Top British legal firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has hired image consultants to give their employees advice on how to dress more appropriately for the workplace. Their guidelines for women are mainly to stop being so damn masculine — oh, and slutty, too.
Female lawyers at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have been advised to team their stilettos with skirts rather than trousers to ‘embrace their femininity’.
But they can’t embrace it too much.
Necklaces, they have been warned, should be avoided as they could draw undue attention to the bustline.
That’s right, ladies! Enough with the comfort, already. Be prettier and more womanly for us — but not too pretty. No one likes a skank. What, is this advice straight out of the 40s?
But hey, before you get that nice new skirt of yours all in a twist (those things can be hard to untangle in the stilettos you’re undoubtedly now wearing), be aware that while the men haven’t been admonished to dress more masculine, they have also been warned against being too sexual:
And in a bid to keep everything above board, male employees have been told not to allow their ties to hang below their belts for fear of drawing unwanted attention to their nether regions.
Uh, right. What?
I know that I ought to be more annoyed that amused. And I’m working hard at it. Luckily, Sociological Images brings it back down to earth for us with an astute analysis:
A spokesman for the company doling out this advice says that it’s about being “professional.” This is a great term to take apart. What do we really mean when we say “professional”?
How much of it has to do with proper gender display or even, in masculinized workplaces, simply masculine display?
How much of it has to do with whiteness? Are afros and corn rows unprofessional? Is speaking Spanish? Why or why not?
How much of it has to do with appearing attractive, heterosexual, monogamous, and, you know, not one of those “unAmerican” religions?
For that matter, how much of it has to do with pretending like your work is your life, you are devoted to the employer, and your co-workers are like family (anyone play Secret Santa at work this year)?
Indeed. While this may initially seem like just yet another bit of obnoxiously run of the mill sexism, it begs an important question. Who gets to decide what is and is not professional? And how many layers of oppression get all wrapped up in that decision?
Thanks to Kristen for the tip.