Female Chauvinism

Sex sells...but only for so long

When I first heard about Donald Trump’s new reality show, “The Apprentice,” I was actually looking forward to watching it. His cast was gender-balanced, and whether intentionally or not, this was rather progressive in light of the low number of women in top leadership positions in corporate America. The female contestants were bright and accomplished, and I idealistically hoped these ladies would utilize their talent and prove to the nation that gender should not be a factor considered when it comes to identifying good leadership. What a let down.

Donning outfits and attitudes that seemed more appropriate for another type of “working girl,” the contestants seemed all too willing to throw their respectability out the window in the pursuit of victory. Given the task of selling lemonade on the streets of New York, the female team wore extra tight shirts and included complimentary kisses on the cheek with every glass. When challenged to boost sales at Planet Hollywood, the women again fetched the street-walker wear out of their wardrobes and begged men on the street to buy them shots inside the restaurant. When presenting a new advertising approach for an airline, they photographed the jets as phallic symbols and used ad slogans alluding to the size of the fliers’ manhood. From their tactics, you’d think they were competing for a position at Hooters—not president of a major company. “Sex sells,” shrugged one of the contestants after a team victory.

Sometimes I couldn’t decide whether these women were complete idiots or absolute geniuses. Male advertisers have long exploited female sexuality, and these contestants were just using this same strategy to their own advantage. As they flaunted their legs and their cleavage, the women of “The Apprentice” were exploiting the oldest trick in the book—but this time, they were the ones gaining from it.

But as “The Apprentice” has taught us, it is only a matter of time before this strategy of highlighted femininity begins to backfire. In this instance, even Trump’s assistant Carolyn Kepcher was disgusted by the women’s behavior. In an interview with the New York Times a few weeks ago, she noted that the female contestants “lost sight of the fact that this was a job interview. If Donald Trump were a woman, would they be wearing those kinds of clothes? These are eight very intelligent women with heads on their shoulders. Their sexuality only got them so far.” And she was right.

In the end, these female contestants discovered that midriffs were not the key to securing management positions and flirting would only get them through so many rounds. By endorsing sexist strategies themselves, these women opened the door to a slew of gender stereotypes they had not exactly anticipated. One by one, the female contestants were eliminated, with the classic stereotypical female weaknesses often cited as the explanation. Three of the contestants were criticized for being too emotional. Omarosa was just a bitch.

Were they treated unfairly? It’s possible. Did these women ask for it? Absolutely.

Many of the losing female contestants have complained that they were wrongly discriminated against on the basis of their gender during the competition. While this is certainly wrong, this kind of gender exploitation can go both ways. These women decided early on to play hardball with their femininity and it came back to bite them. Through their relentless use of their own sexuality, from wearing mini-skirts and slinky dresses as “business attire,” to using flirtation as a marketing strategy, these ladies not only made fools of themselves, but they also endorsed the same kind of sexism that they later claimed to be victims of. Sorry girls, you just can’t have it both ways.

Sure, this is just a silly reality show. But with over 18,000 avid viewers, their actions certainly weren’t going unnoticed. These women were intelligent, successful rising stars with real future potential. The female contestants included a senior account executive, a political consultant working toward her doctorate, a multimillion-dollar real estate agent and a former global promotional marketing manager. But rather than utilize their experience and their brains, these women degenerated from promising potential business gurus to sexually-fixated jokes. For an industry that already has too few female role models, it is unfortunate that the ones in the limelight would decide to stoop so low.

Ironically, in the end, the only thing their sexual wiles landed them was a place on the cover of the male magazine FHM scantily clad in lingerie. Four of the eight female contestants are featured in the magazine’s latest edition, lounging around in garter belts and push-up bras with short little quips about what they consider to be their best “personal assets.” “People say my best feature is either my stomach or my butt,” reflected Apprentice contestant and marketing manager Ereka Vetrini. Looks like these girls finally found their perfect job.

Lia C. Larson ’05 is an economics concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.