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Pantsuits to Pencil Skirts: We Are Still Sexualizing Women In The Workplace

Career

I'm 5’8 and 160 pounds, with 38-29-40 proportions. There are days when I succumb to those cliched ideologies: “The skinnier you are, the more you’re worth.” But these ideas are disruptive to the human spirit, and they are reductive to your time on earth. So I like pizza and wine. Who cares? Apparently, my workplace.


It doesn’t matter how good you may feel about your body sometimes. Because, like a snake, body policing and shaming sneaks up and twists its way into our lives. If I wear a pencil skirt to work, that means I’ll have to expose 40 inches of hips — oh, the audacity! — to my coworkers. God forbid they see the shape of a woman. And god forbid I assault them with all these shapes!

All sarcasm aside, women who are considered “attractive” or women whose bodies show any semblance of shape inspires insidious notions of vulgarity.

When Patrice Brown, a “curvy” paraprofessional in an Atlanta school, wore form-fitting clothes to work, she was reprimanded by the school system. And by form-fitting, they meant a dress that fits her form. Brown hadn’t behaved in an improper way; she was victim to the scrutiny and sexualization of our bodies.

Not to mention the dental assistant by the name of Melissa Nelson was fired by her boss because she was "too good-looking". The dentist feared she would tempt him away from his marriage. This happened in 2013, though it’s puritanical stench reeks of yesteryear's.

One BBC piece reported that women considered “attractive” at work often face discrimination by their colleagues. They may even be prevented from advancing, as they are considered distracting or incompetent.

We can only imagine what our own bosses and colleagues are thinking as we dare to show up at work with a body and a face.

News alert: All humans have bodies and faces. Only some humans are penalized for it.

As if we weren’t force-fed enough body shame on a daily basis, we have to be careful to be too human. But when your career is at risk because you dare to live in a body, there’s a real problem.

There seems to be two issues at the core.

The first — yet secondary — issue in the clothing itself, which is often not made to compliment various body types. With the average retailer not selling well-made, price-jacked plus-size clothing (67% of women are plus-size, which starts at size 10 or 12 in stores), it’s hard for women to find something that fits well, is aesthetically pleasing and is office appropriate. No one wants to opt for a lumpy oversized cardigan just because their breasts might offend someone.

According to Michelle Herrera Mulligan, a writer, Latin culture commentator and activist who was also the founding editor for Cosmo for Latinas and part of the founding team for Latina Magazine, “It’s like everything is either skin tight or boxy (and has to be altered a hundred times.) We’re not all six foot tall amazons—the average woman in America is 5” 4. If you have any curves at all, there will be a gap at the waist or it will ride too high, or you can’t button the shirt. The problem is that when you do have curves, office wear is sexualized. It would be nice to see more options for women who actually take fashion and office wear seriously.”

There’s no doubt the fashion industry is ripe for change. Not to mention, it’s missing out on billions of dollars. Bottom line: Fixing fashion would be a win-win for all parties. Even Tim Gunn, host of Project Runway — which is undeniably culpable in terms of peddling ridiculous fashion expectations— has been singing a new tune: “This is a design failure and not a customer issue. There is no reason larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women,” Gunn wrote for the Washington Post.

“The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes.”

And while the fashion industry is unarguably accountable for that change, the main issue remains that workplace discrimination still exists. If a woman wears a dress that even remotely hints at her figure, or if she shows up with a “beautiful” face, we assume she is on display in some way. And if another woman doesn’t hint at having a body under her work clothes, she’s somehow in the clear. She’s decent. She’s professional. She’s desexualized, therefore a stable force in the workplace. She doesn’t offend, she doesn’t tempt, she doesn’t distract. She doesn’t really exist.

We expect women to perfectly straddle two worlds — the world in which she is an equal, an employee, a human, a dignified woman. And the world in which she is a sexual entity and a thing to be desired. We haven’t been able to reconcile the two. Consider the obsession over Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits. While Mrs. Clinton has created a sort of buzz around her fabulous outfits, the fact is that we don't expect to see a woman in pants, thus we turn the pantsuit into a symbol. Of feminism. Strength. Democracy. And the same people who (myself included) joined the millions-member Pantsuit Nation group on Facebook are likely to be those feminists who want clothing to be a non-issue when it comes to female public entities.

