How Professional Women Can Objectify Men (and Why Waitresses Don’t)

“Just as women rightly want to be valued for more than their looks, we men want to be appreciated for more than our job titles, resumes, or salaries.”

Fact: women are too often judged solely on their appearance, and treated differently based on how they measure up to men’s ideas of what they should look like. This much is obvious, and I’m sure the majority of us here applaud the women who stood up and continue to stand up to this offensive treatment that reduces women to just one aspect of who they are, while ignoring their many other strengths. But—come on, you knew there had to be a “but”—women should acknowledge that they often do the same thing to men—not based on looks as much as on our jobs, careers, and success.

Not to excuse this kind of treatment on the part of men or women, but to a certain extent it is a natural part of our evolutionary programming. Men seek out women who look well-suited to bearing and raising children, and women seek out men with wealth and power to ensure the children will prosper. Of course, we don’t think of it like this: men and women each interpret their mating preferences in terms of attractiveness. In addition, each person desires a unique combination of traits in another person, conscious preferences which may, on occasion, overwhelm our subconscious evolved desires. But those basic desires are always there and can cause problems when we think we’ve evolved socially beyond them—such as when women desire successful men even after they’ve achieved success themselves.

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Want some examples? OK, I’m “happy” to oblige—one woman I was with, very successful by any measure, actively belittled and ridiculed me through most of our relationship because I didn’t make as much money as she did. (We’ll talk of her no longer. Who? That’s right. Moving on now.) Another woman I was with, also very successful, made no secret of her admiration of my accomplishments. Naturally, this was flattering at first, especially since it came after the one with she-who-shall-not-be-discussed. She would even brag to her friends—and exes—about my success and report back to me that they “approved” of me because of it—even the exes.

However, during one of my all-too-frequent periods of doubt concerning my path in life and how my job fit into it, I asked her if her feelings would change if I decided to cut back on work, perhaps to change careers altogether. There was an uncomfortable silence, after which she said, “Let me think about it for a minute.” Nnnnnh, wrong answer, thanks for playing—but it did let me know that she placed far too much value on my career and success and not enough on the characteristics for which I wanted to be valued.

It was as if I told this woman that I wouldn’t love her if she lost her incredible beauty or her wonderful figure. Such a statement would have wrongfully reduced her to just her looks, neglecting all her other positive qualities (including her own success)—just as her statement reduced me to my job title and my publication record. In time, that relationship ended, and only much later did I realize how much pressure she had put on me regarding my job; even though, to be fair, she may have sincerely thought she was being encouraging and supportive.

I would even hazard a guess—actually, a well-considered theory, but I’m not one to brag—that this problem intensifies as a woman becomes more successful. Bear with me, please; in no way do I mean to begrudge women the success in the workplace for which they have fought so hard for decades. Most of the women with whom I have been involved have been successful, intelligent, and confident, and I was more than willing to acknowledge and celebrate this. But that never seemed enough—they also needed me to succeed as well, even to surpass their own success.

To give them the benefit of the doubt, this was likely not a conscious reaction; their unconscious evolutionary programming told them to find a more successful man even though they were successful and independent themselves. Some professional women simply don’t realize the effect this has on the men they’re with, so they don’t know to fight their evolved preference, recently made redundant by their own increasing status in the workplace.

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This may even explain another thing that I’ve heard professional women wonder about: why the men they know and work with, at similar levels of success, are very attracted to “working class women” such as waitresses and baristas. I freely admit, I’m one of them; I’ve had many crushes on women who work in restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, you name it. Many professional women I’ve known—including the ex I mention above—seem offended that the men with whom they work would be attracted to “average” women when there were many more accomplished women all around them. They seem to imply that successful women have “earned” a greater claim to men’s attentions than the less successful women have.

This may even explain another thing that I’ve heard professional women wonder about: why the men they know and work with, at similar levels of success, are very attracted to “working class women” such as waitresses and baristas.

