It wasn’t long ago that I received an awkward call from a customer. He had just come out of a meeting with his new boss who had behaved strangely in the presence of a female saleswoman. He was calling to advise me that it may be in my best interest to dress more conservatively for my meeting later that day as he felt that this woman’s appearance had offended his boss. I was at first shocked, embarrassed, and then downright angry. When I shared the story with other men their reactions varied from brushing it off as “no big deal”, to laughing, to understanding how incredibly offensive and degrading it was to have a man expect women to dress and act a certain way in order to be considered professional. I tucked this story away but after recent events led to a heated conversation at a women’s get-together last week, I decided that I too had an opinion and a platform for my voice to be heard.
At first I wasn’t going to blog about this; I thought the topic too controversial and emotional. But then I realized that was precisely the reason I had to write: without sharing our stories and experiences, women are going to continue to be sexualized. I really started thinking about this when I was running today. There was a guy sitting alone on a bench with his bike “people watching”. How terrible is it that my first thought was whether he was enjoying the view or all of the women running by? This came to me only moments after I was internally applauding all of the women who had decided to take their shirts off due to the crazy humidity. In my mind I was praising them for having the confidence to run sans-shirt as I was dying of heat in my own. I couldn’t help but think of all the comments about women “asking for it” when they dress a certain way; how they’ve been accused for attracting the wrong kind of attention by expressing themselves.
Isn’t that what fashion is all about?? A way to show your personality, your mood, your energy. A way to put your best self forward and make a statement about who you are and what you stand for. Fashion is a way to express your confidence and the power of being a woman. With recent allegations and what I’ve experienced in my job, does it mean I have to change the way I dress? Do I have to give up my signature red lipstick that makes me feel happy, bright and ready for the day when I leave the house? When I put together my outfit everyday I’m putting on my uniform: I’m going out into the world as my most confident self.
Though women have come a long way fighting for equality, they continue to encounter men behaving inappropriately on a regular basis whether they’re in the spotlight or not. Where there are men and women together in the workplace, women are vulnerable to sexual harassment. Period. I couldn’t believe that over the course of the week, every women I talked to had an example of an experience where a man either tried to exploit his authority or spoke to her in an inappropriate manner in a professional setting. The problem begins with even the smallest of actions: a suggestive comment or “love tap” is considered appropriate behaviour. It’s demeaning, it’s disrespectful and it’s only helping the problem.
When I wrote the first draft of this post I had considered myself lucky for not having experienced any type of confrontational sexual harassment. Upon further reflection, I realized how inappropriate the word “lucky” was to describe something that no person should ever have to endure. Women need to continue to support one another and not inflict judgement on each other. One of the best quotes I saw about the most recent public offense said that no one was fired because the company he worked for found out about his “misdemeanours”; they fired him because WE found out. There are so many hidden stories among women and whether we share them with our closest friends or with the public, it is the first step in making a difference. As women, we have to stand together in order to move towards positive change. And by writing this blog, I’m taking my first step. Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below.