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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Sex, Power and Conscious Capitalism

- Robing Thicke's Blurred Lines
Thanks to #ghomeshi, we're having (or hopefully on the cusp of having) a meaningful conversation about male/female relationships - what's acceptable social conduct and what crosses those so-called "blurred lines."
I was thinking about this while attending Why Should I Care? last night at St. Louis' in Willowdale.  St. Louis' is a bar and grill, a place where alcohol is served.  The servers who were on duty last night were women.  Both were wearing somewhat-revealing clothing; tight, low collars, short skirts.
As I noticed this, I began to think of words of wisdom I've heard countless times from women in the service industry; it sucks to be stared at, to have men undressing you with their eyes, but showing a little skin is the best way to get tips.  It's a trade-off; being uncomfortable is the way to make money.
This got me thinking about the truism "sex sells."  Sex does sell - we see hyper-sexualized models in ads for everything from cosmetics to tourist ads to clothing, and beyond.  Troublingly, there's even an element of sexuality in the toy industry.
Why do men tip pretty girls with revealing clothing more than, say, an older man in a tight collar?  Why are we more likely to buy or pay attention to something that suggests an element of sexual empowerment over something more staid?
It comes down to genetics.  To our genes, the human body is just a vessel and a conduit; we exist so that our genes may reproduce.  As such, a great part of our genetic hard-wiring is geared towards reproduction.
In every species where sexual reproduction is present, there is sexual marketing; males with lush manes, extravagant plumage, complex dances or carefully-constructed nests.  In most mammalian species, males are the sexual aggressors; they seek out the mates and try to woo them.  Accepting females won't pursue so much as submit.
This isn't the entirety of the story, of course - there are plenty of examples of homosexuality, where no reproduction can occur, sex and sex acts as intimidation, but also couples that stay monogamously attached for life - a practice that limits one's ability to spread one's genes.
In our species, there are different degrees of predilections; just as some people are taller, or fairer skinned, or have quicker metabolisms than others, there are people who are more promiscuous or asexual than others.  Nurturing influences have something to do with this as well.
Working on the theory of evolution, in any given context those best adapted to the environment will thrive, while those less so will not.  This means traits (both masculine and feminine) seen as beneficial in a certain context will be more desirable than others.
Which brings me back to the notion of sex sells and, as a result, free market capitalism.
We like to think we're rational actors, and that the choices we make are practical; it's patently false, a convenient delusion we like to sell ourselves.  Our choices are largely made before thought enters the picture; if anything, conscious thought becomes a tool to rationalize our instinctive choices.
Back to the male tippers. 
Capitalism is a system of exchange with money being a conduit for transactions.  We pay what we perceive as the value of the thing we want; we get what we pay for.  Right?
So, is a man giving a big tip to a pretty girl showing a bit of cleavage rewarding her for the view?  Or is something else going on here?
The song blurred lines is all about pretty women wanting to be sexually taken by men, because they're animals; they're giving the signals that they want to be taken by how they present themselves. 
Female servers may show a bit of skin not because they have any sexual interest in customers whatsoever, but because they know it's what they have to do to get tips.  From the other side of the equation, what if it's the big-tipping men who are acting in a more animalistic manner - the bigger tip being a cultural equivalent to the nest, mane or lekking dance?
We end up with a problematic scenario:
Woman: sex sells, I need money to live, I would rather not be ogled but I know this is how the game is played.
Man: Hey, she's showing some skin, she's smiling at me, that's an invitation.  If I tip big, she'll know I'm a sugar daddy and maybe I'm in.
Not that these would be conscious thoughts, particularly where the male is concerned - all this happens at the emotional, instinctive, limbic level, where most decisions are made.
Sex sells.  It sells because it appeals to our basest instincts.
In capitalism, selling is everything - and marketing is core to selling any product or service.
Ours remains a male-dominated society where competitive fields like politics, big business and media are dominated by alpha males who, periodically, get caught abusing power for sexual gains.  This behaviour is overlooked when it can be, because it's guys like that who make the big bucks.
Jian Ghomeshi was a brand-builder and money-maker for the CBC.  There are countless stories of successful fundraisers or deal-closers who are overtly or passively sexist. 
Is there a tacit acceptance of power buys you sex as a counterpoint to sex sells in our society?
That may be the case where society isn't an issue, where transactions are the focus and societal niceties can be ignored.  Capitalism, remember, doesn't care about pro-social behaviour; it's all about financial self-interest.
What we're seeing with #ghomeshi and it's fallout, however, is that there is a lot more to society than financial transactions; if anything, we are tired of money dominating and the abuses of power that go with it.  This either coincides with or is a result of the rise of social media, co-working, crowdfunding and other tools of social agency.
It's no surprise that smart businesses are adapting to this trend and the evolved sensibilities of millennial by adapting their work process, focusing on pro-social leadership and putting some clear frameworks around those blurred lines.
Nobody puts baby in a corner, after all - or a binder.  Perhaps this is all indicative of our society maturing and learning to control our nature.
This is how conscious capitalism develops.  It's through consciousness, after all, that we all become truly free.

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