If women sleep their way to the top so frequently, then one would think there’d be more women at the top.
Among women, using one’s sexuality to advance one’s career is generally frowned upon, but it’s a pretty common assumption that people make about women who succeed. Joan Rivers accused Chelsea Handler of doing it, as though Handler’s millions of fans and bestselling books were somehow summoned on the day she agreed to date a Comcast executive. Katy Tur was accused of doing it when she was hired to work for The Weather Channel back in 2009, when she was dating Keith Olbermann, as though her skills as a reporter couldn’t possibly have won her that job. Prior to #MeToo shedding light on what was really going on, mean-spirited celebrity gossip blogs accused women who appeared in Harvey Weinstein-backed movies of doing it.
All that sleeping toward the top, and yet, still so few women up there at the top. Strange. Perhaps The Top is a lot like K2; many try to summit but few survive.
As the waterfall of #MeToo stories has shown (in case there was any doubt), powerful people are still trying to use their power to obtain sex. They’re also using sex to maintain their power. Men and women do this. But recent history shows us that women who try to weaponize their sexuality are, at best, sleeping their way to being the top’s plus-one to the CAA Oscar party. The men who do it are using their sexuality to negate, erase, bully, intimidate, and ultimately chase women out of their industries.
Maybe we should stop accusing women of “sleeping their way” to the top. Maybe because men have been the ones sleeping women to the middle and bottom.
I’ve often thought about the lost potential of the women who left their respective industries after a run-in or several with a bad man—the actresses Harvey Weinstein bullied and discarded, the up-and-coming journalists or political thinkers Charlie Rose’s open bathrobe chased away. Female comics and creators who quit after their idol whipped his dick out in front of them, after their editor made them feel small, over and over. It’s impossible to quantify, but terrible to imagine.
But it’s not just about the women who were destined to be leaders. Some were just trying to make an honest living in an industry that made them happy. Most were just trying to survive.
In the myth of the woman sleeping her way to the top, the only people the woman is harming is herself. Men sleeping women to the bottom is more insidious. It blocks potential, it interrupts lives, it changes industries in unknowable ways.
Two years ago, we were talking about street harassment. A few years before that, “legitimate rape.” In the 1990s, Gloria Steinem famously defended then-President Bill Clinton’s relationship with a White House intern, essentially admitting that Clinton had earned the right to have an improper relationship with a White House intern and keep his job, because his policies were good for women. Several turns round the wheel before that, Joe Biden yelled at Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings.
We’ve already talked about this. We’ve already talked about sexual misconduct the same way we’ve talked about other cultural sicknesses. We’ve talked about it as a trending topic that we examined from every possible angle and, satisfied we’ve finally solved it, replaced on the cultural merry-go-round from whence it came. We’ve talked about it over and over again but we still don’t understand what we’re missing.
Women weren’t fucking their way up or into anything. Ultimately, we were getting fucked out.