Periodically we’ve been thinking here about appearance in/and The Profession. And today is December 6th, a day that, as Nicole Brossard says elsewhere, is among the centuries. A day that in Canada is for remembering violence against women, remembering women who were killed simply for being women. Violence against women–all women–should be in the forefront of national concern, though as one of our commenters noted, “The most terrible and egregious act of sexism this month was the Harper government’s decision regarding the ‘renewal’ of funding for Sisters in Spirit, a Native Women’s Association of Canada initiative that has documented 582 missing and murdered aboriginal women and is developing policy recommendations on [how to deal with and stop] violence against aboriginal women. In true Harper style, the feds reduced funding by one third for the next five years and made ‘renewal’ subject to the following conditions: that the initiative be called Evidence in Action; that their well recognized Grandmother Moon logo not be used; that they cease doing ‘research’ on the missing and murdered women (to focus on ‘action’); and that they not maintain their database.”
I found myself thinking too about Polytechnique. I was ten years old on 6 December 1989 when a man with a gun walked into Montréal ’s L’École Polytechnique. He entered a classroom, demanded that the men go on one side and the women on the other. He told the men to leave the room, and they went. He called the women “une gang de féminists” and then he shot. Fourteen women were killed. I remember sitting on the living room floor in my parents’ house in Ottawa, reading the newspaper and feeling scared. It was night time; I was at home alone. My parents had just started letting me stay home without a babysitter; I was responsible and I liked having space to myself. But sitting on the living room floor on the new blue carpet I was scared. How far away was Montréal? Was this man really dead? Or had he come to Ottawa? I closed all of the curtains, sat in a corner and read and reread the reports. One of the policemen who came to the school found his daughter murdered. One male student said that when he saw the corpse of a woman in the photocopy room he thought it was a sick practical joke. Since when was a dead woman a joke? The sadistic violence acted out on these women was, I think now, the first time I truly recognized that I was a woman. It was, certainly, the first time I realized that women were sought out as victims based solely on their gender, though I do not imagine I had those words at the time. Alone in my parents’ house that night I just had my fear and a heavy sense of isolation.
With gendered and raced identity at the forefront of my mind, naturally I thought of this discursive space when, while catching up on my blog reading this weekend, I came across an article from the New York Times. Called “Beauty Discrimination During a Job Search” the article considers research from social scientists that suggests looks have something to do with whether or not you get a second interview. Here is a wee excerpt:
How much do looks matter during a job search? A new study suggests that while handsome men do better while looking for work, good looks can end up hurting a woman’s chances of scoring a job interview.
The gist of the research is that looking good is fine if you’re a man and bad (read: threatening) if you’re a woman.
After feeling whipsawed by the predictability of this article (and the more predictable commentary) I found myself thinking about how you readers would respond to this article. I also found myself thinking about my students.
I’ve just finished teaching a contemporary critical theory course. We spent the semester thinking about norms: gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, form. In short we engaged in consciousness-raising in a classroom. When these students were faced with a stunningly devastating binary they fought it. Fought to understand it, fought to unpack it, fought to think through alternative ways of being in the world that might upend extant inequities.
Did we get very far? In certain ways, no: we covered a huge amount of material in a semester. They may not all remember the difference of differance, but some of them will. More of them might think about Peggy Phelan‘s work of the politics of visibility or Benedict Anderson‘s imagined communities.
I chose to organize the course in a rhizomatic structure. Modules, if you prefer. I was fascinated to find that when we reached the module on gender and sexuality–and read (among many others) Rich, Cixous, and Mohanty. The students almost invariably gravitated to/were interested in Mohanty’s article on feminist scholarship and (post-) colonial discourse, while they found both Cixous and Rich prescriptive. Mainly, the concern was that the texts by Rich and Cixous showed their age. They weren’t prepared to say that there was no such thing as gender inequity, but they were resistant to the notion that it was so blatant, boring, and obvious.
So I find myself wondering what they would make of this article which, as it states, is based on social science research (you can link to the scholarly article informing the NYT one here).
And I find myself wondering what to make of it as well. Like my fellow blogger(s), I certainly think about my professor-y appearance. But this seems even more complicated than that. Certainly I’m not in a profession that is in the practice of asking for photographs to accompany applications (yet) but that seems beside the point. What does this say about “progress” for women gendered or made? What does it say about striving for ethnic and racial diversity?
Here’s (a teeny tiny top three list of ) what concerns me:
-what counts at “good looking” seems thinly veiled. This means ‘classic good looks,’ right? Which means heteronormative at the very least. And that, friends, is hugely problematic.
-as one commenter states, it seems that in any version of this scenario women are the most disenfranchised by this trend. This echoes my first concern: Are these women who look like, pass as, or choose to identify as women? Probably the former.
-in an attempt to “eliminate potential racial bias, the judges selected photos of individuals who appear to have a more ambiguous ethnic background.” So if you look too anything you’re out of luck? Wow.
What do you think readers?