A Philosopher's Blog

Seduction and Manipulation

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on February 17, 2008

Reading through the Books section (by Jennie Yabroff) of the February 28, 2008 Newsweek (pages 58-59) I happened to note that Nina DiSesa has a new book out. This book is titled Seducing the Boys Club. In her book she argues that women should use in the workplace the same tactics they use to seduce and manipulate men in their private lives. This, she claims, is an effective means of advancing a woman’s career and achieving what she wants. She also points out the obvious-such manipulation must be done in a deceitful manner. If a man knows he is being played, he is likely to resist such attempts and will probably respond in a negative way.

While there is nothing really new in the book, it does certainly advocate an immoral practice in a very direct way.

First, relevant merit should be the basis for rewards, success and advancement. Obviously, since I’m not an idiot I know that the world rarely works this way. Much of the time people get ahead by means that are not actually merit based (family connections, for example). However, the fact that people do something often hardly makes it right (to think otherwise is to fall for the fallacy of appeal to common practice).

Second, deception is intuitively morally wrong. While there are cases in which in be justified, deceiving people is a form of lying an the default status of lying is that it is immoral. Naturally, a person could justify it if they regarded “profit as the measure of right ” (Hobbes in the Leviathan). That is, if the person is an ethical egoist.

Third, this strategy seems morally similar to some types of sexual harassment-only in a mirror image way. Professional ethics and American law are quite clear about the moral and legal status of using one’s professional power to pressure someone into sexual activities-it is immoral and illegal. If using power to gain sex is wrong, then one might reason that it seems wrong to use sex to gain power in a professional setting. After all, exploiting weakness to gain what one wants seems unethical in such contexts. In the case of using power to get sex, the person is exploiting the relative weakness to get what s/he wants. In the case of using seduction to gain power, the person is exploiting the sexual weakness of another to get what she wants. If the two are relevantly similar, the they would have the same moral status.

It might be argued that the two strategies are different. A person who uses his/her power to get sex is effectively bullying another person into acting against his/her will. In the case of using sexuality to gain power, the woman is merely persuading the men to grant her favors. In effect, she is using a strategy that will generally include the sort of behavior that says she will have sex with a man, while presumably not actually doing so (of course, sleeping one’s way to the top has often proven effective). It is not unreasonable to see this as a relevant difference-it could be seen as the difference between stealing someone’s lunch money and tricking someone into handing it over willingly.

In reply, manipulating people to get what you do not deserve, be it by force or by seduction is still manipulation. One is admittedly more pleasant than the other, but that is not the relevant factor. The relevant factor is the manipulation.

As a final point, women considering this strategy should think about what they are inviting. The professional and legal rules governing sexual behavior in the workplace are generally there for good reasons-to maintain a professional environment as free from manipulation and abuse as possible. If women decide that using seduction is an effective tool, then consistency requires that they also be prepared to have men respond to that sort of behavior and not always in ways that they prefer. Yes, men should behave professionally even in such situations. But, the same standard must be applied to women. If sexuality has no real place in the professional workplace, then that must apply to both men and women. If women elect to bring it into the workplace, then they must be willing to accept that men can also do so-otherwise they are violating the principle of consistency. Of course, an opportunist feminist, ethical egoist or a simply immoral person would probably have no problem with using her sexuality when it suits her while holding others to different standards. After all, such a person will simply do what she thinks is best for her and won’t consider such matters as consistency or ethics.

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11 Responses

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  1. A realist said, on February 18, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Three points —

    I read the book and nowhere does Nina DiSesa say manipulation should take the place of hard work or merit.

    Second, seduction and manipulation the way she talks about is not morally wrong or unjustified. She is talking about benevolent manipulation — a form that benefits everyone

    Third, nowhere does she talk about sex. In fact she emphatically cautions us against it.

    Did you read the book? and if you did do you have a sense of humor? And have you worked in a boys club?

    I’m a strong, independent and successful woman making my way in a bpys club and LOVED DiSesa’s book. I urge every woman to read it. And please, lets not forget our sense of humor.

  2. mlabossi said, on February 18, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    In reply-

    First, why write a book about manipulation and seduction if hard work and merit are what should be done? Of course, it could be argued that one needs those as adjuncts to actual merit. But, it is still seduction and manipulation.

    Benevolent manipulation seems to be something of a contradiction. Seduction of any kind seems improper for the workplace.

    Have you read Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing? She argues against women using such sinister tricks and encourage women to exercise true virtues.

    I have no objection to people being pleasant and exercising the social graces. But I am opposed to manipulation.

    Yes, using actual sex would be unwise. But seduction of this sort seems to entail a sexual element. If not, how would it actually be seduction? Perhaps the seduction she is talking about is completely devoid of any sexual aspect. If so, how does that work? Yes, I know there are other types of seduction-a person could be seduced by power, for example. But, the notion of women using seduction against men seems to entail a sexual element.

    How does she talk about sex nowhere, yet caution against it? If she cautions against it, she is talking about it. yes, I’m being needlessly picky here.

