Thursday, 17 January 2013


*WARNING: long*

So you know when you wake up in the morning (feeling like P-Diddy) and have a swatch through the news on Twitter and read something that seriously bums you out? Well... that. Except this didn't just bum me out you guys, it ENRAGED me too. So much so that I couldn't stop thinking about it and I literally HAD to write this huge long rant about it. Sorry in advance.

The thing I'm talking about is an article on The Herald website - a newspaper I read, respect and have even worked for - called Men Think Women Should Cover Up at Work And I Agree, by Susan Swarbrick, a journalist I respect for being high up in her field, and in a position of relative power and influence. Which makes it all the worse, really. In case you haven't read the article (and you should, because this will make way more sense) I've picked out just some of the many parts that RILED ME UP no end.

Firstly though, a disclaimer. Why do I feel like I have the right to respond to this article in this sort of way? Apart from the overriding fact I am a person with a brain and opinion and an outlet, I’m precisely the target audience. In it, Susan Swarbrick is talking about women like me. Or, in any case, TO me. Or at the VERY LEAST she’s talking at me. And I don't like what's being said.

Recently I’ve noticed a worrying trend of women slagging off other women in the media - of women more than willing to align themselves with backward, out-of-date sexist views because these days feminism and gender equality is TOTALLY UNCOOL, MAN. Well I’m not buying it. Remember the glory days of 2010? Let’s get back there folks. We can’t be complacent about this stuff…

So, yeah, here I go picking out the bits that I can't deal with. Be warned, it's pretty much the whole thing. Point number one:
“According to a recent survey, nearly a third of males don't like seeing their female colleagues in skimpy outfits, with mini skirts, revealing tops and hot-pants topping the veto list”

UM, I'm sorry, but where the hell do YOU work? If this is a third of ALL men then this kind of mental workwear must be RIFE, right? Except, let me tell you, I’ve been in The Herald offices, and not ONCE have I seen anyone cutting about in “revealing tops and mini skirts.” It’s the same as saying men don’t want women to wear bikinis to work – a moot point because, hello, THEY DON’T? Unless they’re a lifeguard or something. I’ve worked in several offices, big and small, from fairly smart to super casual and never have I seen any female rock a pair of hotpants to the Monday morning meeting. Not once. And frankly, if I ever did, I’d be questioning the company, not the chick rocking out with her ass hanging out. I mean, if you (most likely a man, let’s face it) are in a position to be hiring and firing, and you choose to employ someone LIKELY to get her chebs and ass out around the office (by that I mean for a job where hotpants and bra-tops are inappropriate, for which the office IS one, don't get it twisted), then maybe you don’t know what you’re doing and I don’t want to work for you.

Point two:
Spout off all you like about a woman's right to choose, express individuality or whatever other feminist badge of honour you wish to brandish, but – like it or not – we are all judged on what we wear.

"In a perfect world, whether you wore stilettos or wellies to the office would matter not a jot, but here's the clincher: it does. “

Look, I think we all know we're are judged on appearances. Such an important point, you need to make it twice, huh? OK, I’ve got it. People (men, and you, obviously) will judge me on what I wear to work. And instead of suggesting that’s maybe not such a great thing, you’re instead suggesting I stop trying to fight these kinds of attitudes, SUCK IT UP and just get on with accepting it. Also, I’m SO uncomfortable with the wording and tone of this part, it makes me physically cringe. The sneering way “feminist” is presented turns it into a dirty word – how DARE I not want to accept that if I wear a sleeveless blouse or a skirt that exposes my knees a male colleague will assume I’m crap at my job. Sorry, let me take off my UNCOOL feminist badge and just sit down to it, shall I? The tone is all wrong.

How disappointing. This the perfect point to talk about the nuances of being judged on looks in the workplace, on the many subtleties surrounding image and gender stereotyping  - about WHY it happens, and WHY it’s not cool.  As it stands, it’s pointless. Except to beat me around the face with things I already know to be true, with a stick made out of derision and misogyny. Frankly, it smacks of laziness. It's always easier to agree and re-present unfortunate facts in a sarky way than to challenge them, isn't it?

Point three:
“Sexist? Maybe. But if a man turned up at work with a shirt slashed to the waist and bottom-hugging hot pants, he would probably find himself categorised as odd or creepy, labels arguably no less demeaning.” 

Again, MOOT. We're back to the rubbish reasoning of point one. This never happens. Have YOU ever seen a man "with a shirt slashed to the waist and bottom-hugging hot pants" in YOUR work? In philosophy we studied bad logic like this, I think it’s called the Exaggeration Faulty Causation Fallacy (it’s got a fancy Latin name as well but I can’t remember)... WHEN HAS THIS SERIOUSLY EVER HAPPENED? And likewise the other way round... As I said before, I’ve never seen a woman in any office I’ve ever worked in wearing hot pants or a cropped top. For real. Come on, Susan, you KNOW this issue is a thousand times more complicated than you’re making it here. Plain BAD reasoning.

Have I seen women wearing jumpers or skirts that are a bit too tight to work? Yes. Have I seen them wear massive platforms which totally don’t go with their outfit? Yes. Have I seen cleavage in the workplace? You bet. Have I judged these women? Yes. Until I’ve realised that they’re getting a bonus that month and I’m not… for doing WELL in their job. Or until I’ve realised the one with the boob job is actually the manager (true story) and really I should be giving her props because she’s worked there for longer than me, climbed the ladder and is in a position to fire my ass any minute. Because, mostly, the women who have the confidence to dress ATTRACTIVELY or STYLISHLY or FEMININELY to work (and really, this is what it’s about, isn’t it?) often have the confidence to do well and compete at the same level as their male colleagues who don't have to worry about sh*t like this. To go for promotions, to bust balls. And a ball-busting woman in the workplace a thing to admire. Right? And even if Julie from accounts likes to flash a bit of thigh now and then, as long as the bloody accounts are done well and on time, why are we all slagging her off? If she came in in leather chaps and nipple tassells, that'd be different. BUT SHE WOULDN'T, because that doesn't happen! Gahh!

