Those gut instincts everyone says to trust in? They’re sexist (and racist, and classist) little buggers.

The root of all evil is not money. It’s something more basic.

More to the point, it’s something that makes us feel so good, so comfortable and healthy and right, how could it possibly be bad?

It’s our need to feel comfortable. For the most obvious example: racism and sexism are, at their base, about our need to feel more comfortable and secure in our surroundings. Countless studies have proven that we like best the people who most remind us of ourselves… and we feel safest in a community that shares our values, preferences and life experiences.

And we are also coming off a decades-long charm offensive by psychologists, medical doctors, liberals, conservatives, spiritual leaders, cultural luminaries, and intellectual heavyweights alike attesting to the healing power of happiness… with no mention of how we get that happiness. Which has elevated stress-relief to a virtue, to the point of making thinking and concern for the less fortunate as emotionally less-than-healthy. Which has looked, uncritically and almost uniformly without dissent, on emotional intelligence; not openly acknowledging any possible dark side or side effects until a good 15 years after the fact.

How far down the rabbit hole have we fallen? I’ll just let my comments in the Alternet piece, “The Attractiveness Bonus in the Workplace” speak for themselves:

Why appearance bias in jobs where there is ostensibly no public contact? Because attractive people make our l’il gut instincts feel good.

Those touchy-feely things… which, I might add, were held up as better judges of character than our rational minds, and more reliable and closer to the truth than thoughts, by just about everybody under the frickin’ sun with barely-microscopic levels of dissent, from Oprah to our former president to our entire media to an army of credentialled doctors over the last couple of decades… well, those instincts of ours just like feeling comfortable above all else in the world. They like things fast, easy, and familiar. They like it so we don’t have to take too much time or emotional energy processing pesky things like complexity. Our instincts love stereotypes.
And may I add that happiness and being stress-free is the most important thing in the world? May I add that it doesn’t matter HOW you get your happiness, or where it comes from, or whether it was bought by screwing up someone else’s life, turning off our empathy switch, or surrounding ourselves with yes-men… only that we’re happy; because happy people are ALWAYS healthier and smarter than unhappy people, and EWWW I don’t want you contaminating me with your poisonous cortisol?
May I add that we are social beings and, as such, it’s more beneficial and healthy to follow the crowd than to stand up and challenge things? Besides, silly rabbit, everyone knows you can’t change the world; you can only change yourself, and your response to things.

For that I blame two people more than anyone else: Daniel Goleman and David Brooks. Goleman for spawning an industry that gave us a green light to stunt others’ LIVELIHOODS and malign others’ characters for failing to tickle our subjective fancies; Brooks for continuing to set the tone as to what it means to be a sociable human being– which, apparently, means someone who will put up with a lot of emotional manipulation and subtle coercion; because, goshdarnit, those are necessary prices to pay for love and friendship; and ZOMG, gender essentialism is so SEXY.

We are continually told that if we follow our gut instincts, we will be happier. And if we are happier, we are automatically healthier, smarter, and have more friends. In a country where 1 in 10 people suffer from depression and many more suffer from other mental illnesses and just basic unhappiness, these are not just empty promises. They are emotional manna to us. We eat these words up… like triple-chocolate ice cream with a touch of catnip. Besides, our economy being what it is; an creeping monoculture where everyone must be selling, baby, selling, where the personality traits of financiers and decision-making-by-mysticism are increasingly setting the tone for every line of work in America, our very livelihoods may demand we sing in tune…

We tell ourselves we are emotionally healthier and more intelligent, that we are socially well-connected and sound judges of character. Because we’re doing what the culture has been telling us to do. We’ve been trusting primarily, or entirely, on our gut instincts. And they make us feel good.

And we forget just how prejudiced our gut instincts can be. How racist, sexist, classist, ableist, every kind of -ist they can be. Because we forget that what our gut instincts enjoy more than anything, is not rocking the boat.

Money is just a tool.

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Sexy people bring in more Benjamins… even in high school sports.

Hugo Schwyzer has an excellent post up about the creeping sexualization of women’s high school sports– about how this rare bastion of freedom from pressure to look sexy is now losing it.

The most important point Hugo makes is here (emphasis mine):

The issue isn’t improved performance. In high school volleyball, it’s hard to argue that French-cut briefs lead to a dramatic step up in anything other than attendance at games. (Many women I interviewed for this piece report that the number of people showing up for volleyball matches or track events rise when schools begin to require skimpier uniforms).

But a dramatic step-up in attendance at games means increased profits. Increased buzz about the team. And therefore, it’s a sound business and sales decision in the eyes of the athletics department. Why would anyone kill a golden goose, especially when the alternative may be to scrap athletics altogether for lack of funds?

The last thing we need in a recession is what’s happening right now– a greater and greater restriction of salability (synonymous with employability in a sales-dominated economy) to those who adhere to a stereotype of sexually attractive.

I’ll let my responses on Hugo’s personal and body image blogs sum it up for me:

In order to tackle this problem, we have to find a good way to rebut the business point the sexualization proponents are going to make.

If showing more female skin has increased the audiences for high school sports, then it has increased profits and word-of-mouth for them. One of the rare recession-proof industries has been the “breastaurant” chain, where basically only “hot” women interested in wearing skimpy clothes on the job need apply as waitstaff. The message is clear: you must be sexy to be profitable.

This very powerful business incentive means businesspeople will keep on sexualizing until we confront it directly. It’s nothing personal to them; scantily clad women just rake in the profits, they will tell you. Our task is to break this link… to broaden the definition of beautiful (and therefore profitable). To break the linkage of the meaning of “customer service” with being ever-sexually available and attentive (in other words, like a gender-biased exemplar).

It’s one thing when it’s images in the media; it’s quite another when making a living itself becomes more and more dependent on us either having the right genes, or a few extra thousand dollars cash lying around at any given time for appearance upkeep and maintenance– which inevitably will favor the economically privileged and the conformist.

This has always been an inherent danger in an economy as dominated by sales and customer service as ours. The conventionally attractive person comforts us, and makes us want to open our wallets in a visceral way; and it will remain like this and get worse unless we are willing to go toe-to-toe with our own gut instincts as well as those of an increasing number of employers.

I don’t want to live in a world where I have to look like a centerfold to be a trial lawyer, a doctor, or any other job facing the public.

We have to confront whoever makes sexualizing decisions from a business standpoint. Like it or not, scantily-clad women and girls are golden geese to them, and indeed to any cash-strapped organization seeking to make a quick infusion of profit. No one is going to kill a golden goose– unless you provide them with a strong business reason to do so.

But we also have to check our own instincts, and our tendency to let ourselves be sold sexuality. It takes both a salesman and a customer to create a message about what is salable. We break that cycle, we substitute it for a profitable model where the girls don’t need to be sexualized, we’ve cracked the code. (I’m sorry, they’ll just have to be on their own when it comes to contests of who can generate the most profit.)

Yet another reason why we need public schools, and public amenities! The need to make a profit puts pressure on all of us to be profitable. Which eventually, invariably means those who adhere most faithfully to stereotypes.

Beauty should be fun. Beauty should be enjoyable. Beauty should not be a job requirement.