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.
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.