Dressing The Part Might Help Further The Role

by Moms With Apps on November 12, 2012

If a woman’s goal is to be taken seriously, professionally, and equally, why do women in the workplace continue to highlight their bodies at the expense of their brains?

This thought preoccupied me while previewing the new reality show “Start Up: Silicon Valley”. Curious about how the Bay Area would be portrayed on national television, I decided to watch the first episode. After seeing more underwear than business plans, I had to turn it off after 20 minutes, disheartened that our gender had let us down yet again.

We need more role models who care enough to offer advice to the twenty-somethings just starting out. We need more women in the workplace who focus less on being women, and more on being a colleague. We need more women who look in the mirror before heading to a work meeting, and ask themselves if the neckline or hemline or heel height will cause a distraction. Because it does. And it always will. It’s the nature of the beast.

Taking my own advice about “caring enough to offer advice”, here is a photo for any twenty-something who happens to be reading. If we study how Sandra Day O’Connor and Margaret Thatcher are represented in this photograph, what we see is leadership, expertise, and life stories fit for history books. Hopefully more of us can start aiming for the history books.

Photo Credit: San Francisco Chronicle article on Sandra Day O’Connor

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Janelle McLaughlin November 13, 2012 at 5:26 am

Excellent point! Thanks for wording it so eloquently.

Chris Pedersen November 13, 2012 at 7:30 am

Bravo! A very important post. I am shocked at what women on TV wear. I’m not talking about the “waste of time” TV dramas and sitcoms, but the news programs (example: Bloomberg West). Have you seen what high school girls wear to school? Moms need to teach their girls what that does to men. You’ve hit on a very important cultural issue, Lorraine.

Moms With Apps November 13, 2012 at 8:34 am

Thanks @Chris, @Janelle. I know I will risk getting hammered for this post, but we need to start talking about the difference between being perceived as “classy” vs. “tarty”. It’s a distinction that matters, and women will continue to be undermined if we are the reason for our own objectification. As I write this, I can hear the thunder rumbling. –Lorraine

Carisa Kluver November 13, 2012 at 8:53 am

Excellent post, Lorraine! I could not agree more. I hear some younger women say that dressing sexy at work is empowering, but they have ‘empower’ & ‘power’ mixed up.

Being distracting on purpose instead of professional, can give a woman the feeling of sexual power over some of the men in their workplaces, but those types of ‘power games’ added to a relationship have consequences that are not empowering to either gender.

I’m with Chris on this, Bravo for stirring up a little discussion!


Moms With Apps November 13, 2012 at 11:17 am

I agree, @Carisa. I think we might be surprised, how much progress could me made, if our work spoke louder than our appearance. –Lorraine

Rosemary Breen November 13, 2012 at 11:21 am

I totally agree with you about appearance. I was going to call it image – but that word is taking on a whole new meaning these days and I dont think this is quite what we are talking about here.

It is so easy for guys; they have the suit and from there their choices become tie/no tie, black sox or red sox, french cuffs or regular…

For women, I still think there is a gap and too often we fall into it.



Ann November 13, 2012 at 11:40 am

This argument sounds like it’s about to delve into victim blaming, e.g. “Dressing up like targets” Nobody gets up in the morning thinking, “I’d like to be harassed today. What can I wear?” Sexual harassment in the workplace is a real issue affecting both men and women. Sadly, our society likes to place harsher criticism on female victims, which is total nonsense. It would be akin to blaming auto theft victims for having nice cars. Also, harassment and sexual violence are often issues of power, rather than genuine sexual interest. Anyone dressed any way can be a victim.

If Margaret Thatcher is your idea of what to wear at work, you are way behind the times. Fashion has changed. Get over it. And I wouldn’t take Start-Up as an indicator of what’s going on in Silicon Valley. Trust me, I’ve worked there.

Moms With Apps November 13, 2012 at 11:54 am

Hi @Ann, thanks for weighing in and for taking the time to read and respond. I’m puzzled by your comments, however. I did not address the topic of sexual harassment in this post. I addressed the topic of furthering a woman’s role in the workplace. Margaret Thatcher, agreed, isn’t the best example of what to wear nowadays. But again, I give my readers the benefit of the doubt that they realize this is an outdated photo, and can make the connection themselves between classy examples of dress, and more inappropriate options. –Lorraine

P.S. Given the word “target” in my initial draft received a strong reaction (one I wasn’t trying to achieve), I’ve taken that as constructive feedback, and have amended the first sentence, omitting that word.

Moms With Apps November 13, 2012 at 11:58 am

Hi @Rosemary, nice to see you here, and thanks also for lending your comments. Agreed, they boys have their suits to turn to, and women also have the choice to opt for suits. I’m curious why more don’t. –Lorraine

Alesha November 13, 2012 at 2:26 pm

This is a good one : )

I haven’t seen the show and I have no plans on watching it(because reality TV shows always make me want to up-chuck and/or cry)

My first thoughts are the producers edit and create a story that they think will get views – and in our society that usually means stirring up the pot….and ta-da, here we are ; )

I think Lorraine and Ann both have valid points and if this conversation goes viral(which I think it could since this is the second time I am talking about it today) Bravo will get all the free PR they desire and build awareness around this subject.

Yael November 14, 2012 at 11:04 am

You are absolutely right, as a woman entrepreneur I also cringed when I watched that show (no entrepreneur I know lives in the Four Seasons and has 2 people do their hair and makeup every time they go out). The problem though might be more that the women selected for the show don’t represent most women in the workplace, but rather a small group of women who would gladly trade on their looks to get ahead, prime targets for a reality show. The reality (pun intended) is that Bravo is looking to attract viewers through cheap provocation, and found the women who would take their clothes off and talk about hair and makeup with some startup jargon thrown in, in some ridiculous attempt to create a high-brow, geeky Kardashian. There will always be women like that, the only shame here is that these women are (mis)represented as serious business women. But since sex sells, I doubt we can ever expect to see the light from TV producers who are just trying to up their ratings.

Moms With Apps November 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

Hi @Alesha, @Yael, thanks for weighing in. Agree, the “reality TV” segment is not the barometer from which to measure actual reality. Still wishing we have more messages and examples to counter these misrepresentations, to pass on to those kids entering the workforce.

Yael November 17, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Absolutely – if you haven’t, you should watch the film MissRepresentation. It’s portraying a really scary reality for all parents: http://www.missrepresentation.org/

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