They suspect—in some cases correctly, I’m sure—that these men are intimidated by strong women who might challenge them, or that they cling to outmoded gender roles by which they have to be the primary if not sole providers. But that misses the greater point—two of them, in fact. First, men don’t really care how successful a woman is; we’re primed to seek out physically attractive women, and although we may consciously seek out other things (such as kindness and intelligence), wealth and power are not high up on the list. So successful women don’t have any extra appeal for us—much less a greater “claim” on our attention—by virtue of their success.

Second, working class women aren’t as concerned with our success as their professional counterparts are, as long as we make decent money and can support them (and any kids that come along). And since they focus less on our careers and success, working class women can be more concerned with who we really are, which can be tremendously gratifying. They’re more interested in our character—will we treat them well, be faithful to them, and help raise their children. Successful jobs help, of course, but as long as a man does well enough, they’re satisfied, and they can turn their attention to more valuable things. And that can be a huge relief, especially to men who face enough career pressure at work, and dream of coming home to a woman who won’t add to it.

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As men, we don’t discount the appeal of professional women out of insecurity or jealousy—believe me, most of us admire women who fought tremendous odds to succeed—but because of how they often see us. Just as women rightly want to be valued for more than their looks, we men want to be appreciated for more than our job titles, resumes, or salaries—and many of us feel that working women are more likely to see us for who we are, not for what we’ve done or how much we make.

Even the most successful man wants a woman to see him as a good man first.

Photo KellyB./Flickr

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About Mark D White

Mark D. White is a professor in the Department of Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, where he teaches courses in economics, philosophy, and law. He has written and edited a number of scholarly and popular books, and blogs at Psychology Today, Economics and Ethics, and The Comics Professor.

Comments

  1. Quibilah Barnes says:

    Im glad someone spoke of the average working class woman, who does not make 6 figures. I was especially elated to hear it from a mans perspective. I am a hospitality contractor(proud of it)Im so tired of hearing about the “professional” woman and all her money and independence. (by the way that independent thing is just a song)I found that womans comment,about a professional man dating someone of a lower professional caliber being questionable to her, very offensive! A woman is a woman, no matter there educational background or financial status. At the end of the day we all want the same thing, A big strong welcome home hug from her man and a well needed foot rub. All that analyzing and judging sounds like a loud, screeching, banchee cry for help. Can you do me a favor Mr White? When you see her again, tell her to sit down, be quiet and take notes from the LOWLY waitress!

  2. Personally, I’ve never cared about a guy’s income or what his job is. If anything, the word “professional” is actually a turn-off to me. What’s a “professional?” That says nothing about the line of work you’ve pursued and is merely meant to say “It means I pull down a good salary, and we both know that’s all that matters.” Of course, to some women that’s true, but personally I find that repulsive.

    I’m an independent woman with a “professional” type job, but that’s not how I describe myself or what matters to me. I have the job so that I can pursue other interests that are more important to me but won’t put food on the table. And that’s all I care about in a man – that he is curious about the world. He has ambitions, a passion for something. It’s OK if it doesn’t pay well, or if he pursues it as a “hobby” (another word I tend to dislike). That he’s resourceful and has my back when the chips are down. That he takes care of me emotionally. I would certainly do the same for him.

    In other words I want a true life partnership, and all these gender war issues only get in the way of that. :(

  3. The Bad Man says:

    “Second, working class women aren’t as concerned with our success as their professional counterparts are, as long as we make decent money and can support them (and any kids that come along). And since they focus less on our careers and success, working class women can be more concerned with who we really are, which can be tremendously gratifying. They’re more interested in our character—will we treat them well, be faithful to them, and help raise their children. ”

    -I think that is mostly a matter of men’s perceptions about women rather than reality. Hypergamy is a very strong social construct borne from biological necessity. On a relative basis of success, working class women can be described as less demanding. However, working class women are more dependent and needy. Both continue to objectify men for success rather than “who we really are”.

    Are there any other choices?

