Let’s talk about sex, baby

Isabelle Comber isn’t sure if it’s okay to use sexual currency in the workplace.

Image: David Martyn Hunt, via Flickr.

Qualms and anxieties about employment are about as rife at this university as lattes at a Monday morning lecture. The truth is we all fear that after we’ve done our time within these institution’s walls (and paid our debts), there might not be a power suit, annual leave and tidy little salary waiting for us at the end of it.

I know when I finish up at the end of next year, I’ll find myself at the bottom of the career ladder, looking up. I want to enter the music industry, an arena already fraught with gender expectation.  A Sydney musical booking agency owner recently said to me, “I just would never consider hiring a woman over 30, it’s just too much of a risk”. Groovy.

So what will we do to put ourselves ahead of the rest of our cohort when we’re exiled from the safety of the sandstone? Perhaps we attempt to acquire knowledge of office administration software, sneakily hang out at the same watering hole as our potential employers, or none of this and just fuck the boss.

The term sexual currency can cover a plethora of styles of sexual interaction exercised in return for resources and other gratification; anything from intercourse or oral sex, to simply wearing revealing clothing or being flirtatious.

Many liberal feminists theorise that sexuality is similar to any other attribute someone might use to make themselves more successful in a workplace. Ever since Gloria Steinem, some thinkers have argued that there is little way to differentiate between the use of attributes such as charisma or flirtation, and other characteristics such as confidence and friendliness that aren’t labelled as sexual currency.

As a curvaceous lady who has more than once been eloquently described as having “an ass that won’t quit”, I have considered the merit of this argument extensively. My sexuality may be none of your business, but it should rightfully be a part of mine – if I so choose. The issue gets complicated because sexuality can be bribery in its own right. If I wanted to engage in bribery, then I would also be tempted to use my sexual currency. The problem is I’m not sure this would bring me respect or authority.

Whilst I’m tossing this choice around, some women have no option but to utilise their sexuality in a professional context – or have that sexuality forced upon them. Many women are hired on the basis of their sexual wiles and femininity alone. If sexuality is being used as an appeal point for clients, then how do we know if it is being used as a prerequisite for employment?

It is important to mention that men are also capable of using sexuality to get ahead. I mean, if I was a CEO I’d definitely prefer to hire the coffee boy who wanted to give me a daily head job (“I’ll take a double with extra froth, thanks”). The expectation is just not as restrictive. If a man engages in sexual relations with a higher employer or client, there is little stigma attached – a man could never be perceived as a slut, whore or gold digger as man’s sexuality is inherent, not an agenda. Their actions do not set a standard or identity trait of their entire gender, as it does for women. Cue a deep sigh into my power suit.

So it appears sexual currency is thriving, whether we like it or not. But should we be investing in our sexuality to invest in our futures? This wannabe mogul’s two cents is thus; no individual should be judged for what they choose to do in the sexual domain, but if you’re going to commoditise your body to reach the top, then you’ll probably have to deal with the fact that your sexuality got you there, not any other points of merit.

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