“Gender is Performance” – Is Fashion Pioneering Equality in the Workplace?

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Over the past century, women have been actively seeking for equal opportunity as men in terms of pay and advancement in the workforce.  Although there has been gradual improvement,  the reoccurring theme is that men still hold considerable amounts of leadership positions at the top of the career ladder as well as receiving higher salaries relative to women.  However, for professional models in the fashion industry, the opposite is the case. 

I am currently a business student; however, I wish to explore careers extending beyond the realm of financial services to align with what I am interested in, but more importantly, what I am really passionate about.  With that being said, fashion is one industry that has never ceased to charm me.  Although professional modelling is not a viable career for myself or a majority of the world population, the dynamics within the industry is directly contrary to that of conventional situations and as a result, I believe it provides a unique perspective to bridging gender inequality in the common workplace.

In 2009, top female models earned almost 50 times more than top male models!  Why? The argument is simple: there are just so many more components involved in female modelling.  Former model Liza Elliott-Ramirez notes that “females .. generally have to pose more, wear more, sit in a hair and makeup chair for hours.. if you have someone who has extremely curly hair, and they want straight hair, that’s two hours.  Men are just short hair; it’s less to do. It’s less work. It’s a blessing and a curse.”  I’m sure that although more is required from female models, it would definitely be realistic for a male model to accomplish these tasks as well.  In an article by the Guardian, American philosopher Judith Butler argues that “gender is performance,” and that by observing men “drag up, in make-up and wigs, [do] we [then] understand how hard women have to work to look like women every day.”  A recent trend of androgynous models emerging in the industry, such as Ukrainian male but working (as a) female model, Stav Strashko and Casey Legler, the first woman to be signed exclusively as a male model, are two examples of those who have turned the tables on gender norms of the fashion industry.  From the POV of agents, they are basically hiring two models for the price of one! My comprehension from these occurrences is that compensation should be based on actual talent and performance of the individual. Strashko and Legler are skilled models when portraying both their own genders as well as the opposite sex, and at the end of the day, regardless of biological gender, they are stellar at the work they were hired to do and compensation is reflective of that. 

Of course, different industries operate differently, but I think this is a great model to follow suit.  If individuals are rewarded solely based on the work they are competent in, qualified and hired for, and advancement is contingent on performance, this could be one feasible option to consider to bridge the gap between men and women in the common workplace.  

Alice Liu 

University of Toronto St. George

Links to articles:

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/01/25/male-models-earn-less-than-female-models-wheres-the-outrage/
http://www.upstart.net.au/2013/05/14/morphing-genders-for-fashion/
http://www.guardian.co.uk/fashion/2013/mar/03/model-casey-legler-perfect-man

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