Female Bosses and Sex: A Double Standard?

Sculpture by Linda Klarfeld

Below is a link to an article that asks the question: Is there a double-standard in how we judge men and women in positions of power who use their sexuality to leverage power at work?

What the author of the article argues is that if male bosses, touch a woman or flirt with her at work, they risk being accused of sexual harassment.  However female bosses can get away with touching and flirting with male juniors, and the author interviews a few women in positions of power, who openly admit to doing do.

However, as I read the article, it seemed pretty clear that these women were not talking about forcing their sexual attentions on men.  They were talking about using their sexuality in a subtle way, they think might appeal to the men and encourage them to cooperate with their female bosses! And, that is not the same thing!  Sexual harassment, whether it involves a male or female boss, is always about forcing people against their will into sexually uncomfortable or compromising situations by the aggressive use of power.

For me it is interesting that this article asks this question of women in positions of power and not men.  For while there may be a handful of women in power who might flaunt their sexuality to manipulate their juniors, there are far many men who do it — that is use non-threatening, flattering sex-appeal to heighten their public appeal.  In fact sexual magnetism is often a part of the package of the public persona of powerful men.  Take for e.g.  Barack Obama, Putin, Bill Clinton, etc.   Monica Lewinsky is prime example of how female juniors get taken in by the sexual appeal of their bosses, and seem to be willing to do just about anything to please their bosses!

However female bosses often downplay their sexuality.  Most women, as they climb the ladder of power, try to contain their sexual expression even more, in their dress and behavior.  Just look at most women in high up positions in government and corporations — Hilary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Angela Merkel. This is usually because, women find that if they are sexually expressive, they are taken less seriously at their jobs and their intelligence and capability is either undermined, or placed as secondary to their sexual appeal.  This never happens to men in positions of power even if they are viewed of as “sexy!”

For me one particular question that this article does not address, and that I would be curious to know more about, is how exactly does this sexual expression that certain women bosses exude, play out?  My guess would be — that even though these women may be the bosses, in the sexual interaction they have with men who work for them, they may be playing the submissive role.  In other words, they may be using their sexuality to actually lessen their threat as women bosses to the men they supervise!!  So these women, are not actually challenging the sexual power equation of society based on gender, but they are in an oblique way, reinforcing it!  Well, read the whole article here  and judge for your self.

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