Let’s look at an American working woman standing in front of her wardrobe, and imagine the disembodied voice of legal counsel advising her on each choice as she takes it out on its hanger.
“Feminine, then,” she asks, “in reaction to the Craft decision?”
“You’d be asking for it. In 1986, Mechelle Vinson filed a sex discrimination case in the District of Columbia against her employer, the Meritor Savings Bank, on the grounds that her boss had sexually harassed her, subjecting her to fondling, exposure and rape. Vinson was young and ‘beautiful’ and carefully dressed. The district court ruled that her appearance counted against her: testimony about her ‘provocative’ dress could be heard to decide whether her harassment was ‘welcome.'”
“Did she dress provocatively?”
“As her counsel put it in exasperation, ‘Mechelle Vinson wore clothes.’ Her beauty in her clothes was admitted as evidence that she welcomed rape from her employer.
“Well, feminine, but not too feminine, then.”
“Careful: In Hopkins v. Price-Waterhouse, Ms. Hopkins was denied a partnership because she needed to learn to ‘walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely,’ and ‘wear makeup.'”
“Mabye she didn’t deserve a partnership?”
“She brought in the most business of any employee.”
“Hmm. Well, maybe a little more feminine.”
“No so fast. Policewoman Nancy Fahdl was fired because she looked ‘too much like a lady.'”
“All right, less feminine, I’ve wiped off my blusher.”
“You can lose your job if you don’t wear makeup. See Tamini v. Howard Johson Company, Inc.”
“How about this, then, sort of … womanly?
“Sorry. You can lose your job if you dress like a woman. In Andre v. Bendix Corporation, it was ruled ‘inappropriate for a supervisor’ of women to dress like ‘a woman.'”
“What am I supposed to do? Wear a sack?”
“Well, the women in Buren v. City of East Chicago had to ‘dress to cover themselves from neck to toe’ because the men at work were ‘kind of nasty.'”
“Won’t a dress code get me out of this?”
“Don’t bet on it. In Diaz v. Coleman, a dress code of short skirts was set by an employer who allegedly sexually harassed his female employees because they complied with it.”
In patriarchy women can’t win. This is why we need systematic change over individual empowerment.