The Dress Code Issue

A couple of years ago I became a school marm. Life as I knew it was over. Dressing up and looking pretty became a thing of the past. After a few near misses, looking pretty was not worth the trouble of being objectified by hormone riddles teenage boys. I don’t want to feature in anyones fantasies. Least of all a child who could literally have been my own kid. They have no filter and are arrogant enough to believe that their intentions are well received. Eeeew! Yuck, yuck, yuck! So I started dressing down in order to save myself from advances and all was dandy until the dress code issue came up today and made me feel objectified. By older boys. Much older than I am.

When you work with teenagers, it’s so important to project a healthy and positive image. They observe and dissect every little thing. As a woman it’s important for me to be an example in every which way. I can’t very well preach and not live out my truth. There needs to be a definitive balance between dressing modestly, being well spoken, confident, self respect and having boundaries. I want them to see what being a strong woman is all about. We don’t have to lose face and be vulgar or unkind. Besides that’s not strength.

Where the boys are concerned, I need them to grow up being accustomed to respecting women. We are not objects and neither are we the needy sex plenty of them make us out to be. Making advances and being sleazy is not what being a man is all about. Cat calling and cheap pick up lines are so 2000-and-late. Women should be able to wear anything and be whoever they want to be and it shouldn’t matter either way. Men get respect by default and women have to work so much harder to gain even a thread of said respect. And even then respect is only given to the strong women who, like me, demands respect from everyone I cross paths with.

So for the past two years I’ve worked my behind off establishing boundaries with the boys, showing girls what being a woman is all about and commanding respect. This has affected my dress sense a whole lot. Instead of wearing what would be deemed professional and suitable for a corporate office (and also in a perfect world of a school marm), I’ve had to change my wardrobe drastically and ugly myself up a bit. Most days I go to school looking drab. It used to bug the heck out of me but it was born out of necessity. You see, I look much younger than I am. A fact that frustrates me no end because people don’t take me seriously. This happens often and I find myself having to remind my boss that when I enter the school everyday, I actually come to work and not to attend school. A nice way of reminding him not to talk down at me like I’m one of the kids at school. Also, can you imagine talking to a father experiencing problems with his grade 8 kid and trying to hear him out because you’ve already done grade 8 twice (I’m basically a pro here!) and he doesn’t take note of you because for all he knows you completed school last year.

Wearing dresses is not professional. Applying make-up is not professional.

For the past two days I was commended on the way I looked and I hated it! Compliments I will welcome but don’t give me a pat on the back because I wore make up and dresses. And don’t dare expect me to project an image of what you find to be presentable. It’s sexist, offensive and quite frankly a display of plain bad manners. Yup, this happened and I had a stern talk with my boss who “didn’t mean it that way”. But that’s just my problem… People never really mean what they say but they say it anyway. Let’s just say that we sorted out our differences and I did warn him to NEVER talk about dress code to me again. Professional is one thing, but expecting someone to be part of the display is bad form. Having some unknown man look at me from top to toe is not enjoyable either. Most uncomfortable couple of minutes I’ve experienced in a while.

You may be wondering where our conversation stemmed from. It’s a long time coming and let’s just say that my boss often uses me as a guinea pig to implement new policies. I am often the last person he should be addressing. In fact I’m never the relevant person and I always tell him that. He’s my work husband and we have very clear communication between us. I’m his sounding board for thoughts and ideas and probably the only person who draws a line and dares him to cross it. He’s quite good at not overstepping my boundaries but needs some reminding at times. Today was one of those times. Who am I kidding? Everyday is one of those times. What I do appreciate about him is that the moment I call him out for something, he will apologise for getting his foot into it and makes sure that he doesn’t make the same mistake again. For all his faults he’s a good guy. I’m still a happy employee and won’t be trading jobs anytime soon. What irks me is that the ones he should be addressing never gets addressed and they continue with their days non the wiser while I get my knickers in a knot for some or other reason. But most bosses are like that so I cut him a break when he deserves one.

Here’s the thing…

More often than not, women are subjected to thoughtless words and acts from men. What we work so hard for can be ripped away from us in a second stripping away our confidence and self worth. We especially take pride in the way we dress but sometimes that same pride has to be masked in ugliness or we risk being sexualized. My fear of being cast in the main role of a teenage boys fantasies has me digging out my most hideous clothes at times. Being visually undressed by colleagues and whoever I may have contact with on any given day makes my skin crawl so I reach for the ill fitting clothes. Being the first lady of a school is an honour until it’s not. Working in a poor community where plenty of parents are unemployed doesn’t call for polished perfection that only my favourite foundation, red lipstick and a boss lady outfit can bring. I’ve found that my parents and kids relate to me better when I’m dressed plain and neat. There is respect and discipline from the kids and the parents feel like I am more approachable. Guys I even speak Englikaans and hifiluten gham daily because my community doesn’t need polished perfection. What’s the use of speaking professional and using big words if people don’t understand you? All the make up in the world will never make me be anyone other than myself. I serve my community and they need to know there is someone capable who will understand them and see to their kids safety daily.

I say yes to professionalism. I say yes to looking neat. I say yes to lipstick and make-up. I say yes to the dress and even a suit. But when I feel like it. I also say yes to skinny slacks, cardigans and coats to cover my lady bits. I say yes to wearing no make-up and tied hair. There are plenty of yes’s in my vocab. But telling me that a dress and makeup is professional? Hell No! Finish and klaar.

PS: My boss is a fair man and is open to listening to others opinions and gripes. He has no problem admitting when he’s wrong and will be the first to apologise. It’s not often you find bosses who are willing to put themselves out there and willing to change and bend the rules for the greater good. I think this is why we make a mean team.

PPS: I am totally rebelling tomorrow and wearing the ugliest outfit I have in my wardrobe. I’m juvenile like that. And I’m done with makeup for a while. To work at least. I have conceded to wearing no ripped jeans on Fridays. I do feel I can pull it off and still manage to look smart but let me at least try to meet him halfway in some aspect.

What is professional dress code in your opinion and how do you feel about being told what to wear?

FYI: I wrote this post to get over my frustrations of my day. It worked! Writing does that for me. If you’re looking for a way of unwinding and getting rid of some stress, try putting pen to paper. It’s therapeutic.

With love,

CJ

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