Thursday, 24 June 2010

Pretty women

It’s nice to think that we live in a world where people are judged by their potential or their achievements, rather than by factors over which they have no control, such as their gender or their looks.

Nice but completely illusory.

There’ve been a number of studies recently about the gender gap in pay and responsibility and, while the better studies also reveal that a lot of the statistics being thrown around in this area are deeply suspect, the overall message is clear: society allows women on average less chance to succeed.

As for looks, I keep hearing about studies that show that people perceived as ‘attractive’ have a distinct advantage in winning and holding more interesting and better paid jobs. Indeed, I recently came across a study suggesting that if you’re regarded as ‘unattractive’ you stand a significantly higher chance of ending up in prison. The mechanism is easy enough to follow: you’re less likely to get a job, so you’re more likely to drift into crime, so you’re more likely to end up inside. But what it means is that as a society we gaol quite a few people for the crime of not conforming to whatever the current fashion dictates the model of beauty should be (just as we gaol them for being persistently male and black or looking like Moslems.)

It seems that rather a lot of us must still be suckers for a pretty face.

This is always brought home to me when I visit a large company with which I have dealings from time to time. I won’t identify it, because it’s such fun to protect the guilty, but let me tell you, they’re a household name.

I’m always amazed by their receptionists. They’re courteous, helpful, bright, well-informed. They’re also all of them young, female and pretty. It can’t be a coincidence. Surely it has to flow from a deliberate recruitment policy, one that presumably never gets officially voiced – I suspect it would be actually illegal.

Anyway, they’ve obviously decided that we’re suckers for pretty faces and they want to play to that foible.

Of course, the most striking example of all is Nicolas Sarkozy, the current President of France. He has a bit of a name for surrounding himself with attractive women. Now, I’m sure that his marriage is based on a deeply-felt loving relationship, but I guess you can almost see my eyebrows rise as I type those words, as most people's would if that sentiment was expressed about any man of 50 or so marrying a former model.

The First Lady of France: are we seeing her best characteristics?

It isn’t just the First Lady of France who causes no pain to the eye (I don’t know about the ear, of course: she’s a singer, and not really of the first rate). Sarko also has some impressive looking ministers.

My personal favourite is actually not one of the most striking lookers. She’s Chantal Jouanno, who is minister of the Environment – but also a national judo champion. An environment minister you’d do well not to cross – that has to be an important first.

Judo champion: don't mess with the environment in France

There’s nothing wrong with her looks, of course. It’s just there are more film-star types out there.

One is an ex-minister, Rashida Daty, whose relatively short stint at Justice got the backs up of every judge in France. She’s also a striking example of how beautiful women aren’t always – how shall I put this? – the easiest to get along with. She won herself a reputation for vanity and arrogance that were not, it would seem, entirely undeserved and got packed off to Strasbourg as a member of the European Parliament. There she managed to hold a telephone conversation with a friend while still wearing a live microphone, and so we were all regaled with her despair at being stuck in Strasbourg – one of my favourite places on Earth – and her bitterness at being stuck in the European Parliament, a job most of us would regard as an extraordinary privilege.

Rachida shows how she won her reputation for self-effacement

The one who has to take the prize right now, though, has to be Rama Yade, the Minister for Sports. She denounced the French football team (OK, OK, everyone’s doing that now, but she got in on the act before it was fashionable) for the amount their accommodation in South Africa was costing – and then had to handle press revelations that her own room out there had cost rather more.

Most politicians who get caught out in their double standards come up with all sorts of excuses – which she’s done – and then have to retire from the spotlight for a while to try to rebuild a reputation that has taken a bit of a knock. But not Rama – she’s riding high in the polls, with a 70% approval rating, which is higher than either the president or the prime minister.

Rama Yade, scourge of self-indulgence in others

Some of us are suckers for a pretty face? Sounds like in France we can quantify the phenomenon: it’s about 70% of the electorate.

A lot of whom must be women.

1 comment:

Awoogamuffin said...

Wow, and you didn't even mention Berlusconi! In any case, the whole receptionist thing is certainly true. The practice of only hiring pretty women is rife, but so hard to prove, I suppose.