Culture 29 January 2020
I've spent years now encouraging people to have difficult conversations, to talk about the things that are bothering them and yet, remain unspoken. I've read the research showing that couples who argue effectively, instead of staying quiet and avoiding conflict are ten times more likely to have a happy relationship.
In that spirit, I want to talk about something that really, really bothers me: zippers down my back.
There are many reasons to complain about women's clothing, particularly in reference to the ways that female clothing differs from men's. First, and most obviously, women have been objectified for centuries and their clothing has reflected this, even when designed and created by women. Our clothing is often unnecessarily revealing, for example. Why on earth would a woman want a swimsuit that comes off when we're swimming, for example? Many swimsuits only stay on our bodies if we sit prettily in them instead of using them for their stated purpose.
Then, there's the idiocy of pantyhose. Expensive, fragile, difficult for the differently able to put on, and yet some workplaces still insist that nylons are necessary because a woman's bare legs are offensive. Don't get me started on stiletto heels. A third of women who wear them have fallen at some point, and the unnatural position of the foot in heels can cause permanent damage to the tendons, as well as nerve damage.
What's more: pockets. Men have had functional pockets since at least the 1600s while women had to carry purses instead. A study done in 2018 found that the pockets in women's jeans are half as long as the pockets in men's' jeans and more than six percent narrower. In response, Ben Barry of the Ryerson School of Fashion told CTVNews that "the size difference in pockets perpetuates and reinforces gender inequality and is a manifestation of patriarchy."
I could go on, of course. The sizes aren't consistent. Women have more options, but our clothes tend to be of lower quality and more expensive than men's. All of these issues are important and have been discussed by experts in the field.
I, however, want to focus on clothing that zips up from the back. Why is society still making this and why are we still buying it?
I would love to watch some men throw a dress over their heads and then try to zip it all the way up to their necks. There are hundreds of products on sale that promise to help you put your clothing on. And the Today Show offered a simple piece of advice for those times when you're going through an "existential crisis" because no matter how much you contort your body, "the zipper pull is just out of reach." Their solution is to use a safety pin and a length of ribbon; my solution is to boycott dresses that have zippers in the back.
After all, clothing manufacturers often don't even bother to install a high-quality zipper that requires only light tug to move gracefully up your back. I'm not sure why they call them zippers at all. They don't zip. You're reaching your arm back behind you with all the desperation of a murder victim who's just been stabbed, you finally get the zipper to move and it then gets snagged on a piece of fabric.
It's mind boggling to think that people are still dealing with this lunacy. We can build self-driving cars and reusable rockets, but we can't figure out how to make zippers work properly?
If a clothing designer is going to put a bad zipper in a piece of clothing, better be sure it's not in the back. But since we're on subject, why oh why is it in the back in the first place? There are four sides to my body and three of them are absolutely perfect for seeing a zipper, getting a good grip on it, and zipping it up. So why? Why, in the name of all that is holy, do clothes makers insist on putting the zipper on the one side of my body that I can't see and can't reach without engaging in extreme yoga?
To me, this is a feminist issue. Going back through history, it's clear that women were meant to remain disadvantaged and to require assistance when going about the regular tasks of living.
Do men have zippers and buttons on the backs of their clothing? Is there a single piece of men's clothing that puts the zipper in the back? No! It's only women whose clothing requires them to have help in order to get dressed. It's a relic of age-old discrimination against single women and a punishment for those who try to live independently.
Historically, females were supposed to move directly from our parents' house to our husbands. So, there was always supposed to be someone there to yank up that zipper.
Here's an idea: let's start a zipper revolution. Boycott the back zipper. Refuse to buy that dress or top or jumpsuit unless the zipper is located in a place that doesn't require a chiropractor visit to reach it.
Zippers on the side are welcome. Buttons in the front are wonderful. Wrap dresses are cool by me. But let's end the tyranny of the back zipper once and for all.
5 Min Read
You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.
Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life.
The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.
“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.
Shaping Her Career
Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.
"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."
After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.
As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.
How Did Acker Become A Judge?
In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."
Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.
Acker's Time Away From Home
Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.
Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."
She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.
“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."
“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."
Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."
Overcoming Racial Barriers
As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.
At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.
Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker
The Power Of Self-awareness
“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."
Know Your Support System
“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."
Learn From Your Experiences
“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.
“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.
Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.
This article was originally published May 15, 2019.