Skirt Yes, Shorts No might be unfair towards men. But the reason it exists in the first place, is, that women still have to be fuckable.
At the beginning of this week, a man called Joey Barge, decided to wear shorts in the office due to extremely warm temperatures in the UK. He was sent home by his boss, because the office dress code wouldn’t allow such inappropriate clothing. So he decided to come back in a dress again. His boss would give in eventually, since dresses apparently are fine. Ever since, 3/4 shorts are fine.
Joey Barge had his fair share of buzz on social media. More and more employees around the world, and even pupils in boarding schools have copied Barges creative protest.
Boys at Isca Academy in Exeter wear skirts to school in protest at not being allowed to wear shorts in hot weather. pic.twitter.com/XHrffnSQEN
And ever since, everybody is talking about how unfair office dress codes are towards men, because shorter dresses or skirts seem to be ok to be worn by women. Poor men!
Well, of course it is unfair. But let’s also ask ourselves why a shorter piece of cloth is only considered to be offensive, if worn by a man. Why, indeed, is it ok for a woman to wear a skirt? The reason lies in history. Let’s take a look back to the 50s and 60s. To the times when a woman in an office had one purpose: To represent the enterprise towards the outside, since as secretaries they where the first the customer would see. And, finally, to please the eye of the male employees towards the inside. In other words: A woman in an office had to be one thing: she had to be hot.
That is one reason why still today, dress codes are different for men and women: Girls who have worked as hostesses at business events for example, often still have to wear skirts that end above the knee, alongside uncomfortable high heels.
Clearly, the problem is, that the still dominating male gaze in offices sees no problem in the fact, that a woman not only looks neat while doing her job and dealing with customers, but additionally is fuckable as well. While that same gaze is obviously taking offense by some hairy male legs.
So yes, it’s good to question standards that seem to be, well, questionable. But maybe let’s abolish these dress codes, because they are inherently sexist. Not because it is unfair towards men.
A version of the following article was first published in Al Ard – Die Welt in Berlin, for which I work as the chief editor. It was published in both German and Arabic language. See here the English version:
The massive sexual assaults in the last night of 2015 around Cologne central station had vast implications on both asylum and the sexual offences act. These political knee-jerk reactions mirror a fatal public debate about the origin of the offenders and allegedly imported sexual violence against women.
This night still moves us. A night full of disinhibition, loss of state control and sexual assaults. A collective loss of protection and security. Incredible. New year’s eve 2016, around Cologne Central Station: hundreds of women were sexually assaulted, hard-pressed and robbed by a marauding horde of more or less organised men. The days after many believed this would be both a political and societal turning point. But nobody was sure about what exactly would change now.
Because a lot of the suspects and actual offenders turned out to be people who identified as asylum seekers, these assaults were immediately connected to the considerable migration movements to Germany of the year 2015. During the weeks after new year’s eve social climate was downright toxic: In social media, people disinhibited completely and flooded the internet with the most wicked racist verbal diarrhoea. At the liberal end of the social spectrum, the educated middle class denied everyone having any sense of humanity, who dared to question the then practised asylum policies in any way.
A lot happened but no answer to the most urging problem
The media was criticised as well for their belated coverage. They now had to discuss whether it is justified to name an offenders origin or ethnicity, no matter if this actually plays a role or not (Other than in anglo-american media the german consensus is not to). A great number of commentators feared the german public now would finally split into extremely polarised camps. The government’s reactions seemed helpless in their effort to rapidly tightening up both the asylum and sexual offences act.
You see, a lot happened last year. But there’s no answer so far to the most urging problem: Sexual violence and a molesting culture against women. The whole issue was so rapidly consumed by the left and right wing groups trying to push forward their agenda in the so-called “refugee-debate”. Therefore nobody seemed to talk about the fact that this wasn’t a new unknown phenomenon brought into the country by the allegedly pervy orientals. That this problem is also deeply rooted in german society itself.
Just another story about some rape somewhere in the paper
However, the problem is, that domestic issues are not so easily addressed because they’re not as visible as the Cologne events were. It is just too common and happens every day. Once in a crowded metro – suddenly you got a hand in your crotch. Once on your way home – random people commenting on your decollete. Once – just another story about some rape somewhere in the paper. Sexist, molesting and assaulting behaviour is still everyday behaviour as it has always been. But: Instead of thinking about whether our society has a problem with a specific type of masculinity the debate only raised the question whether only recently we have a problem with a foreign type of masculinity.