  4. This article took away all the hopes I had in men. I always see the evolutionary factor as important (like:”poor guys, is not their fault they look for a hot girl, they came wired like that from the fabric”) but if men think that we professional women often cannot see HOW GOOD MEN YOU ARE we are in tremendous evolutionary problem, because every decade we’ll have more and more women improving their situation and getting careers to provide for their families, even if they are waitress they always look to improve (having a professional husband whom pay her career). So, as a professional woman (warm, accessible and fairly good looking) who suffers constantly being rejected by terrified guys that end up dating working class ladies, I think that is very dissapointing to read that MEN think professional women cannot see when they are a GOOD MAN beyond your wallet or your degrees. That simple conclusion makes the case that MEN really don’t get how intelligent and loving women are. News for you guys: We all can see if you are a good man or not, but we need to protect our feelings and if we are strong is because you push us to be so, many of you guys are not a GOOD MAN, you cannot deal with your feelings, when you like a girl you are confussed, sometimes not sure if you are doing right and paniquin and then blame us for it !!! we are “too difficul to handle”… why is our fault? why our selfesteem has to be punished because we are “wanderful” but not exactly “suitable for you”? You guys need to understand that many professional ladies and working class ladies have to deal with this FEAR factor men have IS NOT YOUR WALLET OR YOUR DEGREE, remember after you crash our good intentions projecting your fears and insecurities in ourselves, we need to be brave to move on with our rejection and pain meanwhile you stay there asking for a date to a less “though” lady… what an irony, unbelievable…

  5. I loved this article because it gave me some new angles to think about. I really don’t think generalizations always apply, though. Love is a big factor, and it’s not always about sizing up someone’s looks or salary.

    I met my first husband in college, and he did not know what he was going to do for a career then. He eventually became a successful lawyer, while I was a psychologist. He made a lot more than me, and we were well off. But what did that matter when he had a midlife crisis and left me and our daughter for a 23-year-old? Now, he could have done the same had he not been wealthy.

    My new husband does not make a lot of money, and it’s a big deal–for him, but not for me. God do I love that man! He’s kind, and loving, and smart, and funny, and so many things. It’s not about the money. For lots of women, it’s not about the money. I’ve had times of plenty and times of scarcity, and do not use money as any sort of measuring stick. Likewise, there are men who don’t measure all women by physical attractiveness. My new husband doesn’t, and it’s a good thing, because I’m much less attractive than him. So I think we have a lot of stereotypes, and like many stereotypes, they can come from somewhere, from some tiny grain of truth, and then get distorted and magnified.

    What I like about this article is that it challenges the assumptions about why a man might be interested in a woman with less money and professional success than him, and gives some alternative reasons to the ones we always hear about. At least in his own experience, Mark had reasons for his choices. And in this youth and beauty-obsessed culture, I am glad to know that there are men who are attracted to women who are beautiful on the inside when they are not conventionally beautiful on the outside. I don’t know how many successful women only want to date and marry laterally. That may be an oversimplification too. But to any women who feels that way, I challenge that. With my first husband I had financial riches, but with my second I have much more important riches, and wouldn’t trade for anything.

  6. Wow. First of all, I find it interesting that, while you have crushed on “working class” women you never have had an relationship with one. I have to ask, why? And where is all this knowledge about working class women’s values and character coming from, especially if you haven’t been involved with any?

    Let me tell you 2 stories. 1st…my ex-husband, an attorney, has a buddy who owns a large company. He kept going in this little coffee shop and asking out the gorgeous barista. He was 43, she was 28. She’d laugh and say he was too old for her. One day she found out how much money he had. Suddenly he wasn’t too old for her anymore. They dated, married, and had a baby. It lasted 2 or 3 years before it fell apart. Now he has custody of the kid and she got a nice severance payment. 2nd…
    my husband, while we were still married, had many working class clients flirt with him outrageously. Now, the kind thing to say is that my ex is no Brad Pitt, if you get the picture. They were interested in his status and his money. Someone to take care of them. Period. Now he has a girlfriend 16 years younger than him. She works as a bartender, when she works, which isn’t often. Do you think she loves him for his character?

