Every morning she puts in time and effort to pick out a proper outfit, style her hair and apply makeup which is not too gaudy, but perks up her features. Looking neat and sharp is not enough, as she should look nice too. Which means the eyebrows must be primed, nails manicured and hair and makeup on the spot, as should be her clothes. Who is she? She is every working woman across this world, who gets policed to “look nice” often by her own female colleagues. Seldom do I see corporate women step into office in a bun which is functional and neat, yet unattractive. It is never a bad or frizzy hair day for them and that is just the start to the dressing norms which women bear if they have to be taken seriously.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Dress codes at worplaces either police women or objectify them.
  • Either way, these heavily gendered codes are sexist.
  • Asking women to dress nicely and look fit gives weightage to appearance over calibre.
  • Are firms taking the easy way out by telling women to dress well, but not provocatively, to curb incidences of sexual harassment?

Seldom do I see corporate women step into office in a bun which is functional and neat yet unattractive. It is never a bad or frizzy hair day for them and that is just the start to the dressing norms which women bear if they have to be taken seriously.

First things first, this doesn’t mean that there is no pressure on men to look prim and smart. Looks sell, and looking sharp and smart sells you as an efficient and bright person who has a promising future. But for women, dressing nicely isn’t just about looking sharp, it is about walking the tight rope of looking the part, all the while putting up clear signs to ward of unwanted male attention, but also not coming across as too masculine. After all, if men don’t take you seriously or you face unwanted sexual advances from your colleagues, then clearly you are doing something wrong. Who could dare to question their gaze, even in the 21st century?

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HuffPost recently published excerpts from a presentation given during a leadership and empowerment seminar for women by a leading accounting firm. The presentation from last year advised women to wear clothing that flatters and compliments their body type, although short skirts were frowned on. “Sexuality scrambles the mind,” claimed the presentation, while also suggesting that women should look healthy and fit, with a “good haircut” and “manicured nails.”

Can you imagine a presentation telling men to dress as per their body type? Or to wear flattering clothes, that didn’t “scramble” the signals they give out? Does anyone check male executives’ nails everyday when they step in to work? Are overweight male executives shamed for their body weight, or advised that they look fit? These gendered directives aren’t just sexist, they also subtly try to put the accountability of sexual harassment at workspace on women. What else does “sexuality scrambles the mind” mean, if not “if you wore a short skirt or loud makeup, then you were asking for it.”

We refuse to demand a change in the male gaze. Why? Is it beyond redemption? Have we already given up on them, or are we reluctant to discipline the favoured gender which grew up entitled?

Though is one surprised that yet again it is women who must bear the burden of policing which is guised as a measure to keep them safe and to project their conduct as professional? We refuse to demand a change in the male gaze. Why? Is it beyond redemption? Have we already given up on them, or are we reluctant to discipline the favoured gender which grew up entitled? Or are we just taking the easy way out as it is less complicated to police women than to hold men accountable?

In March this year, Japanense women launched the #KuToo movement to fight the compulsion of wearing heels at work. A couple of years ago, it may have come across as a seemingly harmless dress code, but in a post #MeToo era one cannot help but question the dress codes dumped on women guising either policing of objectification. Both intentions keep women from being taken seriously at work, dehumanises them, pinning their prospects to what they wear or what they don’t.

This needs to change, but for that to happen women need to themselves stop being judgemental about how their female colleagues present themselves at workplace. Wearing makeup or not, manicuring your nails or not, styling your hair or otherwise, these are all personal choices that say nothing about a person’s capabilities, so let us stop making a correlation where there isn’t one.

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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