Should a woman use her sexuality in business?

Women officeI wasn’t too sure what to name this blog and toyed with various ideas: ‘A woman in a man’s world’ being one. But sexuality in business, is what mainly inspired this particular ramble.

The thought followed a recent conversation with another very driven female regarding all things music and marketing, and she expressed her frustration with some female singers especially, using their sexuality too much and thus drawing the wrong kind of attention – ie lots of men sending them lewd messages, as opposed to listening to their music, let alone buying it.

I’d like start by saying that I have never felt diminished by men in any way, and it has never affected any of my businesses, both successes and failures. But this may be down to my strong personality and ability to shut people down where necessary. I have also always been self-employed and thus have chosen the people I work with. A situation I have created for my own well-being as a highly independent person.

Furthermore, most, though not all, of my friends are male. On the whole I just click with men more on a social level. And many of them see me as another male rather than a woman – something which doesn’t trouble me at all.

But looking back at various professional relationships, I realise that things aren’t always that black & white, and that there’s a large sexual grey area in between.

The most obvious grey area is appearance and photos. People react far more favourably to good looks. This is a fact. So we need to present the most appealing photos possible. We all have the tendency to immediately criticise the way someone looks, whether clothes, weight, hair etc, both in photos and on stage. Unless a woman is utterly gorgeous, she has to overcome this hurdle by validating her place on the podium through her talent or personality. Or preferably both. And she has to do it quickly, before the aesthetic view can take hold.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong in a woman wanting to come across as sexy. But context is so important. I have done shows where I’ve been extremely scantily clad (not so much anymore), but performers enjoy a clear delineation between ‘us and them’.  It’s one thing to look sexy on stage, quite another to walk through the crowd without putting on some extra clothes. If you work in an office, that separation is not there.

And of course – sex sells. Performers especially do themselves no harm by having hordes of young men lusting after them as they will hopefully turn up at shows and have your poster on their wall. But a woman who only sells herself as a sexual pin-up, without backing it up with something further, will garner very little respect. These days, social media is the perfect setting in which to expand and overcome this conception.

So why do so many women struggle with this? I think it’s a simple case of confidence. Teenage girls often mistake lust for love, and it takes a little experience and analysis to realise that most men will sleep with anyone, and it’s really not much of an achievement. To not realise the difference when you are older is extreme immaturity. But I also believe that many women lack confidence in their own abilities, and that sexual attention is perceived as better than no attention at all. Furthermore, lack of confidence can make it difficult to withstand some of the overt sexism we all experience from time to time. And if you don’t tackle it, it will keep on coming. I’ve seen this in night clubs, where excessive ass slapping upsets people, but actually results in little action. Try that with me and you’ll likely leave with a black eye.

Personally I don’t stand for it. There is a fine line between someone being complimentary – and let’s face it we ALL like compliments, male or female – and being creepy. And you have to use your judgment and accept that not everyone is very good at communicating. One of my pet hates is being called ‘babe’, ‘darling’ or ‘sweet heart’ as I find it very derogatory, and if I think someone is generally ok, I will politely ask them not to. You can usually spot a real creep a mile off, and just block them from writing to you again. But often it’s worth replying politely, but with a certain amount of formality, and asking them whether they like your latest song/album etc, and thus deflecting them onto something that matters. If they’re not interested in that, they’re no good to you anyway. No-one benefits from the ‘if I try it on with enough women, one of them is bound to say yes’ attitude.

But there is another aspect to this topic which has nothing to do with confidence, but with attitude. To me, marrying someone for money, or sleeping with someone in any business setting, to further one’s career, is akin to prostitution. Sorry – but that’s how I feel. I have met women who say it’s empowering and a means to an end. And there are no real rights or wrongs in this, other than differences in personal morals. For women of that ilk, all bets are off. Selling one’s sexuality as a possible spring-board to other opportunities, or even as a means to an end, are perceived as perfectly acceptable. It certainly did Katie Price no harm. But if you pursue this road you have to be sure you can look yourself in the mirror each day. And what happens when you get older and your looks start to fade….

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