“Are you married? I ask because some men don’t want their wives to travel away from home.”
My first instinct was to be offended. I could not imagine a man being asked his marital status as some sort of barometer for professional availability; in fact, marriage in men is viewed — more often than not — as a stabilizing relationship solidly in the plus column. Adversely, for women it is often viewed with trepidation.
This incident made me evaluate other recent, professional interactions with men and a recurring theme began to emerge:
My marital status was often being counted against me — subtly of course, but it was seen as a liability.
There was the editor who loved to call me at all hours of the night to talk business, until he realized that I was married. Then, not only did the calls dwindle away, but I noticed that single women — with less discernible skill sets, but who may have been more likely to consider a proposition from a mentor/colleague – were being offered the very same opportunities that were once mine for the taking.
In the same category of sexism, I was passed over for one job in my twenties for being pregnant and in my freshman year of college because my father called the company to satisfy his need that the men in charge were on the up and up. In retrospect, they weren’t.
These incidents lead me to the obvious question:
Is the possibility of casual sex a determining factor for men when forming professional relationships with women?
My answer would be a resounding, “Yes,” but I wanted to ask some colleagues of mine to make sure I wasn’t reaching.
When asked did being single affect how she was treated by men in her line of work, a well-known publicist in the entertainment industry claims that it’s not about being single (at least not in the ways one may think), rather it’s about how much a woman brings to the table professionally:
“Regardless what some women may think, the quickest way to lose access to men, particularly in the entertainment industry is by sleeping with managers, agents and label honchos, If they only hired you to get into bed with you then as soon as that happens they will be asking for their final invoice. The smart executives know to keep women and business separate and aren’t going to hire a publicist for a valuable account because they want her for an orgasm. I can see this potentially happening with secretaries or interns who some people feel are easily replaceable but an individual who is in charge of your client’s public image in the media? No way.”
In an ironic twist, she says that she has also experienced the “romantically attached woman curse” and it cost her a lucrative contract:
“I was fired once by a client who really thought he had a shot with me. After he realized that I wouldn’t sleep with him, he had his manager fire me. He could claim it was for other reasons but he stopped responding to my interview requests for like a month after I rebuffed his advances.”
Married women tell similar stories. When asked how being married has affected her career, one news editor quickly helped me realize that my experiences were not unique:
“Men are full of shit when it comes to married women, especially with media opportunities. It’s always ‘What can you do for me?’ and if that doesn’t include dropping your panties, then they’re on to the next. I’ve had men want to take me to dinner, tell me how my face is made for television and give me some version of the line, ‘Stick with me, kid, you’re going places,’ then as soon as they realize there’s a mister in the picture, the façade drops, the interest fades and they move on to the next target. This isn’t to say that talent and hard-work can’t get you to the top. But giving men the illusion that one day they might ‘be on top’ is one way to keep your foot in a door that would otherwise be slammed shut.”
[Side note: None of my male contacts wanted to go on the record for this article.]
What became apparent to me during this impromptu survey is that relationship status can – and does – often act as a road block for women trying to get ahead professionally.
This leaves us with a pressing question:
What, if anything, can be done about it?