Just How Bad Is It For A Woman To Be Called “Attractive” On The Job? Very.

April 5, 2013  |  

AP Photo/Richard Vogel,File

During a fundraiser in California yesterday, President Obama made reference to the state’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris, saying:

“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the President has since apologized, calling Harris last night, according to the AP, to say he was sorry for ” the distraction his comment created” and he “did not want to diminish Harris’ professional accomplishments and abilities.” Thanks for acknowledging your error in judgment Mr. President. 

I think President Obama is doing a great job, but he did indeed step in it with these comments. Women have a lot working against them in the workplace — a glass ceiling that halts their advance up the ladder, discrimination or outright sexism, being taken seriously. The President of the United States is a leader, and this President in particular has made equality between the sexes a big part of his policy initiatives and rhetoric. The President’s comments don’t help us to combat those workplace struggles.

In the case of Kamala Harris, The Washington Post says that she’s “a potential gubernatorial candidate.” If she wants to move forward with a political career, Harris needs to be seen as a person who can exact change, manage a tremendous — and tremendously troubled — state economy, the major social issues that the state is dealing with, and maintain the trust of constituents. Being seen as the lady that the President called good-looking doesn’t really help with that.

Attractive has nothing to do with strong, capable, smart, or strategic. In the end, it’s those qualities that that get a person to the top of their profession. Let’s be honest — pretty can help. But studies also show that it can work against women. Pretty can also be easily dismissed. Eye candy doesn’t necessarily get a seat at the table. And no one wants to be accused of getting by on their looks.

To the President’s point, when you take the focus off of a woman’s abilities and place it on her looks, you undermine all the work she’s done to be treated as a force to be reckoned with in the workplace. There are worse things to be called. And many beautiful women are also amazing at their jobs. But, in our society, it’s still way too easy for a woman’s leadership prowess to be dissed and dismissed. It would be best to keep these sorts of superficial compliments to ourselves and focus on the work at hand.

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  • Akiko

    It’s unprofessional.

  • Janay

    Truth is if you work w men, its beneficial to be attractive. If you work w women its often not.

  • Nikki

    I don’t think it was acceptable at all. If that’s what you think of her, keep it to yourself. It’s unprofessional.

    As someone who has been a victim of sexual harassment at work, I know how uncomfortable it is. And then when you talk to your boss (female), she says, “Oh, they’re just being boys”; you really lose hope.

  • Just saying!!

    I didn’t see anything wrong with it, especially since he started off by talking about her strength and professionalism. ::shrugs::

  • JaneDoe

    Here comes the rumor mills in 5, 4, 3…

  • I’llNeverTell

    It wasn’t a bad thing to say as everyone can accept a polite and favorable comment, HOWEVER working in a male dominated environment can be incredibly tricky for an attractive woman.

    Other women will bite you in the back and spread rumors out of jealousy and envy. They ostracize you and will mistreat you with the utmost malice.

    Men try you, because you’re too beautiful to be taken seriously and there can’t actually be a brain behind that gorgeous face right?

    Being a beautiful woman in a male dominated environment is truly a lonely place.


    TRUST! I learned this first hand in 2012. #EEOC.lawsuit #WINNING

  • Angela

    I didn’t think it was a bad comment. I felt like he should have said but you are as attractive as my wife Michelle.

    • Angela

      I mean not as attractive as my wife Michelle. What I meant to say in my above response

  • OlayinkaFab

    I don’t think it was necessarily a “bad” thing to say. She’s already proven herself professionally and she’s an attractive lady. People spend too much time on frivolousness.

    • IllyPhilly

      Very much true.

    • SheBe

      I agree. He also says this about most of the people he introduces including men. I didnt think it was bad at all but I understand how some could have felt awkward with the political field being male dominated and how women are objectified in high powered positions.
      Side Note: I have noticed that as Americans, we have become so finnicky that a compliment (and being polite) is now seen as flirting or some form of being inappropriate.

    • JaneDoe

      Welcome to the United States if America..

    • Kenedy

      I don’t think it was a bad thing to say. But you know how it goes…these conservatives are going to rip his head off & feminists will come out in droves. There’s really more important things to focus on though, like job creation, heck even little pudgy boy kim jong un should be at the top of the list

      • OlayinkaFab

        I agree. If people put as much time into fighting crime, illiteracy, poverty, and teenage pregnancy as they do this stuff, we might actually have a real legacy for our descendants.