Wardrobe Function

Madame X ready for the office

Guilty: I started this discussion on Facebook.

I used to think of myself as a feminist. Not the raving kind, but just doing my bit in small ways, especially in the classroom.

For example:

I read a study showing that science teachers, both male and female, treated girls and boys differently in subtle ways. When students entered the classroom, boys were more likely to be addressed with a challenge—

• Were you able to finish the analysis of yesterday’s lab?

• Did you figure out the answer to that last, tough problem?

Girls, on the other hand, would be greeted with—

• Is that a new sweater? Nice color.

• Are you feeling better after that bad cold?

I immediately examined my own tendencies and made changes.

In the office, as a supervisor in several contexts, similar observations led me to be sure I gave equal time at meetings to soft-voiced women, and treated their ideas with equal respect.

No one was going to accuse me of being sexist!

Until now.

I posted on FB a photo of a network anchor woman who was wearing her cleavage, front and center! It was clear that taping was involved and a wardrobe malfunction was one wrong, twisty movement away. She sat on a high stool in front of a glass desk, her thighs also featured.

She looked ready for a party, and I would have applauded the choice. But at her job, she was asking us to take her seriously, to accept her reporting.  The combination of “take me seriously” and “here’s my cleavage” doesn’t work for me.

Should women be able to wear anything they want, within the legal limit, anywhere? Of course. But shouldn’t they also be mindful of the message they send when they show up in something that distracts us into wondering: what’s keeping that shirt from popping one more button, or that breast adhesive from melting under the lights?

Need I point out that the male anchors and guests are covered top to bottom, only rarely exposing a bit of neck if they’re reporting from Hawaii.

Commenters on FB have suggested that the networks dictate the wardrobe, but I’ve never seen an article on that. Anyone have one to share? Or experience along those lines?

Other commenters have called me sexist, old-fashioned, and a few other unflattering names.

So, my private poll: cleavage/thighs while delivering serious news, Y or N?


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3 Responses to “Wardrobe Function”

  1. Alice Ramsay says:

    I have had similar awkward situations about wardrobe and serious situations. I remember the shock of being the Soviet Union in 1981 and seeing the female newscasters wearing just ordinary comfortable clothing. It really made me think.

    I know that many women want the “freedom” to wear high heels and short skirts, etc. and far be it from me to stifle anyone from having fun. I like to get dressed up too. But I also think a lot about why we feel more “feminine” wearing things that are ultimately from male expectations of beauty. It’s a tough conversation to have because standards of beauty have a complicated history.

    As far as the news is concerned, I’m with you. I think the men and women should be expected to wear a similar type of outfit. I wouldn’t mind some beef cake in the news, I guess. Or women could just wear clothes that don’t draw attention to themselves and instead give attention to the news.

    That’s my two cents.

  2. Gail Wood says:

    As a regular watcher of CNN, I have noticed that the women commentators and anchors regularly wear what I think ofas cocktail party wear– short skirts, sleeveless tops, very high heals, while the men uniformly wear jackets and ties. I’ve got an unresolved conflict about it– are they wearing what they want or are they vowing to network standards to be eye candy AND/or wearing what the want. Who knows, I certainly don’t.

  3. Camille says:

    I’ve also wondered about “rules” set by the networks, but not all women on the same network dress alike. On CNN, e.g., there’s a wide range of outfits on the female hosts, from the outfit described above to more serious ones.