    I find it insulting, naive and simplistic to make these generalizations and assumptions. I am the owner of a successful business and I have dated many nice men, from warehouse workers to a district attorney. I have never cared what they did for a living….just the caliber of man they are. The reason I divorced my husband was because of his character flaws, while many women would have stayed, because of the lifestyle he provided. I want a man I can be proud of…for who he is as a man.

  7. Transhuman says:

    When I’m asked “so, what do you do”, I answer with what is of interest to me, my life’s passions and pursuits. I deliberately do not mention my work. You can learn a lot about someone, man or woman, by how they handle the omission of employment and salary as a measure of your self.

    I am not my job.

  8. Hi Mark – I think this is a very interesting blog. I completely agree that men want to be respected for more than their salaries and titles, but your argument that non-professional women are more likely to do this than professional women is convoluted and obscured by your emotions. Besides your limited number of sour relationships with professional women and a few “women-have-told-me” stories, where is the empirical evidence that professional women are more likely to objectify men? Where is the evidence that non-professional women are less likely to objectify men? Your article is riddled with anecdotal, wishful thinking that magically bestows desirable qualities on the non-professional women, without one single, committed relationship to such a woman, let alone any data. Simultaneously, making sweeping generalizations about a large and diverse group of women – the professionals.

    Since you’ve formed your assertions solely on experiences and feelings, so shall I.

    As a medical student, I am very hesitant to tell lay women my career path when we are first getting to know each other. Most of my male classmates agree. When we do, the faces of these women light up – like they see a walking meal ticket or some knight in shining armor. Their tone and demeanor completely change and we can tell it’s all sadly a façade. When I know a woman is a professional (especially in medicine), I am always honest about my career. These women usually can take care of their own basic and materialistic needs and don’t need me. These women generally see us for ourselves, not for what we can provide them with.

    Another benefit of dating professional women is that they understand the difficulty and demand of my job. They do not get angry or accuse me of neglecting them when I have to study for my many exams, I work long hours, or I get paged randomly to the hospital. Professional women have undergone rigorous education and training and have busy work schedules, too. I can’t tell you how many of my buddies broke up with their less educated girlfriends within the first semester of medical school, because they were too demanding and whiney (medicine is stressful as it is!).

    Lastly, I value my partner for professional and personal advice and feedback. I think an important part of a relationship is the exchange of knowledge and skills. I love the encouragement and advice I get from my partner, but it means that much more to me when she actually knows what she is talking about! I can’t turn to my partner for advice on how to handle office politics or cut-throat colleagues if she is a waitress.

    Again, I am not knocking non-professional women. I am merely stating a few benefits I have enjoyed. I suspect that the relationships you’ve had with professional women were somewhat emasculating and that this is why you’ve developed such an aversion to them and a soft spot for less threatening women. They were dead wrong to treat you badly, but you were equally in the wrong to tolerate it. And if you really think a non-professional woman is going to be more understanding of your major career change than a professional woman – you are being naïve and delusional. Especially if she has become accustomed to a lifestyle your career provided her with, that she has never known before and cannot achieve herself. I have no idea how you can assert that professional women care less about personality, loyalty, or family than non-professionals – it’s just so ridiculous.

    BOTTOM LINE: Your experiences tell me more about your personal struggles with mate selection, than they do about the shortcomings of dating professional women as a whole. Please deal with your issues, heal, and move on. Best wishes.

  9. The comments on this site coming from females disgust me. They use shaming language to try and censor the author of this piece, How dare someone point out female hypergamy eh? Also the self justification shown by the woman here is laughable. Also one woman basically told him he wasn’t good looking enough to keep his relationships. If a man said such a nasty thing to a woman, there would be rightful outrage, yet due to female entitlement woman feel free to say anything they want.

    Demonizing male sexuality is an female attempt to control male sexuality, it is prudish and Victorian as well.

    This site is sexist and hostile towards men. I’ve been disappointed by a lot of the comments on here.