So we haven’t gotten past it. We haven’t figured out a way to stop sexualizing women in general, let alone in the office, where we’re supposed to be our most civilized selves. The irony is that while most women can’t prove sexism in the workplace — and thus, live with it to some extent — we are the ones to blame when discriminated against for simply existing.

This systemic sexism has strong, rotten roots and a grip that won’t let go. And merely covering up at work won’t change the issue because if you treat it topically, you can never get to the center of the wound. But then, what is a working woman to do? Take on the issues of men all alone in her office? It isn’t that easy.

It shouldn’t be a radical thing to be alive, but if we have to make it radical, let’s do it together. The answer starts from within. Women must empower one another, respect one another and rise up against the idea of the body being a shameful thing. When we protect and communicate with one another, we can make change. Speak out.

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Self

How To Treat Yourself Like A Queen

Sometimes the person you have to stand up to is you! There I was, rewatching the Miss Universe 2019 competition. Which I do for inspiration from time to time. (No, seriously!) There is something about seeing women on stage, in full-on glam mode, and speaking with confident assuredness that really lights my fire!


I have seen this Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa win this crown so many times before, but something about this particular viewing, her delivery or her words, touched something inside me a little differently. At that moment, I truly believed, with complete conviction, that she lives what she speaks.

The announcement was made, the audience cheered, and the crown was awarded. The light was dazzling,, she looked stunning, almost blessed. The judges made the right call with 2019's queen.

Reflecting On Myself

Suddenly, the YouTube video ended. And I was left looking at a black screen. In the darkness of that screen, I saw my reflection and I began assessing what I saw, asking myself, "What have I been doing with my life?" It may seem like an overly dramatic question, but at that moment, I had to ask myself seriously… What have you done? The fact that I couldn't come up with a solid, confident answer gave my inner-cynic license to quickly spiral into self-criticism.

This went on for quite some time, until I got up. I stood up and walked to my mirror to have some serious one-on-one "Queen Talk." I needed to get out of that self-critical mindset, and I know that physical movement is something that help disrupt a way of thinking. I needed to remind myself of who I really was. The negative feelings I was experiencing at that moment were not reality.

Here are a few reminders for whenever you need some Queen Talk!

1.) Comparison is truly the thief of joy.

This saying feels like a cliché. That is, until it's applicable to you. At that moment, this "cliché, becomes self-evident. Comparing myself to someone on a stage with years of experience in an area I know nothing about is not only unfair but straight-up mean. A part of my comparison comes from me wondering, "Would I have the ability, if put in that position, to perform at such a level?" The answer is totally and without question, yes. I excel in the field I work in now, and I know that if I put that same energy towards something else, with practice, I could do just as well. No joy can come from comparing yourself to someone in a completely different field!

2.) Never forget the blessings that have been bestowed upon you.

Every single day, I am blessed to have the opportunity to wake up with all ten fingers and toes and choose to create the kind of life I want to live. There is so much power in that alone, but sometimes it's easy to take it for granted. Let us not forget those who are unable to make that same decision every day of their lives.

3.) Appreciate how far you have come!

I've been very intentional for some time to be kinder and gentler to myself. I need to realize that I am human. Being human means that I will not know everything, and I will continue to make mistakes.But I must let go of the need to always be right. I feel empowered when I can see the growth that I've made, regardless of the mistakes that may come in the future. I don't react to every little thing that bothers me, because I have learned boundaries when it comes to dealing with others and myself. I truly value my time and my energy, and, for that, I am proud.

4.) You Can Be Who You Want To Be

If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it in reality. I saw myself when I looked at the women on stage, when she smiled, the way she talked, her elegant walk. For a moment, in my self-criticism spiral, I forgot that we are all connected. Debasish Mridha has said "I may not know you, but I don't see any difference between you and me. I see myself in you; we are one." I will not sit in the mentality of lack, there is more than enough opportunity and good fortune to go around for everyone. Her win was not a loss for me, but it can be a nudge from the universe for me to go ahead and dream big!

This Queen Talk was not easy. There may have been some tissues and tears involved but giving myself an honest yet compassionate talk is sometimes what I need to bring myself out of some bad head space. In these moments of doubt, you truly need to be your own best friend.When times get rough, criticism won't always come from outside sources. How you speak about yourself internally is crucial to how you see and feel about yourself. As Beyoncé once sang, "I've got Me, Myself, and I." We must put forth every effort to be there for ourselves. I look forward to more Queen Talks when some negative emotions arise. I am grateful for the person I am today, but I am excited to see the women I become.