A New York Times article titled “You’re Cute and Fired” highlighted the intimidation some men feel for attractive female coworkers. The article discussed several lawsuits of high level men firing attractive assistants because they felt her looks got int the way of work productivity.
This even spills into the realm of mentorship. Some men won’t mentor a female protégée for fear of workplace gossip. A friend of mine had a vicious rumor spread about her when she got admission into a competitive surgical residency. Some said she had slept with one of the attendings when she was medical student, because there was NO WAY a beautiful young woman was smart enough or skilled enough to get into this program. When she started the program, senior residents would taunt her and said that they couldn’t wait for her to work with another attending, Dr. Wong. He was notoriously mean, tough, and didn’t pay special attention to any attractive females. The joke was on them. Dr. Wong loved this resident because she WAS smart, and he was professional enough to not be distracted by her good looks.
In society, a beautiful woman is not seen as competent. On the other hand, an unattractive woman is seen as completely useless. Why are we constantly judged on looks? I’m sure many of you have heard someone dismiss your hard work with a “he only gave you a good grade because he likes pretty girls” during undergraduate and graduate training.
I experienced this intimidation first hand as I was discussing a patient’s care with another male colleague. I was sitting next to him at a computer station and also cracking some jokes, as coworkers commonly do. Another male colleague felt the need to come over and comment “oh come on guys, stop flirting and get back to work.” His comments were meant to be funny and friendly, but in reality it made me and my married male colleague uncomfortable, and more importantly made me furious! A male and female physician can’t discuss patient care together? It’s automatically flirting? I must have intimidated my idiot male colleague with my pretty smile.
It’s ancient thinking. How dare she look so beautiful. Doesn’t she know men can’t control themselves? Doesn’t she know she’s making everyone uncomfortable? Lets run her out of the workplace!
So what’s the solution?
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