Sunday, December 8, 2013

Army's "pretty woman" scandal

A little while ago an email was leaked that contained a suggestion that the Army use average looking women in their public relations materials. This suggestion was made by a Colonel as part of a discussion about integrating women into combat roles in the military. The website Politicio made a big to-do about this. The Colonel who initially sent the email got into all sorts of trouble and some are questioning whether or not her "punishment" was justified.

I am no expert on the best way to market the idea of women in combat to the American people. But I assume that people who are, have to take a lot of things into consideration when deciding on the "look" that they want to put on promotional material. I assume that had she said that there should only be unattractive women, or only attractive women on promotional material, the same firestorm would have erupted. Every company presumably takes scores of factors into consideration when deciding on the models for their advertisements. Why is this different?

The Colonel's stated reason is certainly relevant (though only a public opinion survey could tell if it was accurate). Her reasoning was that "In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead. . . There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person). It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our [communications] strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman, wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty)." Is her stereotyping of the American people, or perhaps members of the military, the reason she got into trouble? Did she get into trouble for stating a truth that the American public doesn't want to hear? I don't know.

I suspect that advertising agencies around the world send hundreds of emails a day making the exact same point: "We need to use a person who looks like x, because others are perceived in a way not beneficial to us."

Was she wrong to write what she wrote? What do you think?

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