    I do have a sense of humor. It is an odd one, I admit. I have a few attempts at humor in my various blogs. Not to worry-I have no plans of quitting my day job. But, I don’t see the advocation of seduction and manipulation as something particularly funny.

    I do admit that it is clever of her to write a book to cash in on the tactics women have been using since…well, there have been women. But I think the book does some harm to women in terms of what it advocates.

    I’m glad that you are strong, independent and successful. Weakness is not a virtue.

  3. Nina DiSesa said, on February 19, 2008 at 12:13 am

    Oh, dear, has anyone read this book? It was not meant to torture women, but to help them get ahead in a male-dominated culture using some of the tactics that worked for me. If the tactics I used are so odious then don’t do them, but think of some that will work for you. We have been playing by the rules forEVER and to no avail. We are still held down in mid-management and there are only 25 female CEO’s in the Fortune 1,000. All I am trying to do is help women get the support from the men they work with and work for. If a little seduction without sex and manipulation without malice works, why not try it? And if it’s done in a way where everyone wins, what is so wrong about that? The men I “seduced and manipulated” do not resent me for my tactics. In fact, they walk through walls for me. Probably because they know that I will walk through walls for them. And lighten up. One of the reasons we can’t get into the boys clubs is because we are such prudes the men don’t want to have us around.

  4. mlabossi said, on February 19, 2008 at 12:47 am

    In reply, the tactics you advocate seem to be the old rules. Using manipulation and seduction are ancient tactics. Interestingly, these are the tactics that many of the classic feminists argued against using because of the moral problems with them. As Wollstonecraft eloquently argued in her Vindication of the Rights of Women, women should set aside such tricks and instead act in a virtuous manner. Yes, this is an ideal. But ethics is about the ideal.

    If all you advocate is persuasive skills, then you are offering nothing new. If you are serious about seduction and manipulation and are not just playing with words, then you are advocating what is reprehensible for the reasons argued above.

    Perhaps the men do not resent being manipulated. I would-but then I prefer people to be honest in their dealings with me. Of course, whether they resent it or not does not make the tactics any less reprehensible.

    Now, if what you are advocating is just being friendly with people, then that is just fine. But that has no real shock value and would probably not sell books very well.

    I suppose one of the main problems I have is that on one hand you use the terms “manipulation” and “seduction” but then what you claim to mean by them is something innocuous. This reminds me a bit of what Ayn Rand would do with terms like “selfishness” and “altruism.” I do understand the value of using such “shocking” terms while being able to slide back to something nice when pressed on them.

  5. Nina DiSesa said, on February 19, 2008 at 9:30 am

    First of all, Mary Wollstonecraft’s groundbreaking treatise (“A Vindication of the Rights of Women”) was published in 1792. We have come a long way in the past 216 years in some areas, but not far enough since we are still complaining about gender inequality in the workplace. Women still get paid less than their male counterparts and we are still passed over for promotions because our employers worry about whether we will have children and be distracted from the job. Honestly, you KNOW this is true. We have data to support the salary discrepancies from the U.S. Census Bureau.

    It’s interesting that there aren’t many women who are objecting to the tactics I used in my own career, most of the criticism is coming from men. I didn’t write the book for men. Women, I think, are accepting this book in the spirit with which it was written – a gentle nudge in the direction of taking matters into our own hands. And I use humor because, as an advertising person, I know that if I want someone to listen to what I am saying and perhaps takeaway anything of merit, I can’t bore them to death in the process. What’s wrong with that? Why would I write a humorless, boring treatise about something women have been hearing forever? I’m not telling them anything spanking new, I’m just giving them ways to accomplish some of the tactics that men use so effectively.

    Did you read the book? Or just skim around looking for things to criticize? Just like a man.

    We’ve had an eternity of playing by the rules that men have fashioned for us and where are we? Unhappy, unfulfilled and frustrated at being passed over.

    I used the term “manipulation” even though I knew it was going to cause agita with some people, but I wanted a term of strength and power. I didn’t want to tell women to cajole and flutter their eyelashes to get ahead, I wanted them to be strong and in control.

    And lastly, I am talking about managing men in a BOYS CLUB. Not every business is male-dominated. If women don’t want to find a way to win in these clubs they can work in places where men and women are philosophically equal. I always had more fun working in the boys clubs. But that’s just me.

  6. Realist said, on February 19, 2008 at 10:26 am

    THANK YOU NINA DISESA!!! What a pleasure to read your POV.

    I guess I am a realist that likes a modern POV as opposed to something from 1792 or frankly from a MAN

  7. mlabossi said, on February 19, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    First, thank you for your critical and reasoned reply. I appreciate it when people call me on my arguments and expect me to defend what I claim. You are definitely

    I agree with you in regards to Wollstonecraft’s views. When I use that article in my ethics class, we discuss what has changed and what has not. Inequality has been reduced in many ways; but it many ways it still remains. While unequal treatment is generally illegal, there are (as you know better than I) so many ways to bring about inequality in ways that fit safely within the bounds of the law. In some ways, this makes inequality more pernicious since it hides under the mask of equality.

