When I first read this post over at the Josh in China blog, I smiled. But then I frowned. Okay, I didn’t really frown, but I’m going for literary effect here.
The post is entitled, Interesting Cultural Differences, and it reflexively notes how the women at Chinese toll booths are uniformly “extremely good looking girls.” When Josh discussed this observation of his with a cab driver, the cabbie responded by saying, “Of course! These are the people welcoming you into the city. They have to be beautiful!” Josh then tells us that the pay for these jobs is “three or four times that of a typical retail job.” Probably better job security and benefits too.
Now at first this seems harmless, but it isn’t. Now before anyone calls me a prude or anything, trust me I am not. But I also have two daughters and I would never want them to be hired or not hired for a job based on their looks. Now I also know full well that nearly all of us have our own prejudices when it comes to looks and there is no way those can be fully excised when hiring, but blatant sexism is undoubtedly a bad thing and that is exactly what we have here. With any sexism on the plus side in hiring means there has to be a concomitant sexism on the downside. For every attractive woman hired for this job, there is one less attractive woman who missed out on it.
If I had to rate China on a sexism scale among the countries I know best, it does fairly well. It is not as good as the United States or Spain, but it is considerably better than Korea and better than Japan as well. I would say it is about the same as Russia. My sense is that pretty women in China are favored more in employment than in the United States, but that women who do their jobs well (no matter what their looks) are taken seriously. I am basing nearly all this analysis on observations in law firms and on conversations with female lawyers so it is about as far from scientific as one can get.
Would love to hear from others in other industries. What do you think?
UPDATE: China Beat, recently did a somewhat related post, From Iron Girls to Oriental Beauties, on the historical perceptions of female beauty in the PRC.