Seduction and Manipulation
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.