Cleavage and the Job Market

In today’s New York Times, there’s an article telling us about how one Ms. Tiffany Block, age 28, landed a $13-an-hour job as an administrative assistant at a truck-driving school in Indiana, beating out almost 500 other applicants. With so many applicants possessing good qualifications, all of them hungry for employment, the company had a difficult task sorting through all the applicants and settling on the precious few whom they would interview. In the end, they selected eight for an interview. Each of the finalists was then subjected to an hour-long, one-on-one interview, consisting of 100 questions.

How did Ms. Block win this job? What led to her success? The article suggests the usual reasons—such as how luck played its part, and how those who were doing the hiring wanted someone with experience, but not too much experience. Chris Kelsey, the school’s director, said they “like to get someone with fair and middling talent that will work for the wages and groom them from within.”

The article reports that Mr. Kelsey was “immediately impressed” when Ms. Block came in on the second day of interviews. “Dressed in a conservative business suit, Ms. Block patiently answered all of the 100-plus questions,” we learn. Mr. Kelsey “liked that she remained consistent in her answers and showed independence.”

Uh, anybody ever heard about how a picture tells a thousand words? Forget reading the article. Instead, click “Enlarge” on the Times’ photograph of Ms. Block — who is facing us — sitting across from Mr. Kelsey, whom we see only from the back.

Does anyone need to have me point out the obvious? That’s a spicy bit of cleavage peaking up above what looks like a nice tight black Lycra top—the kind that clings to the chest the way Cling Wrap hugs a cheese ball. Note the body language (being female, I hereby assert my expertise in interpreting females). Ms. Block is leaning ever so slightly forward toward Mr. Kelsey, smiling a big, feisty, all-American smile. And why not? She got the job. Not for Mr. Kelsey any of those lumpy-looking men in the other picture (to see what I mean by this, click on “Enlarge” for the second Times picture accompanying the article).

Who am I to say Ms. Block wasn’t the “most qualified” for this particular position? I, for one, am the first to admit I wouldn’t know how to begin to sort through 500 applicants in any way that constitutes fairness.

But one can’t help but suspect. Landing a job is a triumph that requires all the skills and strategies an applicant can muster. And with women — ever since Eve first worked her ways on Adam — women have relentlessly played the powerful hand Nature dealt them — their looks and their charm — to get what they need and want from men. In today’s ferociously competitive economic climate, this means wearing sexed-up clothes, showing cleavage, going for that $300 haircut and color job, tending to the lipstick and makeup, and flashing a lovely, usually expensively maintained smile. These constitute the contemporary woman’s arsenal. When going for an interview, a woman would be a fool not to haul out all the weaponry that seems appropriate for the assault.

Really, when all is said and done, would Mr. Kelsey prefer to work with a guy looking like one of the lumpy-looking males shown in the second picture in the Times article or with Ms. Block? How about Mr. Kelsey and some middle-aged woman wearing a blouse with a neckline as tall as the Sears Tower, or a young man struggling with a bit of acne, or a stutter? How about a black guy, who seems a bit shy? Or an older man — you know, a guy in his thirties — who never took care of that crooked, slightly brown tooth?

Today, of course, the fashion for young women is to display lots of cleavage, in all sorts of places where it seems — at least to women like me — that the display of cleavage doesn’t belong. Cleavage shows up at the bank, or the doctor’s office. It’s all over college and university campuses — especially come springtime. One should never get one’s knickers in a bundle. Breasts are breasts, after all, and half the species possess them. Besides, it’s no more than a matter of fashion (in Jane Austen’s day, women practically presented their breasts on platters).

One could readily dismiss everything I’m saying as the rantings of a modern prude (which I happily admit I am). But heck, who better than a prude like me to remind other prudes that they’d do well to lower their necklines if they really want employment.

Congratulations to Ms. Block on her new job.

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