  10. Waitresses are PAID to be nice. Try asking one of them out after work hours & see if they say yes. I would guess that you don’t have a chance buddy.. Maybe due to the fact that you don’t make enough money. Lol.. This comes from a former sweet waitress turned business owner. Good luck geek.

  11. I would contest the degree to which we’re primed to seek out physically attractive women. I know, from personal experience, that in my senior year of high school, I had a choice between attempting to date two women- one of which was more conventionally attractive, and the other of which was more compatible to me in personality. I chose the one more compatible with me in personality. I know, also, that of the two girlfriends I’ve had (I’m a young man), I miss this one that was more compatible to me in personality, than the more conventionally attractive one I dated after her. I also know that, when I find out that an attractive woman is shallow, cruel, or politically opposed to my views, I become less attracted to her, while women who are interesting, fun, and politically congruent with my views are more attractive to me. Physical attraction is a part of the equation, but honestly, a woman whose personality I find repulsive, would not be attractive to me no matter how superb her body.

    • But you realize that all you’re doing is talking about yourself, right?

      Evolutionary psychology isn’t about you in particular, nor is it about your particular experiences. With particularity to human reproduction, evolutionary psychologists makes generalizations about our inclinations as a species- what we want and don’t in order to mate.

      Again, it’s not all about you.

  12. pressurecreatesrarefinds says:

    I have recently come out of a relationship. I’m a woman on her path to success. I haven’t reached my peak yet but I’m defo in the mix of it and making serious moves.
    All except one of my exes have NOT been “successful” men. They all pretended that they were ambitious, know where their heading type of men, but their mask fell off eventually.
    My last ex boyfriend I honestly couldn’t fault much but it was his insecurities about himself as a man, my growing success and drive that eventually made him 2nd guess himself. He for the most part had always been with women that had kids and he provided for them. This wasn’t the case with me, and I think it forced him to see what little he had done with his life so far because he had nothing to show for it, not even success at work. I think I was his wake up call. I had to leave him because he just wasn’t for me. He was loving, caring, a good guy, but he kept trying to measure himself against me and it would make him feel bad. He isn’t used to being around driven n ambitious women. There are none in his family, his exes weren’t like that, so it was hard for him. I don’t like to be the boss in a relationship, I prefer the man to be that, but in order for him to be that he has to has his life together otherwise you can’t lead me.

    My other exes were the same type, trying to make it in this world but I was ahead of them. They either tried to control me (neeeever try that with me) or behaved like my recent ex.

    I’ve decided that from now on I will only date a man on my level or above. Because even if the man has other good qualities such as caring, loving etc unless he is a real confident strong man he will begin to doubt himself about what he can bring to the plate. I’ve done it too many times to know it doesn’t work for me,

    So in some cases its not that we objectify, its because some of us know that it often doesn’t pay to be with a man who doesn’t have a certain level of success as it seems to rear its ugly head later on down the line.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s a very interesting piece and Mark’s is a welcome voice on board at GMP. Check out How Professional Women Can Objectify Men (and Why Waitresses Don’t). […]

  2. […] month, Mark D. White made some good points about how a professional woman may view, judge, and even castigate a man who does not share the […]

  3. […] month, Mark D. White made some good points about how a professional woman may view, judge, and even castigate a man who does not share the […]

  4. […] Originally Posted by MariaKintobor Women are far more likely to move up the ladder of employment faster and easier than men because everyone loves a pretty woman. It isn't fair but that is the truth. It is later in life when men generally become the better providers. True, but still, women generally marry men who make more then them, or they marry men who they think have the POTENTIAL to make more then them. For example, a female doctor is NOT going to marry a male nurse, a female professional athlete is not going to marry a bus driver, or a female CEO might not even get married at all because she claims she can't find a man who is "on her level." Women marry men who they feel are on their level, but they generally aim for much higher. How Professional Women Can Obejectify Men (and why Waitresses Don't) How Professional Women Can Objectify Men (and Why Waitresses Don […]

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