Through the Lookism Glass

When anti-feminists argue that there is a “level playing field” for women, and that any gender gap in achievement and pay reflects women’s own choices, they should consider what used to be called “lookism.” Young women, especially, suffer from discrimination in the workplace when they are seen as “too” aesthetically appealing.

NEW YORK – Do women suffer from a double standard in the workplace in relation to how they look? Have we gotten past the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) shade of sexism in hiring and promotion – disproportionately affecting women – that I identified in 1991 as “the professional beauty quotient”?

It is hard to believe that we are still talking about this 20 years later – but we must. When anti-feminists make the case that there is now a “level playing field” for women, and that any gender gap in achievement and pay reflects women’s own choices, they should consider what used to be called “lookism.”

In a recent commentary, the sociologist Michael Kimmel described an Iowa case in which a 33-year-old dental technician, Melissa Nelson, was fired by her male boss, not for issues related to her job performance, but because he found her too sexually attractive to work beside without fear of jeopardizing his marital vows. When Nelson sued, the court issued a heinous ruling – upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court – affirming his right to dismiss her for this reason.

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