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August 29, 2011
Should 'The Ugly' Be A Protected Class?
It's not often I read an op-ed in the New York Times and confuse it with an article from The Onion. But, I did just that Sunday with Daniel Hamermesh's piece calling for government protections for "The Ugly."
At first, I thought it was written tongue-in-cheek, but, no, the University of Texas economics professor is completely serious. He says ugly people earn between 10 and 15 percent less a year than their attractive counterparts, and thus, deserve protection.
If that's the case, should film companies have to pay out money to ugly actresses who didn't get the part? Should the government subsidize studios who lose money because -- fearing legal action -- they hired an ugly actor and actress and didn't make as much money on the film? What about ugly strippers? Should they be given a subsidy because they're not as successful as attractive strippers?
If so, being ugly could prove a boon for the less fortunate looking. One could just apply for stripper jobs or movie roles calling for beautiful leading ladies and men, and when they don't make as much money or get hired, they can claim discrimination and reap the benefits.
Where does it end? What sort of personal differences justify government intervention?
Studies have shown tall people make more money than short people. Should short people be a protected class? What about those who aren't as well spoken as their peers? Who lack creativy? Athletic ability? Intellectual prowess?
Ultimately, what Hamermesh is calling for is equality not just of opportunity, but of outcome. We should all be treated equally under the law, sure, but guess what? We're not all created equal. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and we can't have people suing because they're not as smart, skilled, or attractive as someone else.
After all, what makes someone ugly? Much of what makes someone attractive or unattractive is within the control of the individual. Take a look at the show "What Not to Wear." They often take people who appear to be woefully unattractive, give them new clothing and makeup and, voila, they look fantastic.
Should we be giving makeup and clothing subsidies to ugly people? Give them money for professional makeovers, so that there's no discrepancy in pay in the workplace?
By Hamermesh's reasoning, perhaps we should.
His argument, while interesting to consider, is fraught with complications -- at every level.
Protected classes were meant for characteristics over which we have no control -- our race, color, sex, and the like We can, to a large degree, control our attractiveness. And it is, despite what he says, largely in the eyes of the beholder. Some people find Sarah Jessica Parker, Lyle Lovett and Oprah Winfrey ugly. Some people find them incredibly attractive. Yet, if they were relative unknowns, what would a jury say?
And do we really want our already overcrowded court system burdened with people deciding who's ugly and who's not?
It's disturbing to me that this is the line of thinking of a man with a Ph.D. in economics from Yale -- a man influencing young minds at one of this country's most respected institutions.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's just liberalism run amok at another university. Why not create another class of victims and grow the liberals' power base?
Ellen Meade is a freelance writer of average attractiveness in Atlanta
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