Girl on Girl: A Man Walks Into A Bra
Originally published on CUIndependent.com on August 26, 2016
We can continue to preach about how “my outfit is not your invitation,” or that “I don’t need to be modest to be respected,” but the message still doesn’t seem to have made it across.
This past summer I was called into my boss’s office and told that I need to work on my professionalism. I was shocked. Completely caught off guard, I struggled to make out what line I had possibly crossed as a cautious and inexperienced intern.
Yes, intern. I was an unpaid intern in an office exclusively full of women. And I was about to get a talking to.
My boss, a woman, proceeded to tell me that I needed to start dressing as though a “gentleman” could come into the office at any time, every day.
“Is what I’m wearing inappropriate?” I asked, regarding my knee-length dress, vest and heeled booties. She told me no. “Am I doing my work well?” I asked, thinking I might have missed the point. Of course I was, she told me. “Did I offend someone by my outfit? Do I owe someone an apology?” I was trying to keep my cool. Of course not, she said.
A bra strap. A bra strap was inappropriately revealed. Last Friday, she told me.
She continued by suggesting I invest in a cardigan, that her rule of thumb is to keep her shoulders covered and I might be more successful in the eyes of my peers by doing the same.
My first instinct was to feel embarrassed. I really thought that I had been mindful of my appearance at the summer internship, one which might help me get a job next year. And now I was sitting in a conference room regarding my outfit, with the day only just starting.
Quickly, I stop feeling sorry. Shoot, I realize. It’s worse than I thought.
These things happen, certainly. Misogyny in the workplace is nothing new. Sexist dress codes in schools, of course, happen too. But from a department boss to a college intern, in an office of solely women, from woman to woman, over a bra strap? Just in case a gentleman comes into the office? To protect him from the insane bewilderment of the female breast-cup? Really?
Look, this is the job I wanted. A job that I am gracious for, a job I take pride in, and a job I work hard at. And I would like to think that I can take constructive criticism, but this type of horizontal sexism just doesn’t seem right, and I’m not willing to let it fly.
I was not being reviewed on my work ethic, my efficiency or even my overall presence at the office. I was being sat down, judged and asked to make a change in my appearance for the possibility of a man entering the office space, a space which belonged to women.
If from woman to woman I can’t expect to feel safe and respected thanks to a fallen bra strap, what should I expect from men? There aren’t even men at my workplace! And still, we’re taking extra security measures. What happens if I do invest in a trusty cardigan? What if it gets a little hot, granted we’re in the midst of a California summer, and the aforementioned “gentleman” wanders in to see the strap of my booby blanket revealed? What then? Will he overlook my filing skills because my heels are too promiscuous? Will my boss then mock my humiliation and scold me for offering him my knockers?
But really, it makes me think.
What does it mean to feel good in your own skin? To feel confident and competent? I’ll tell you what’s for sure, it feels awful to have another woman against you. Every one in six women will be sexually assaulted or raped. Women don’t make the choice to be assaulted, the person who assaults them does. By punishing women for their dress on the basis that it may pose as an invitation to a man means reinforcing that control.
Women do not bring violence upon themselves. They do not like it. They can’t feel ashamed by simply appearing, or even dressing provocative in any way. And they definitely shouldn’t feel that pressure from another woman, who is just as vulnerable to assault as she, simply by her gender.
It’s a bra strap, it was an awkward conversation, it’s not a big deal. We’ve got bigger tatas to worry about. But let’s not overlook the little things either. Instead of judging each other by bra strap, why not help to remove its stigma? Make the choice not to just preach about how a woman’s appearance is or is not the reason she will be treated one way or another, act on it. It’s simple, just support your sisters.