Friday, September 07, 2007

Policing Women's Attire in the Workplace

First, let me say this: Southwest probably has the legal right to refuse service to Kyla Ebbert. That's really not my concern. However, given the hundreds of hits on my blog this morning from people searching for Ebbert's revealing outfit (photos here and here), I think it's appropriate to say a bit more about why I find this entire issue concerning in terms of ethics, morality, and even theology.

In the past year, I've seen a number of news stories about policing (and shaming) women for wearing outfits that reveal their bodies in various ways beginning with the spectre of cleavage on Hilary Clinton. God forbid she has breasts because we know what they're used for....breastfeeding. And both Victoria's Secret and Applebee's are apparently not comfortable with the entire notion of breastfeeding, asking women to use a exterior restroom rather than a dressing room, cover up, or leave the property. And then I wrote only yesterday about a Hollister store manager who required that the young female store employees present their work outfits to him in a fashion show so he could instruct them to make their shirts lower cut and pants tighter.

Now was Kyla Ebbert's outfit too revealing? Was it lewd or offensive? Seated she looks like many other young women. Standing she looks like she shops at Abercrombie & Fitch (or Victoria's Secret), which is to say, she actually bought one of those really short skirts. She subscribes to mainstream culture. Big deal.

Honestly, it doesn't matter what I think or you think of her outfit. I'm very concerned that this culture sends a message to women that their bodies are both disgusting and offensive when they serve a biological purpose like breastfeeding and will inspire lewd behavior when they're revealed in some fashion. In all of these instances, women's outfits were policed by corporate employees and then women were publically shamed because of how they presented or used their bodies.

Do we do that to men? Do we consistently shame them in their bodies? And do we constantly present conflicting representations of how to present themselves at work with books on how to use their chests responsibly? I don't think we do.

And how many male butt cracks have I seen in my life on an airplane? Has a man ever been removed from a plane because his thin pants made it obvious he was freeballing? I think not.