It Must Be Said: Not Every Criticism of a Woman's Work Attire Should Be Boiled Down to 'Sexism'

Image by Igor Link from Pixabay

Business woman Image by Igor Link from Pixabay.

As I was lining up topic ideas earlier this week, I came across an article about a female British politician who was being criticized for the way she was dressed while addressing the House of Commons.

My interest was piqued, but I put it off to the side for the time being, not sure if I wanted to “go there.” My views on these matters are usually contrarian to the feminist “outrage” mob who take offense over criticisms of the way women dress. When I vocally disagree with them on issues like these, it usually leads to more than the usual bunch of headaches in my Twitter mentions.

Not that I’m a stranger to going against the grain, and the hassles that often come with it. It’s just that certain topics you write about bring the worst of the worst trolls out of the woodwork on social media, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to have to put up with it.

But I’m gonna write about it anyway. Because it needs to be addressed.

Here’s how it all started, courtesy of Fox News:

A British politician has shrugged off criticisms that her off-the-shoulder dress was inappropriate for the House of Commons, seizing the moment to argue that “everyday sexism” often judges women on what they wearing, not what they’re saying.

On Monday, Tracy Brabin, a Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for the English constituency of Batley and Spen, was speaking in the House of Commons when her dress slipped down from her right shoulder as she leaned forward. But as Brabin discussed how journalists were recently asked to leave a press briefing on Brexit talks at Downing Street, all eyes were apparently on her bare shoulder, BBC reports.

Here’s an image, which just so happens to be the tweet that started the “controversy”:

Naturally, Brabin responded in outrage:

I’m not even sure how much of an “issue” this even was on social media or in the British press, either, but for someone who said they didn’t want the focus to be on what she was wearing Brabin blew it up by way of amplifying it on Twitter more so than anyone else, ensuring that news stories would follow from it from the BBC and others.

My first thought when I saw the picture was similar to Mr. Dovey’s above. You’re really wearing that to address the House of Commons? Seriously?

When asked about it by the media, Brabin gave this explanation:

The shadow culture secretary later explained that she had attended a music industry event earlier that day and had not anticipated being called to the dispatch box during the meeting – though her defense came too late. Social media trolls were already having a field day, mocking her wardrobe snafu and the “inappropriate” look.

Okay, fine. Whatever. She went to some groovy event not expecting to have to make any type of formal address elsewhere, and would have been dressed more appropriately had she known in advance.


But it was Brabin’s trotting out of the tiresome “sexism” card that rubbed me the wrong way:

Ms Brabin, who played Tricia Armstrong in Coronation Street for three years in the 1990s, said she tried not to take the comments too seriously, especially as they were likely from “keyboard warriors sat in their mum’s back bedroom eating Pot Noodles and having a pop at people they don’t know anything about”.

However, she said: “This is everyday sexism where women are continually judged for what they wear, how they look and not what they say.”

“Why is that? It’s a way to silence us,” she told BBC Radio Leeds.

Now social media being what it is, I have no doubt that she got her fair share of nasty or otherwise inappropriate comments from folks. But the original tweet from Dovey didn’t contain any “sexism” or show any attempt at “silencing” her. However, it was written by a man, and goodness knows business men never have to deal with the dress code dilemmas that women do, outside of having to wear three piece suits, neckties, dress shoes and socks in the middle of the hottest summers – in contrast with women who can and do get away with wearing far, far less.

Dovey’s tweet was a legitimate criticism of what she was wearing. And it was not so much about the fact that she was showing a bare shoulder (and perhaps more?) but it was where it was happening. In the House of Commons where, just like here in America, there are rules about how you can dress in an administrative/office setting.

That she couldn’t help but be wearing the shirt is understandable, if her excuse is to be believed, but because the top was drooping so low an accident could have happened and then she’d have been really embarrassed. In those instances, a woman needs to make some type of adjustment to the top to secure it.

This is absolutely no different than a guy who forgets to zip up his pants after going to the bathroom or who waltzes into the office with his shirt unbuttoned to his bellybutton wearing nothing underneath.

Fix it before you start conducting your official business. No one wants to see that.

I always laugh at people who say “It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing. It matters what she’s saying” in these types of situations. But these same people would be aghast if a woman walked into the State of the Union address wearing a bikini or one of J’Lo’s Super Bowl “outfits.”

Standards must be observed. Office dress codes exist for a reason, and it has nothing to do with sexism. And when it comes to criticism of a woman’s workplace attire, that doesn’t always boil down to sexism, either.


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