Too Attractive for the Workplace

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.

  • A high school teacher forced to resign after bikini photos were found by the principal.
  • A yoga teacher fired from a chiropractic clinic because the male doctor was worried his wife might get jealous.
  • A dental assistant found to be “irresistible” by her male doctor.

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?

  1. Move up the ranks and bring other pretty and smart women with you.
  2. Mingle ONLY with other females in the workplace and avoid all men.*
  3. Befriend the wives and girlfriends of all your male coworkers.*
  4. Stop wearing eyeliner and lipgloss.*
  5. Cut your hair as short as possible to mirror masculine features.*
  6. And lastly, hide those dangerous breasts!*

*sarcasm

8 COMMENTS

  1. Clarisse | 10th Feb 17

    “In society, a beautiful woman is not seen as competent.” The words cannot ring more true, even though an article published by the London School of Economics concluded that beautiful people ARE more intelligent (SCORE!).
    Through the ages, women have been judged by their physical appearance, as our role and sole purpose in the world was historically to bear children. The women most successful at this, were those who were found most alluring and desirable by men. Only recently have we started defying traditional gender roles, but even decades of progressive female empowerment has not caught up to thousands of years of evolutionary thinking.
    We are better off now than we were 50 years ago, but we have much work to do. For one, I will not give up my feminine appearance, just because I am a professional. In fact, the more feminine we remain, the more empowered we become. Wear you lipstick, pencil skirt and heels proudly. Then be the ferocious lady boss that you are. People will respect you even more, knowing that you are powerful, brilliant and beautiful. 🙂 If we all do this, I am optimistic that we will eventually drown out traditional thoughts and antiquated stereotypes.

    • thefemaledoc | 11th Feb 17

      YES! Thanks for your thoughts! bye bye stereotypes! hello smart beautiful powerful women everywhere!

  2. Audrey | 31st Mar 17

    I, too, experience this a lot during medical school. I used to always aim for that je ne sais quoi French effortlessly chic look so I really take care of my skin and don’t wear tons of makeup. It doesn’t help that with my square face & full cheeks I look even younger than my real age. When I go around the ward doing follow-ups and rounds, patients and their families almost always immediately thought I’m the dietitian, PA or nurse. So a young-looking attractive gal can’t be a physician? And I get good scores and various rare hands-on experience from my attendings merely because I look attractive? Does it never occur to them that I didn’t ask to be born with this face and body shape .. and that basic personal grooming is a must for a decent human being, not my way to look cute/attract guys at work?

    So long story short, I started using age-appropriate makeup to work, so people (esp. patients) would feel more comfortable since most of them always trust more mature-looking physicians here. Just good ol’ skin-like foundation, setting powder, brow powder and lipstick. But then after my attempt to use makeup to look and dress like a professional worked, my colleagues, nurses, etc talked behind my back about me being too makeup-y & looking like I’m going to the mall instead of a workplace. So just because most of them don’t wear makeup and feel intimidated by someone who looks good (or at least more professional & mature) with makeup and feel good about herself, I should stop wearing makeup? No, thanks. I love looking well-groomed, polished and professional-looking like any other women. And because I work in healthcare it’s especially important to do the upkeep. I grew tired of listening to patients complain about their physicians’ coats looking dirty/not crisp white, red-eyed physicians, obese physicians and many other examples that just doesn’t set the right example for our patients and community. Looking good and feeling good about yourself as a female physician is a necessity and I urgent all of you out there to do/at least try to! 🙂

    • thefemaledoc | 2nd Apr 17

      Sounds like you’ve experienced the “damned if you, damned if you don’t” female dilemma. It’s almost laughable sometimes. People will ALWAYS have something to say, but I’m glad you stayed true to yourself and decided to be unapologetically feminine. That’s my philosophy. A woman should be two things: who and what she wants. Period.

  3. Kelli | 2nd Apr 17

    This hits home. I cannot tell you the countless times I’ve wanted to explode from comments made by male physicians and men in general. In medical school I went to meet a preceptor and have him sign my hospital rotation paperwork. The first thing he says to me is “Are you a PA student?” I said “No, I’m a 4th year medical student”. And then he goes “oh”. I find out later from my male colleague who was currently on the rotation that he said “When did girls start looking like her in medical school”. And then while out one night for a bachelorette party my friend meets neurosurgeon at the club we are at. And she goes hold on my friend is in medical school you should meet her. She drags me over there and he says: No way you’re in medical school you’re way too hot. So i argue with him about “what a female doctor should look like- which is whatever the hell she looks like.” It just never ends. And other men outside of medicine who I’ve told I’m a doctor- somehow still think I’m a nurse. Life as a female physician.

    • thefemaledoc | 2nd Apr 17

      Thanks for sharing your story! I’ve also experienced similar situations and its just awkward! Like, how dare I distract you with my beauty! humph! Learn to view women as humans and not sexual objects, thank you very much! Hopefully, as new generations of women flock into the medical field, more people will be understanding! Keep kicking ass girl, and doing it unapologetically!

  4. Earleane Saldana | 3rd Apr 17

    Hey Dr. Khan! Unfortunately I experience this quite a bit. I am a pre-pa student and Patient Care Tech at my local hospital. The nurses I work with always comment on my appearance in comparison to theirs and it’s uncomfortable. How do you respond when someone says, “your looks put us all to shame” or “of course the patient will do anything you say because you are pretty.” Both comments are false and they make me uncomfortable. I know that I have a very taxing job and I choose to look nice because when I feel good about myself I can easily motivate someone else to do the same. I choose to look nice because I want to not because I’m fishing for compliments or trying to take someone’s beau. I am work as a PCA to give back to my community, to learn as much as possible and get patient care hours for grad school acceptance. I am on a journey that extends far beyond my looks. I am in this field to help others not to be judged about my choice to look nice. I didn’t choose healthcare to have permanent bed head and neither did I agree to let myself because my job is demanding. I am me and I am smart enough to practice medicine.
    Thanks for taking the time to share this article we appreciate it!

    • thefemaledoc | 3rd Apr 17

      Sorry you have to deal with that at work. I know you’re working hard and are super focused! I’m not sure how to respond- perhaps “girl, I’m more than just a pretty face!” with a laugh and smile, or “haha omg you’re obsessed with me, it’s creepy.” Usually a bit of subtle shame does the trick for me. I hope this helps! Keep going and accomplish all your goals! You GOT THIS!

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