The quickest way to discredit the hard work of any successful woman, is to insinuate that she must have slept her way to the top. This insult delivers the twin blows of discrediting the actual hours of blood, sweat and tears put in by women, while also sexualizing her in the process. Men with gigantic egos love the idea that a woman’s success was earnt through any means other than pure commitment and dedication, because it makes them feel less threatened and insecure.
The idea of a woman ‘sleeping’ her way to the top isn’t just observed in a literal sense, just strictly dealing with professional success. Perhaps this skewed notion stems from the annoyance many men in our society seem to have with the invisible ‘woman card’. This fictitious card that apparently all women wield is thought to be the source of many ‘benefits’ women get. Men believe that the woman card lets women cut lines, evade traffic challans and get promotions they don’t deserve.
In the minds of men, it doesn’t even have to be outright sex that the women are supposedly offering in exchange for these ‘perks’. It could be a simple smile, or some flattery, or even just the fact they are women.It’s not always even about sex, really. Sometimes, the disbelief around a woman’s ability to, God forbid, be talented and intelligent and hardworking, is so ridiculous that it becomes part of the national discourse, as in the case of Malala, who is still believed by many in Pakistan to have ‘faked’ her own attack by the Taliban just so she could escape to England.
Any of these explanations are acceptable to men. The idea that women could be earning whatever it is they are earning through sheer merit is almost ludicrous to the men in our society.
Interestingly, by peddling this horribly sexist accusation, men are tacitly admitting one of two things:
- It is tantamount to them admitting that they see women as capable of having no other claim to their name than their bodies, and that they view them as mere sexual objects, and
- It is also indirect acknowledgement of the fact that the current patriarchal set up in most industries and careers offers puts women at a disproportionate disadvantage and offers little to no avenues and opportunities so that the only option left available is to curry favor with the men who call the shots
In either of those two scenarios, the fact that society absolves men of their role in this discourse and instead chooses to admonish women for being in a situation where they are at a huge disadvantage is preposterous.
Historically, in olden times, women had even more limited agency and had no other way of securing their chance at a stable life other than to quite literally sleep their way to the topic. Before ‘Ertugrul’ had gripped the nation, there was another Turkish show about the Ottoman Empire, called ‘Mera Sultan‘ in Urdu. The show depicted the politics and intrigues that went on in the court of Ottoman Emperor Sultan Suleiman.
Particularly interesting was the rise of one of the main characters on the show, Suleiman’s wife Hurrem Sultan. Hurrem started out as a captured slave who was added to the Sultan’s Harem, and eventually she rose through the ranks, became his favorite consort, to the point where he broke tradition by legally marrying her and awarding her the security and status that came with being the Emperor’s wife. We see this also with Anne Boleyn, who was a mistress of King Henry VIII, and eventually ended up being his wife and the Queen of England.
History is full of many instances of women, who lacked political, social, and economic agency, using whatever limited avenues they had to climb through the ranks. But today, when we have more avenues than before, to accuse a woman of sleeping her way to the top, knowing full well the social, economic and historical limitations that hold her in place, is a new low. As Gloria Steinem said, if women were really sleeping their way to the top, there would be more women at the top.