On Rogue Hemlines- The Feminine Body Goes to Work

18 Jan

A pencil skirt and pumps in the British winter? That’s right, I have been interviewing with some companies this freezing January. And as a part of putting my best foot forward, I have, of course, read through countless articles about what to do (or not do), say (or not say), and wear (or not wear).

I have never been one of those who cringed at the thought of donning a suit for work. In fact, being a young executive in a start-up digital media agency in the image-conscious Dubai, I have always been quite conscious of what my work wear communicated to my clients and co-workers. We are told to let out ‘femininity’ show through the severe lines of formal wear. But to beware of the occasional cleavage, distracting jewelry or a hemline that refuses to be shy.

In fact, in this rather scintillatingly written story about Debrahlee Lorenzana, is hidden a gem of conventional wisdom – women in the corporate world have been entrusted with the responsibility of keeping their ‘femininity’ out of their workspace. The repurcussions of not following this adage is seen as a moral panic caused by unruly female bodies in a workplace where men who carry out the important duties are too distracted to concentrate. It is our responsibility to cover up the offending body parts or risk being thought of as unprofessional.

Although work wear does not offer many concessions to men in terms of acceptability of casual, untidy or garish clothes, it does not place men in a position of accountability of their bodies, and how they choose to adorn them, in the same way it does to women. Although in popular culture there is a discourse surrounding the sex appeal of men, it never does take on a negative overtone. Who has ever heard a manager complain about their male employee’s revealing or sexy clothes? This is not because men don’t ‘dress sexy’ and women do. This is because men are not objectified at work (and society) in the same way women are.

The sexiness of men’s bodies are both acceptable and not objectionable in any sphere. The sexiness of women’s bodies, however, are both desirable as well as objectionable in many spheres. Women have to constantly walk the thin line between being sexy and not too sexy. In fact, their appearance is often held to fault in some cases of sexual harrassment and even rape.

I am all about playing the game, though. You will not find me wearing a low neckline or a high hemline or (heaven forbid) anything that drew attention to my curves. This blogpost is really to draw your attention to how this is not a level playing field, and perhaps contribute towards freeing the female body of the restrictions of movement placed upon it, the consequences of which Iris Marion Young describes in On Female Body Experiences: Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays.

I want to respect my place of work and co-workers and give my best efforts to the company I am working for. I can just do it much better if I don’t have to worry about a rogue hemline or tripping over the regulations on the length of my pumps.


2 Responses to “On Rogue Hemlines- The Feminine Body Goes to Work”


  1. Why I Will Be Walking the #SlutWalk « Maitrayee Basu - April 1, 2012

    […] On Rogue Hemlines- The Feminine Body Goes to Work A pencil skirt and pumps in the British winter? That’s right, I have been interviewing with […]

  2. Green With Unwanted Attention « Maitrayee Basu - May 14, 2012

    […] had written a few months back about the sexism prevalent in women’s dress-codes at work. Perhaps today’s incident has put the issue more firmly at the forefront of my mind now. Dressing […]

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