Not long after arriving for an 8 hour shift at work yesterday, my manager told me to go home and change clothes because I was wearing a dress that fell slightly above my knees. I was wearing black leggings underneath, and I wasn’t showing any skin from the neck down besides my hands (both details she apparently considered to be irrelevant).
I was deeply disappointed to be reminded that my workplace still implements a reductive dress code that values a woman’s appearance over her work ethic or professionalism. Perhaps I was doubly disappointed because I work at a public library, which is a place that has such great potential to promote egalitarian values. In this instance, however, library personnel decided that the energy I put forth toward my work was not important, and that my time would be better spent taking close to hour off from work to drive home, change clothes, and then drive back to work.
When my manager told me to go home and change clothes I was shocked, angry, and disappointed. I mulled over what I should do for a while, unable to focus on my work because of the troubling thought that the policing of women’s appearances was happening all around me, enforced by other women no less. I finally decided that the only thing I could do was to try to stand up for myself, so I ventured to my manager’s office to try to explain the harm of the library’s dress code policy. I was pretty upset and didn’t explain myself very eloquently, but I did manage to convince my manager to let me finish my shift without going home.
What a strange world where you have to convince your employer to let you work, or where doing so successfully would be considered a victory. I don’t feel victorious, but I feel lucky. Countless women everyday are no doubt prevented from doing their jobs because someone, somewhere might be offended by their choice in clothing. I wonder how many of us there are. I was able to discuss my concerns with my manager, but I know other women in similar fields might not be so fortunate, and might even be fired for doing so.
Workplace dress codes seem like such a small thing, but they comprise no small number of daily inequalities that women around the world face, apparently regardless of the field they work in. I’m posting this in solidarity with all of the women who have and who will be discriminated against for their clothing. If we can, let’s #leanout and speak up about workplace inequality.