The Sexist

Sexist Comments of the Week: How Sexy Is Too Sexy?


Last week, a couple of really interesting discussions arose on this blog concerning determining consent and preventing rape. I'm going to address some of the lingering issues raised in those threads later today. But right now, it's 9 a.m. on Monday morning, I'm not terribly coherent, amd I'd rather review the implications of Garfield lunchboxes and noxious aftershave on a young attorney's career prospects. So let's kick off this edition of Sexist Comments of the Week with a multiple choice:

(a) stilettos
(b) pantyhose
(c) cleavage
(d) eyeliner

According to one lawyer, two will ruin a female attoyney's career, while two will send her on the partner track. Are career women held to a higher standard of dress than are men? Is business attire absurd all around? Or is the corporate uniform a valuable tool to help boys and girls get ahead? Reader theories—and the answers to your quiz—are after the jump:

whet moser says that the focus on low-cut blouses and too-high heels obscures the fact that in lawyerin', class issues cut both ways:

This bit strikes me as slightly more complicated than a gender issue:

“I knew an associate who wore shoes that looked like she was a bridesmaid. She was a good lawyer, but there was a real disconnect between those gold sandals and the notion that she wanted to go the distance as a lawyer. She didn’t, and the shoes were a tip-off.”

This doesn’t mean she was dressing “too sexy” per se. Imagine a male lawyer who wore two-tone shoes, or like old-guy comfort dress shoes. I can imagine, in a certain corporate environment, that being looked down on.

I guess what I’m saying is that when the issue of dress in the workplace comes up, there are signaling issues that have to do with class as well as gender, even if it’s clearly trickier for women.

I’m reminded of the scene from Silence of the Lambs where Lecter dresses down Starling: “with your good bag and your cheap shoes… you look like a rube.” That sort of thing.

Former Staffer wishes employers would value him for his brain, not his looks:

As an attorney, I don’t give a F what you think of my appearance. My appearance isn’t drafting the brief…my appearance isn't doing research….my appearance isn’t cross examining your witness.

In fact, my brain doesn’t even wear clothes.

So FU for your obsession with what I’m wearing. Maybe if you were more focused on what you needed to do, you’d be a better lawyer.

Brennan calls bullshit on the diversionary tactic:

Oddly, I’m reminded of a scene from “Persepolis” (the graphic novel–haven’t seen the movie) where she’s talking about the dress code in Iran. The author realizes that a woman who leaves the house thinking “Are my sleeves too short? Are my jeans too tight? Am I showing too much hair?” isn’t thinking Where are my equal rights? Where is my freedom of speech?

Here, it’s “Am I wearing enough makeup? Are my heels low enough? Am I showing just enough cleavage but not too much?”

Where is my equal pay?

Where is my freedom from harassment?

jekandhyd wants you to know that he wore that aftershave just for you:

Wake up boys and girls, this is nothing to do with sexism it is everything to do with projecting the image that fits with your clients’ expectations. I have worked as a very succesful consultant and banker for a number of very high profile cliens. I take great care in how I dress when with them. I dress conservatively, extravagently, suited, tieless, casual and even in jenas at times. I even choose my aftershave depending on the sex and age of my client. In each case it is done to project an aura that will subconciously build a client’s confidence in my abilities and want to hire me. It works.

just sayin sees the dress code as a part of a larger hate-fun corporate culture:

I think that law firm fired me because of the Garfield the Cat luch box I’d bring to the office. Good riddance to them.

Oh, and as for the quiz: The anonymous author of "Lady Lawyers Should Dress the Part" advises female attorneys to abandon (a) stilettos and (c) cleavage, but make sure to stock up on (b) pantyhose and (d) makeup. According to the lady lawyer dress code, accessories which draw attention to your feminine wiles—cleavage and high-heels—are no good very bad things. Under the "excessive femininity is not professional" model, it makes sense that women would be forced to shield their precious leg skin from public view with scratchy modesty devices. Why, then, is femininity-enhancing makeup a required part of the program? Well, we wouldn't want to make career success too easy for the ladies, now, would we?

Photo by helgasms!, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

Comments

  1. #1

    It fascinates me that people who advocate for a pragmatic approach to problems like this always say that "it's not about sexism." Like jekandhyd, who says it isn't about sexism, it's about meeting the client's expectations. On one level, that's a totally fair-- meeting your client's expectations is a big part of most serious, business jobs, and that's just that. But that doesn't mean a client's expectations are separate from sexism and patriarchal norms. If a client can't muster respect or confidence in a woman who shows cleavage, that's a facet of sexism. It might be fair to say that, no matter whether the rules are fair, dressing "right" is a game that must be played. But it's wrong to pretend that those rules aren't sexist.

  2. #2

    "Are career women held to a higher standard of dress than are men?"

    The thing is, the vast majority of men simply wear the suit and tie uniform, and don't need to bother about whether their outfit bares too much skin, sends the wrong message, makes them look fat, or looks too sexy. They just wear a suit. The End.
    Women on the other hand, have a vast array of *choices*. They can wear a rainbow of colours, they can choose different tops, different bottoms, and any shoes that match the outfit. There is no standard dress code for women's businesswear.

    There isn't an issue with men's businesswear. Because men have always consented because the conventional business suit was *professional*.
    IMO there is no reason for women to have so much sartorial choice, other than positive sexism. Our society thinks that women NEED to fuss over fashion, that we MUST make our physical appearance a priority. It's seen as an overbearing request on women to just forget about looking good and just go to work, get to *business* - something men have been tolerating since time eternal (and when they want to step out of it, they are called "metrosexual" like they are sexual "deviants")

    We don't fuss over male politicians' sartorial choices because they don't make sartorial choices. It's not sexism. If you make a point to demonstrate your style, expect it to be picked apart by fashion bloggers and the public alike. K?

    But if our society can't enforce a business uniform upon women as it has upon men, then at least would the whiners stop whining. When some female politician complains "All they can do is talk about what I wear" I just have to cringe. She's wearing a bright red ensemble with a deep decolletage and pointy high heels and OMG people are distracted by her clothing. Big surprise.

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