    Based on my ethical principles (such as relevant difference, fairness, and impartiality), I believe that gender should not be a factor in regards to success. People should succeed in accord with their abilities and effort. That is why I love track and road races-you win or lose based on what you bring to the starting line.

    Humor is very useful. As a professor, I know the horror of the dead room-students with their eyes glazed over like zombies, others hoping that their mobile phones will save them from such a horrid fate, and others who yield and just fall face down on the desk like vanquished boxes who have taken one too many to the face. A clever joke or a witty remark can awaken people long enough to learn something. Or so I tell myself in those bad (but ever so rare) moments.

    Of course, the question still remains whether such tactics (used by men or women) are tactics that people should be using. I do get the idea of workplace competition and that when you are in the arena (so to speak) you need to use the tactics that can help you win. But, there is still that concern about whether that is how things should be done. Of course, I’ve got the luxury of seeing things from academics-a nice, safer perch from which to look at the “real” world and issue pompous declarations like some sort of puffed up raven (“nevermore”).

    I think Wollstonecraft would agree with you-the world that is serves to make women miserable…and men as well. I’m not sure if your tactics will help with the underlying problems that cause such discontent. And, of course, I am still opposed to manipulation and deception on moral grounds.

    I’ll have to agree that “manipulate” does sound tougher than “flutter those eyelashes, ladies!” But, the word certainly does have many negative implications. Your previous reply did certainly get me thinking about whether benevolent manipulation is possible. As it so often does, it would seem to come down to what exactly one means by “manipulation.” I think much hinges on intentions. To use an analogy, one could compare it to lying. Lying is generally wrong, but can be acceptable based on the intent and consequences (lying to protect someone from being murdered as opposed to lying to steal someone’s social security number, for example). So, if you were manipulating someone to achieve a good end, it could be justified.

    Men do tend to dominate in many fields. Interestingly enough, however, women are starting to outnumber men in college. It will be interesting to see what effect this will have on the shape of the world. It might be the case that this will help balance things out a bit.

  8. mlabossi said, on February 20, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    In reply to Realist’s remarks:

    “I guess I am a realist that likes a modern POV as opposed to something from 1792″

    You seem to be implying that a view from the past must be flawed because it is not modern. This is fallacious reasoning. In general, the time period in which a claim is made entails nothing about its correctness. For example, suppose someone said “Well, Euclid said that triangles have three sides, but he was around centuries ago. So he must be wrong.” Clearly that would not be good reasoning.

    In the case of Wollstonecraft, she argued that women should have representation in government, that women should have professional careers (such as being doctors), that women should seek financial independence, and that women should not denied education. True, these views are old. But are they thus mistaken?

    ” or frankly from a MAN”

    Now that is a nice ad homimem. To infer that a claim or argument is mistaken because of who makes the claim is also a fallacy. Also, you seem to presenting a sexist stereotype. I’m sure you would not be happy to have someone say something like this: “She used fallacies in place of logic. That is to be expected. She is, after all, a WOMAN.” Obviously that would be rather hateful and uncalled for.

  9. magus71 said, on February 20, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    First of all–I have not read the book, nor do I plan to. I’m merely responding to the comments posted by the book’s author. She states that woman have moved along way during the last 216 years, but complains that in some areas, they have not moved far enough. The thesis of her book, shows in fact, that woman have not moved very far at all, and that most of the movement was as a result of stupid white men abdicating their power. Woman really didn’t change. Women have always used these tactics, without reading any book on the subject, because all living creatures attempt to use both overt and subtle influences to get what they want–and I doubt that will ever change.

    Hobbes stated that in essence, human politics works just like geometric objects in space; the objects are constantly bumping into each other, fighting for the right to exist. In the workplace, it is no different. Some learn that by being nice to others, they can gain what they want. Most of these people don’t snicker to themselves because they believe they’ve successfully suckered a co-worker with a fake smile. They really want to treat people well for that sake alone, and find it a bonus that in doing so, they gain favor. Other people try to throw their weight around. Most of these people fail to get the results they want, as love goes a lot further than fear when it comes to getting people to do your bidding. And that’s the major problem I have with what I think are the contents of this book. Anyone who consciously practices these things for long, may well find they’re whole ethos following suit. I think that ethos will eventually lead them to some very bad places.

    So, let me rename the book. It’s not Machiavelli’s–The Prince–it’s DiSesa’s–The Princess…

  10. magus71 said, on February 21, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Feminism was created to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream…How’s that for realism, Realist?

  11. Feanathiel said, on September 25, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    I think it’s strange how you’re all woman arguing about it… I guess even woman aren’t equal between each other anymore…Aren’t we supposed to be the superior race… rather then then men taking control we faught and gained it back. Now i fear, we have almost as such handed it to them on a gold platter. We’re no where near as strong minded as our past ancestors where…

    Though considering i’ve not read the book i’ve seen both sides of the arguement and now i’m going to read it.

    The ability to look at things from both angles, we are after all. Women.


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