As if this wasn’t enough, also the victims were blamed and their advocates attacked. Feminists had to explain themselves why they had been so silent after the events, while their opponents already delivered what they thought to be the answer: If feminists would speak out now, they had to acknowledge the fact of imported violence by culturally unfamiliar foreigners. What was ignored here is, that these women and feminists just didn’t want to be instrumentalised by people, who just recently discovered the feminist inside and felt appointed to protect “our good german women” from evil foreign lechers.
A racist misogynist as US-president
All that happened would have been a chance for the whole society – and yes, also the newly arrived members – to think together about which forms of masculinity we are willing to tolerate from this point on and how we challenge and change the sexism in our culture and in our heads. Because only then we will stop to reproduce sexism.
The western world is good in presenting itself as if values like freedom, equality and justice have been invented here. But reactionary tendencies as we see not only in countries like Hungary, France or Germany but also in the USA – that just made a racist misogynist president – reveal a very different signal to the world: for now, it seems, you can just go on grabbing.
Male pop myths: Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to become the world´s greatest blues guitarist. Keith Richards is immortal because he was conserved by all the drugs he took and if Stairway to Heaven is played backwards satanic messages can be heard.
Female pop myths: J.Lo’s got the greatest ass of all, Beyoncé’s got the greatest ass of all and Niki Minaj´s got the greatest ass of all. Oh, and Azealia Banks has the greatest tits.
Exploitation of the physical
Pop culture is a history of myths. They start with the performative, bodily with the creation of an artist´s image and – with the consumption of the recipient would transform into a specific narrative. An example: When lumberjack shirts became fashionable in the early 90s due to Kurt Cobain, bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses or Metallica have been still very influential. With all their glam and black leather jackets and wide stance performances, many misfit kids would feel alienated by this plain, artificial chauvinism and overcompensated display of masculinity. So in boycotting not only the typical style of rock music (the lone cowboy) but just any kind of style, Grunge fans would see wearing their lumberjack shirts and their old pair of jeans as a direct opposition to what rock music had become at that time: classic and reactionary (I mean, just think of Bon Jovi or Axl Rose for instance and you know what I mean). So with their non-style becoming a fashion statement, they created a typical punk narrative. That means that now the lumberjack shirt is not connected to one’s physical appearance anymore (for which you´d get bullied in school) but directly linked to your personality. Keep that in mind, for it will be important now:
In every area of socio-cultural interaction, of course, men find their way a lot easier in this world, so why should pop music be an exception when it comes to sexism? While men have no problem at all to leave the level of the physical for their narrative (you remember transcending into the spheres of the mystical like Robert Johnson or Led Zep or even freeing the body from earthly finiteness at all like Keith Richards), women mostly don´t leave this level. While the male body can have a function as a symbol for a greater idea, women often stay mere fetishes.
Fetishism, Exotism, Racism, Colonialism… all the -isms in the world
And this didn´t only start with Josephine Baker´s Banana Dance in the 20s that even combined fetishism with a racist exotism for a white, western audience in times of late colonialism, when they would see a black woman on the biggest stages of the US and Europe, dressed in a skirt made of bananas, shaking it out. I don´t think I have to give much more examples since it´s quite common knowledge that the female body in society is objectified and reduced to its sexual attraction. Therefore there´s something quite logical in it when the most powerful women in nowaday´s pop business, Beyoncé, Rihanna or Azealia Banks define their version of feminism over the physical in just using their bodies: using their self-expression in order to reclaim interpretational sovereignty and power of control over their own bodies.
Where the Banana Dance was created to please exotic male desires, the staged promiscuity of an Azealia Banks today is to be seen as empowerment. She does it because she wants it but don’t you ever think you could have her if she doesn´t allow it. In a way, this is an expression of power. And if not Banks, surely nobody ever tells Beyoncé what to do except she would ask you for your advice. So shaking all of her body parts in front of you actually is not to fulfil your deepest desires but actually to make you understand, that you cannot have her unless she wants you to. And nobody can tell me that she is in any kind of need to do so, because I – like almost anybody who understands a little bit of pop music – know, that she is one of today’s most important and relevant artists in the very sense of the word.
