes: All these good things, but that I need to figure out how to sell my work better and especially to emphasize how it will bring in money.

I can understand that in the current funding climate, this is especially critical.

But I have to wonder if there is a tendency to be especially critical of female candidates who are otherwise good in all categories? Does it really correlate with looks? In a job market where there are so many candidates to choose from, is it really possible that it comes down to splitting hairs, like it does with grant reviews?

I'm particularly curious to ask, has anybody else ever gotten this criticism in particular? Is this another example of a coded message that actually means something slightly different than the literal interpretation of the words?

In a really cynical, outdated sense, for a good-looking woman to really "sell" her work she might have to sleep with someone. Or at a minimum, respond positively to flirtation at the interview.

Surely that's not the issue nowadays, at least not in the sense of outright expectation. Right?? But that doesn't mean it doesn't play into fantasies and perhaps unconscious biases...

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4 Comments:

At 1:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you have a product with the best design at the right price, with a proven track record, you still need a marketing and sales department.

Women are entering the market - they need a very good marketing and sales department.

Sure it sucks, but that's the way the market works.

Something outside the system - government or everyone leaving for work in industry - would have to provoke a change to get to a meritocratic system based on results.

Also, it may be simple prejudice, like here in the UK there are certain regional accents that are known to be more believable (surveys conducted show this). That's where they put the call centres.

So, they may have seen few women get grants, therefore, why employ a second [sic] woman that won't be able to get grants either.

Now, they think they are being rational. To me it is
simple prejudice.

 
At 8:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's probably true across the board, for men and women. Good looking people have a better chance of being liked (in general), so they have a better chance of landing a highly competitive job. It's just an additional problem women face (on top of everything else).

 
At 10:13 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 1:26,

Nicely put. I agree that it is simple prejudice, and all we can do as a group is to try to make the government aware, or go on strike...

Meanwhile, I have been trying to learn more about marketing and sales and how to apply it to my science.

What I find baffling is that this is all implicit. If I openly ask my advisors how best to market myself and sell my work, they respond by acting like I'm being uncouth and have a potty mouth.

I recently found someone to help me learn 'spin', but the problem there is the other extreme: the apparent absence of what I consider scientific ethics.

It's very hard to follow some but not all of the advice; conversely, it's hard to follow all the advice and actually live with myself. I really don't want to become something I can't respect.

I realize that it's an age-old problem, but I find myself wondering whether I'm being religiously adherent to my ideas of scientific merit, and therefore unrealistic? Or if by selling out I'm going to forget my whole purpose of doing this? Which was to try to get myself into a position where I can better help make things more merit-based.

A friend who practices a lot of yoga was trying to give me some suggestions on how to get 'unstuck'. Somewhere between my heart and head, I guess, there are lots of decisions to be made on a daily basis.

 
At 11:56 AM, Anonymous plam said...

I agree with the commenters. Marketing is important. My advisor has actually said that he felt that he would most teach us how to sell our work, rather than technical skills.

Of course, fundamentally you still have to present what you have.

To touch on the point of the main post, I also do tend to agree with Anon 8:24: I think it helps to be good looking in general. Although this is an unfair advantage for some people, such biases are hard to overcome.

 

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