Boston Globe tackles attractiveness discrimination

by Walter Olson on September 4, 2013

The article, by Ruth Graham in the Boston Globe “Ideas” section, takes more or less for granted that private parties’ liberties of free association and contract must be curtailed in order to right the “galloping injustice of ‘lookism'”:

Tentatively, experts are beginning to float possible solutions. Some have proposed legal remedies including designating unattractive people as a protected class, creating affirmative action programs for the homely, or compensating disfigured but otherwise healthy people in personal-injury courts. Others have suggested using technology to help fight the bias, through methods like blind interviews that take attraction out of job selection.

Well, if experts favor these measures — though there is nothing even remotely new or unusual about allowing damage recovery for disfigurement in a personal injury action — well, okay, then. I was critical of the “looksism” crusade some years back in my book on employment law, The Excuse Factory, but clearly to not enough effect, since more such laws have been passed since then:

The Constitution forbids employment discrimination on the basis of things like race, sex, and religion [no, it doesn't -- it's federal statutes that do that -- W.O.], but only a few jurisdictions have tried to add appearance to the list, starting with the parts of appearance you can measure. The state of Michigan banned height and weight discrimination in 1977, and six municipalities, including Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, have followed suit with similar statutes. These laws haven’t led to a flood of frivolous suits, as libertarians might fear — in fact, they haven’t led to many suits at all, which suggests they aren’t doing much more than tackling the most egregious cases. ([Stanford lawprof Deborah] Rhode’s book reports that in Michigan, an average of just one case a year makes it to court.)

Notice that the paucity of cases filed directly under these statutes (although one would find more if one looked at suits invoking the ADA) is somehow supposed to be a reproach to libertarians for objecting. One might equally well interpret it as an indicator that such laws are mostly a waste of time even from their proponents’ standpoint, since so few persons are willing to swear out a public document in front of the world alleging that they have lost job opportunities due to personal unattractiveness. (& welcome Instapundit readers)

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{ 20 comments }

1 Bob Lipton 09.04.13 at 4:36 am

I’m gonna sue every woman who failed to harass me sexually. But only the good-looking ones.

Bob

2 Horrified Onlooker 09.04.13 at 9:26 am

Surely this is satirical. Isn’t it?

3 wfjag 09.04.13 at 10:23 am

It’s a plot to reduce the viewership of Fox News to the level of MSNBC. Austin Cunningham’s song “The Girls on Fox News” says it all (e.g., no one stays up to watch Redeye to watch Greg and his sidekick).

4 rxc 09.04.13 at 10:41 am

I think they need to start an afirmative action remedy for this – hot movie starlets will be required to date a certain number of nerds with pocket protectors (do they still make these?) and their dates will be required to be photographed and printed in People Magazine.

5 Craig Loehle 09.04.13 at 12:32 pm

How to judge who is attractive? Some people find bald men repellent and some think it is sexy. I am mystified by why some actresses are so popular when I think they are funny looking (and actors for that matter). Gene Hackman is on some movie every time I turn on TV but he is certainly not a head-turner. More fundamentally, many people look unattractive because they don’t know how to dress or get some awful haircut. I saw a story I think in GQ years ago where they took bums off the street in NYC and cleaned them up and put a nice suit on them and they looked great. The before/after could not have been more clear.

6 Richard Nieporent 09.04.13 at 10:41 pm

Obviously there must be a shortage of “victim” groups so we need to create new ones. This essay sounds like she thinks the dystopian short story, Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr is a prescription for how to organize society. “Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General. “

7 Fubar 09.05.13 at 12:46 pm

@Richard Nieporent 09.04.13 at 10:41 pm:

You win the whole internets today for that one.

8 tim in vermont 09.06.13 at 7:35 am

Easy answer, stop being attracted to the good looking. Hah! I have a friend who is a lesbian and she claims that she is “done with society’s standards on female beauty.” Her girlfriend, however, is ridiculously hot. Good for her.

Hows about we undo millions of years of evolution? That would fix it too.

9 Lawrence Person 09.06.13 at 8:08 am

I made fun of “Lookism” in my April Fools piece on Wiscon for Locus Online, along with a few other isms (radical feminism and Islamism). Everyone had a good laugh.

And by “good laugh” I mean “they went crazy with rage”, and convinced the editor to take down the piece and ban my work from the magazine.

10 Man of No Means 09.06.13 at 8:36 am

Well, she’s only following Rush Limbaugh, who spoke up about discrimination against Uglo-Americans years ago. Of course, he was kidding, but if Ruth Graham was any more self-aware, she would realize her words were a joke, too.

11 Brian 09.06.13 at 8:46 am

@Richard

I thought of the same story when I read this article. I always thought it was ironic that I read that for the first time in grade school, since it’s so critical of that type of thinking, and school teachers are typically so left wing. In retrospect, I think the teacher just wasn’t bright enough to realize it was a critique of the direction “equality” can take us as opposed to an instruction guide.

12 Chris Walker 09.06.13 at 8:47 am

Move to Lake Wobegon, where ‘all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average’.

@Richard

I was thinking of Harrison Bergeron myself and also checked to see if the publication date might be April 1st (it isn’t).

13 Daniel 09.06.13 at 9:07 am

Hmmmm. But just as we have certain white people who claim Native-American ancestry to gain benefits, might we not have beautiful people who put on clunky glasses, ugly shirts and wear their hair in an unattractive fashion to try to gain the benefits of this protected “ugly” class?

Or they could just gain weight. Hmmmm… is this perhaps a plot by the fast-food industry to obliquely subsidize their sales?

14 Rick Caird 09.06.13 at 9:38 am

I can’t wait for the first person to sue because he/she is not “attractive” enough. Then, we will get “unattractive quotas”. How would you like to be in that group?

15 Capn Rusty 09.06.13 at 10:03 am

Harrison Bergeron.

16 bridget 09.06.13 at 10:09 am

Some research indicates that attractive women are stigmitised in their employment search, but only if they are in traditionally male-dominated fields (e.g. engineering, computer science). Attractiveness is seen as correlating with incompetence in those areas.

So, should feminists – who allegedly want to increase the percentage of women in those fields – side with Ruth Graham, knowing that only designating unattractive people as a protected class will not make it any easier for women to be programmers, statisticians, and engineers?

17 Ken in NH 09.06.13 at 12:10 pm

We already have affirmative action for ugly people, we call it politics.

18 PacRim Jim 09.06.13 at 7:23 pm

How dare nature evolve lookism?
All species, especially Homo sapiens, should mate stochastically.

19 wfjag 09.07.13 at 9:27 am

@Jim:
I think we do – the random factors include Beer
Goggles, turning off the lights and being a teenager.

20 writeby 09.07.13 at 3:04 pm

If you can get “specism” into the lexicon, ”lookism” is a slam dunk.

Previews of coming attractions:

clothism–one who discriminates on the basis of the neatness & cleanliness of the clothing worn by a job applicant
hygenism–one who discriminates on the basis of the cleanliness of the hands, face, teeth, etc., & body odor of a job applicant

Got the bit now? Okay, add these in the same vein:
health-ism, competent-ism, knowledgeable-ism and reason-ism. Might as well throw in sane-ism, too.

Egalitarianism’s absolute faith in the dogma of absolute equality will result in a society “in which the largest number of persons … most nearly resembles a single person. The first and highest form of the State … is a condition in which the private and the individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and in some way see and hear and act in common, and all men express praise and blame and feel joy and sorrow on the same occasion, and whatever laws there are unite the city to the utmost …” (Plato’s _Republic_ & _Laws_ c. 370 BCE)

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