There is a controversy in the United Kingdom where Alexander Carter-Silk, 57, the head of Brown Rudnick’s intellectual property group in Europe, has been accused from scores of critics of being a sexist, misogynistic monster. His offense? Carter-Silk had received a LinkedIn contact for Charlotte Proudman, 27. He responded by writing that he thought her photo was “stunning.” That led Proudman, a human-rights lawyer, to denounce his “unacceptable and misogynistic behavior” for complimenting the picture.
Carer-Silk wrote: “Charlotte, delighted to connect. I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture !!! You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen. Always interested to understand people’s skills and how we might work together.”
Proudman was outraged and responded that it was indeed horrendous: “I find your message offensive. I am on LinkedIn for business purposes, not to be approached about my physical appearance or to be objectified by sexist men. The eroticization of women’s physical appearance is a way of exercising power over women. It silences women’s professional attributes as their physical appearance becomes the subject. Unacceptable and misogynistic behavior. Think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message.”
Carter-Silk said that he was actually not commenting on any sexual allure but “professional quality of the presentation on LinkedIn, which was unfortunately misinterpreted.” He explained that “Most people post pretty unprofessional pictures on LinkedIn.” From Proudman’s perspective, the reference to her appearance was both transparent and demeaning.
The controversy reflects growing conflicts over compliments in the workplace that are perceived dramatically differently. Critics raise the question of whether Carter-Silk would have commented on the appearance of a man in a similar photo. The photo after all is not particularly remarkable. Yet, Carter-Silk insists that he was only commenting on a striking image and not conveying any sexist attitude. Even if one was not inclined to accept his explanation, is complimenting a photo as “stunning” prima facie evidence of sexism?
What do you think?