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Bra Straps, Yoga Pants, Business Suits: Does it really matter?

The following is a guest blog post from a woman who’s close to my heart and happens to be an extremely talented writer and feminist.  Renee graduated from George Mason University in 2011 and her experience as a professional, young woman in the work place provides her with a unique perspective. The piece highlights the covert sexism experienced daily in real life situations and questions the significance of debates surrounding new dress code rules. We can change the grade school dress code, but is that really the source of the problem?

The dress code issue has been flooding the media with stories about students protesting it, schools defending it, and PTAs polarized by it. I am all together baffled by it. As a successful woman and a feminist, my question is this:

Who the hell cares if you can’t wear yoga pants to school?

Before the verbal slayings begin, hear me out. I went to grade school for 12 long years. I worked hard and graduated Summa Cum Laude, then went off and graduated college. Guess what? I was a female the ENTIRE time, but never once had to defend what I wore to school. Not because my school was progressive or run by women, but because I followed the dress code. Never did I think that banning short shorts was somehow oppressing my femininity or sexualizing me in any way. In fact I thought, “Great, let’s see how those long-legged ditzy girls get attention now. Maybe they’ll actually have to pay attention in class.” (Which, shame on me — that is not supportive of women!)

My point is that after your schooling is done, you will have to follow a dress code. Maybe it is one that will require a suit every day. Maybe you can wear jeans, and hey, maybe you can wear yoga pants. Or short shorts! Or a bikini! No matter the code, you’ll have to follow it, and men will have a dress code as well. So just follow the rules, because in four years you’ll be out of high school and you can find a job where you can wear yoga pants all the livelong day.

Because once you’re in the real world, you’ll know what it’s really like to feel sexualized, demeaned, and belittled, and this time you can’t blame it on what you’re wearing.

It’s 2014, and look how far we’ve come as women! I can happily say that my organization has a lot of successful women behind it, and women actually outnumber men. My last job had extremely powerful women in top positions, as well.

But.

As a woman, out of college and even during college, I often find myself in certain situations merely because I have a uterus. Since I have breasts, I am perceived to be less intelligent, less capable. It’s true that women have progressed exponentially over the years in obvious ways, but what about the covert ways? Like when you go to the car dealership with your boyfriend/brother/husband/male stranger you just met, and the salesman talks to him before you, or asks him what specs he’s looking for. Or when you fix a gas fireplace and when someone asks who got it working, you’re met with the resounding, “YOU fixed it?!” Or when your male counterpart in your retail job was assumed to be your manager by a customer, even though you outranked him. Or my favorite, when your male CEO says that choosing to have a child is like choosing to cut your own arm off, so he doesn’t understand why maternity leave should be covered.

All of these situations have happened to me long after high school and even after college, and it wasn’t because my bra straps were showing. It was only because I was a woman.

Are we sexualized as women? Of course, but men get sexualized, too, so stop with that argument. We’ll always have breasts, and hetero men will always be attracted to them, the same way I’m attracted to a set of nice abs and some nice arms. I can’t change biology. What we can change — what we SHOULD change — is how we’re represented in politics, how our intelligence is perceived and treated, and how we treat each other as women. These things need to change so that we feel equal in our careers, so that our daughters know that they can become President with the same ease as their male classmates.

My own mother, whom I know as the feminist of all feminists, once told me that when she hears the male voice of her pilot on a flight, she feels safer than if it were a female voice. THAT — that covert form of sexism — is what we should be protesting.

Maybe I have completely missed the mark. Perhaps we should be allowed to wear spandex shorts to school. Go for it! But me? I’d rather see you put on a pair of slacks and be president of the debate team. Win the science fair. Publish a book. Run for President of the United States. Be active in your community. Learn as much as possible, all the time. Do these things, and change will come.

-Renee Simpson

3 Responses to “Bra Straps, Yoga Pants, Business Suits: Does it really matter?”

  1. talkinboutmygenderation

    I definitely respect your idea of refocusing the attention on promoting accomplishments rather than discussing the dress code. However, I would argue that the ban on yoga pants and other dress code limitations put on women is part of a larger issue. I understand that women AND men have a dress code when they go into the workforce. In school, however, women have a much stricter dress code that directly targets their bodies, and that’s just not the case for men. I’m a big believer in dressing professionally, and I personally never wore yoga pants in high school. But I respect others’ right to do so. if guys are allowed to wear skinny jeans, why are there rules on yoga pants?

    The dress code part of a larger misogynistic societal construct. While there are other things that absolutely sexualize and belittle women, this is a pretty big one that we’ve let infiltrate our schools. The double standard and sexualization begins early, and while it’s not as overt as the examples you mentioned, the dress code is a place where people start thinking like that.

    The “covert forms of sexism” that you cited are incredibly real, and we should be protesting them. But the dress code deserves attention as well.

    Reply
  2. ChelleBelle

    I totally agree with you in that dress codes are much more restrictive to women and showing their bodies. But I thought Renee’s perspective was interesting because I think that it adds to the conversation, I really think that these arguments should be taken together. In my opinion, restricting the dresscode is an overt form of sexism that socially conditions us to be acustomed to it. That is why covert sexism is so pervasive and sadly, for the most part, tolerated by society. Thanks for your thoughts, I never thought about the male skinny jeans!

    Reply
  3. TheRadicalRadish

    I really like the way Renee concluded this article, but I have a couple qualms with some of the arguments made. First, it’s true that in school we have to follow dress codes, and we will have to in the professional workplace as well, BUT that doesn’t mean it is okay to shame girls in school for wearing certain types of clothing. Will women be shamed for wearing certain types of clothing in the business world? I don’t think so, and if they are, then the office space is sexist.

    Renee also makes the claim that because both men and women are sexualized, we can’t make that argument, because of biology. BUT do men have to deal with the stigma of being sexualized all the time? Are men catcalled on the street as often as women are, because of sexualized bodies? Just because both sexes are sexualized does not mean either sex must deal with the societal stigma of being sexualized, which is why I strongly disagree with the argument that because of biology, we will always sexualize each others bodies.

    Reply

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