Anyway, honestly, it gets worse. Point four:
“I have a friend who is a personal fitness trainer and she wouldn't spend her working day in a dress and kitten heels any more than I would wear jogging bottoms and a Nike crop-top to interview an important dignitary.

"Imagine a police officer in a cleavage-displaying mini-dress and teetering high heels arriving to break the news of the death of a relative. Not appropriate by any stretch of the imagination.”

Oh God. I just… I don't even know how I'm supposed to respond to that. Except with a GUTTURAL WAIL. I can’t even…

Point five:
“Knicker-skimming skirts, plunging necklines and any other garments better suited to a fortnight in Magaluf have no place in a work environment. Unless, of course, your workplace happens to be a pole-dancing establishment.”

Nice, end with another big fat dose of misoginy. I can’t tell AT ALL by your tone that you despise pole dancers by the way. Brilliant. Let’s hear it for sisterhood, ladies!

OK, so let’s accept that the point being made in this article relies on a GROSSLY EXAGGERATED example of dressing like a stripper to do an office-based job. Which never happens. But you know what does happen? Bare arms. Make up. In the summer, MAYBE AN OPEN-TOED SANDAL or even exposed calves! And, less than that, fashion. Style. Prints, block colour, patent leather accessories…  How MUCH are you (and apparently 30% of all men) suggesting I cover up here? What would you rather I wore? Why does it make YOU feel more comfortable if I dress in a floor length sack when I’m at work? You see how this is dangerous? Once you start, where does it stop?

I’m mostly disappointed that I’ve been so grossly underestimated. As a reader of The Herald, clearly I have a brain, I’m educated, I work for a living, in an office, I’m in my mid 20s, I earn a decent wage… etc. Like, I would imagine, a large portion of the readership. And you think you can slip this by me? You think I won’t NOTICE or, worse, CARE? If I want to dress my age and show my curves and feel empowered and look good and present my best self at work, you, The Herald, are telling me I shouldn’t? I have no problem with anyone, men or women, dressing their best for work. Dressing stylishly, dressing fashionably - appropriately, obviously - and dressing attractively. It tells me they take care of themselves, have pride in their appearance and exude confidence. This article implicitly assumes I don't know the difference between THIS and dressing downright ridiculously. A policewoman in a mini dress and heels - I MEAN, PLEASE!

It’s hard enough, hard A-BLOODY-NOUGH being a woman in the workplace. That’s right, we still earn (on average) 16% less for doing the same job as a man. And more than that, it’s hard enough being a woman today PERIOD, trying to get on, do what you love, earn money, be successful, be respected... Ladies, I KNOW you hear me. I don’t need disappointing articles like this to remind me that it’s not just the men I’ve to watch out for judging me negatively if I wear a kitten heel and bum-hugging pencil skirt to work (but like, why would I ever wear a kitten heel you guys?) it’s my own kind now too. Brilliant.

Yeah, so, sorry for this mental rant. I just was honestly REALLY disappointed by the tone and discussion in this article. The exaggeration of something that's a genuine issue into a farcical excuse to laugh at women who are fighting their hardest in the workplace just to keep up with men ISN'T REALLY MY DEAL, yi know?


Hannah said...

I fully agree with your take on this. I can't believe the stupidity of this article! For one thing, she acts like it's commonplace for women to be incredibly underdressed (cleavage displaying mini dress and teetering heels) - I have NEVER seen an office worker that inappropriately dressed. Like you said, it's grossly exaggerated, and yes, ridiculous. I think being comfortable in your appearance greatly affects your work performance and if a girl doesn't feel as confident dressing like a dowdy old lady then she is perfectly within her rights to wear whatever makes her feel comfortable, yes including leopard print. But being appropriately dressed is also hugely affective of anyone's confidence (ever been that really underdressed person at a formal event, or vice versa?) so if someone does go into the office dressed like they're going to Magaluf (does this happen?!) they're hardly going to do that again in a hurry as they just won't be comfortable. I don't know who these fictional people are that she's talking about in the article but it's a joke, and acts like all female office workers are stupid brainless types who don't know the difference between an office and a nightclub. Wow. Just wow.

Kirsty said...

@Hannah - RIGHT ON! xx

Anonymous said...

I think you raise a lot of valid and interesting points about the objectification of women and the rules and pressures placed on us, especially in regards to what we wear. It made me think of Erin Brockovich who wore most of the things derided in the article but still refused (at least in the film anyway) to change or tone down her style in any way, no matter what anyone thought. I struggle to see why if you choose to wear a plunging top in the workplace (as EB did) that it automatically means you don't have a brain and can't do your job right. I know that women get judged far more for their appearance than men, but shouldn't we express our disgust that this is still the case, rather than just accepting it?

Kirsty said...

Yes, anonymous, we should. Excellent points! Thanks x

P said...

I've not read the article and don't want to click through to it given that the parts you have highlighted have made me really mad. I agree with YOUR points 100%!

eversojuliet said...

Wonderful wonderful post!

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