Why Asking ‘Is Workplace Cleavage Ever Acceptable?’ Isn’t Acceptable
10:30 am, January 17th | by Colette McIntyre
After we stopped fainting everywhere from restricted blood flow, getting diagnosed with hysteria, and believing that we had the power to kill our family’s crops while menstruating, we ladies have done pretty well for ourselves. We wear pants! We moved from the switchboard to the boardroom! We is pimps too! Yet, despite all this progress, women are still stuck navigating a male-dominated world — hence all of the hand wringing over whether or not we can have it all, if our outfit appropriately transitions from day to night, and if we are worrying about worrying too much. And then there’s the belief that we are supposed to be vigilantly policing the amount of visible cleavage in the office. That, my friends, is the last straw!
Has any successful, professional woman in the history of womenkind ever walked into an office or meeting and thought, “Darn; I really wish someone told me that this wasn’t a Baby Phat tube top kind of event!” Why do many of these articles assume that ladies capable of getting their MBAs, starting their own businesses, and/or thriving in an office “boys’ club” are unable to figure out when it’s acceptable to have their boobs all over the place? If women have picked up one skill in all the years that it has taken us to be able to the forces that we are today it has been the ability to accurately navigate spheres. We know how to be a boss in the office and a mother at home, a lady in the streets and a lesser lady in the sheets; we have been assessing and adapting to expectations all our lives. We don’t have a blind spot when it comes to our bodies; unlike most men, our reasoning skills don’t go all haywire when we look upon a pair of breasts.
But let’s say that the wardrobe police are right, and cleavage in the workplace is a widespread issue. Even if that’s true, maybe we should stop acting like it’s a woman’s job to aggressively police other ladies’ wardrobes in the office. I don’t care if it’s a plunging neckline, a conspicuously pants bulge, a tuft of hair peeking through an open collar — unless you work in HR and there is a dress code being violated, it is not your job to maintain office chastity. Put your head down, tend to your work, and stop judging, Judge Judy. It’s important to remember that interpretations of “appropriate dress” are contextual, cultural, and even reflective of socioeconomic class.
To put things in perspective: I come from a working class family. My mother is an immigrant and works in the caregiving industry and my father managed a story in the city. While my dad diligently ironed his button-down shirt every evening before work, my mother’s only concern was comfort and her daily uniform of jeans and an oversized t-shirt reflected that. My impression of professional appearance was informed by my father’s office casual aesthetic, my mother’s commitment to comfort, and also by economics — I owned one pair of dress shoes that I reserved for school performances and the odd church visit and two blouses that were never appropriately washed.
I lived in blissful, two-bloused ignorance until I drove with my friend and her father to a statewide singing competition. I wore my favorite paisley-printed skirt and the clean blouse and thought that I looked great. As I sat in the back seat, trying to remember my scales, my friend’s father said that he had always thought that I would “know how to dress for an occasion.” I was mortified; looking back now at that moment now, I still cringe. Moral of the story: it is highly unlikely that the elusive Boobie McCleavage, if she exists, is purposefully putting her glorious bosoms on display as an act of wardrobe-based hostility.
In the end, it’s just cleavage — what’s the damage? Who says someone can’t be powerful and respected while acknowledging that they have breasts? True equality isn’t going to exist until we can stop looking to masculine definitions and representations of power and what is “appropriate,” and stop worrying about whether or not we are enacting them. Instead of shaming each other, let’s refocus on that whole glass ceiling thing, hm? After all, that’s what’s really cramping our style.