Female body, black body
And it´s no coincidence that all of the pop queens mentioned above engaging with this strategy are black women from the United States, since US history, if not to speak of the whole American Dream bullshit is mostly built on the destruction and exploitation of the black body to this very day, when we just take a look at the historical record of slavery, racial segregation and the epidemical killings of black people by the US Police like Ferguson in 2014 (german pop culture magazine SPEX published a very readable analysis about exactly that in their No 366 issue in January this year).
Pop culture always was an inherent materialist matter. It influences the bodies of its consumers as well as the bodies of its producers, interpreters and artists. Because pop functions through myths every protagonist acts necessarily performative and therefore through the body. While the male body always was an autarchic acting one, the history of the female body since the development of pop is that of a treated one. It is necessary to know, that especially femaleness in pop culture is necessarily physical, to understand, that also empowerment of women in the business works through the reconquest of the body.
It is shockingly simple for women to confuse men. All they have to do is blowing something up.
There is an infamous german columnist, Franz Josef Wagner, who has a very particular idea of what a woman is like and what actually can be considered as female behaviour. Last year he published an article sharing his thoughts on the question: “How can evil be a woman?” He raised this question shortly after Hasna Ait Boulahcen – cousin to the organiser of the Paris attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud, supposedly having blown herself up as a suicide bomber during a police operation. As we know now she didn´t do it herself but apparently Wagner wasn’t aware of that at the time, so Boulahcen to him clearly was a female terrorist. A woman. And he just couldn´t handle the fact.
To him, he wrote, a woman symbolises the ultimate good. It´s completely incomprehensible to him a woman could possibly be evil if she “gave you life”. Wagner is confused because in the past women were loving mothers, but now they had gained the “equality to kill just like men”. The fact of a woman being a terrorist represents such a crack in Wagner´s logic, that the only way to preserve his definition of femaleness is to actually deny these violent women had any kind of femaleness left. So he concludes: “It´s women who aren´t women anymore.”
This short text could have been published just like that in the seventies already when RAF terrorists Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin were at the peak of their popularity and Germany tried to understand what could possibly drive a woman to commit such crimes.
Positive sexism or poop smelling like perfume
But it was published in 2015. Therefore it is an example of how the public still has massive problems to simply recognise women as active players. Benevolently one could say this statement is a stupid case of an elder´s positive sexism, that sees women as noble and pure creatures (positive is not used as an eligible term here because positive sexism also caused the male disgust for menstruation because men would believe women poop flowers and smell like perfume).
But actually this simple answer Wagner gives on how it is possible that evil is a woman – namely it is not – reveals views considered to be sexist today (and rightfully so) still existing in public debate on female players, that are based in western antiquity already, giving history a strong variable of continuity. And it is revealed especially when it comes to topics like violence.
Because the concepts of both “woman” and “violence” just don´t seem to fit. While male violence in most cases is not questioned or reflected at all, seeming to be an integral part of his nature (which funnily is just as sexist), you always have to find very specific reasons for every single woman to explain this supposed exceptional case.
Female players in terrorism are not a new phenomenon
And so journalists would often start to psychologize, easily finding out the respective woman had daddy issues or difficult relationships with difficult men or she had a troubled relationship with her own sexuality or it´s simply feminism´s fault. Simply put, this is exotism because it reduces the active role of women and is declared an exception, an anomaly, committed by a woman driven by external circumstances.
Yet female terrorists are not a phenomenon of the post-9-11-era. At the turn of the 20th century, referred to by many as the age of anarchistic terrorism, there have been female assassins and bombers already and like I said before with Gudrun Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof and Brigitte Monhaupt in the seventies, German history faced its most prominent and famous, even pop culturally adapted representatives.
But still nobody seems to consider the idea, that all these women could actually be autonomous, active individuals, who are able to politicise and radicalise themselves without beeing misled, influenced or manipulated by something or someone.
You know, Mr Wagner, I don´t think it´s far-fetched to suppose a woman can make her own decisions today. But this also means that she can decide to blow herself up in the middle of a crowded square every now and then. You might believe that women tend to be good and men tend to be evil. But reality shows that women are perfectly capable of being just the same assholes as well. And this is not due to supposedly perverted forms of feminism. It is because nobody ever considered women to be able to actively adopt evil.