broadsideblog

When Your Co-Worker Wears A Low-Cut Top, Is It OK To Stare?

In business, Fashion on July 7, 2010 at 9:57 am
Cleavage

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A new column over at Salon is offering advice on women and work, and this question — can I stare? — provoked 163 comments after the writer weighed in:

Look, is it cool that the woman you work with wears tight things that may or may not be appropriate for work, depending on what kind of office you work in, how the clothes fit her and other things that have to do with the context of her culture, general style and, frankly, body type (thank you, Lane Bryant for making an issue out of that banned ad and its reflective bias)? Maybe, I don’t know.  What I know is definitely uncool is for you, a young, straight man in the workplace — not a minority unless it is Opposite Day — to take umbrage with a female colleague’s apparel choices. Because, frankly, what Perla in accounting wears to work so she can cover her bits and feed her family is really none of your business — even if your erection disagrees. If she’s violating a dress code rule that she’d been briefed on at the time of her hire, somebody in H.R. will talk to her, and she’ll probably be embarrassed and start wearing a scarf.

I don’t think so.

If you insist on displaying your cleavage, why wouldn’t men stare? Isn’t that the point? Why should women dress so provocatively yet whine when they — provoke — attention?

Your colleagues, let alone your customers or clients, don’t need to see your breasts.

Do they?

  1. I’d need more information to answer.

    I can say that provocatively dressed employees can be very difficult to be gentlemanly around (and that’s not a choice but a requirement for a good boss,) but that’s my problem, not theirs.

  2. I dunno, Caitlin. Your argument is a slippery slope to the rapist apologists who defend themselves on the basis of “she was asking for it” because of provocative clothing.

    Look, everyone’s taste in fashion is not the same, and different women are comfortable with different standards of how much skin is too much. Even though I would never be comfortable showing that much cleavage at the office, is it really for me as a co-worker to say whether or not it’s inappropriate (within reason, of course)? I think the onus is on company policies to determine what is business-like in their industry and to make them part of the company’s employee orientation.

    As an example, I once interviewed a young woman for a client-facing position who wore her tongue-piercing to the interview. Personally, I find it inappropriate, but I couldn’t fault her credentials for the job. Had I dismissed her candidacy because of my personal issues with her taste in jewelry, who knows what lawsuits the company may have been subjected to?

  3. Ms. Kelly,

    I once met a fellow who had lived for quite some time in a very conservative Muslim country where women were clothed from head to toe is the most un-reveling garments. He, like many of the men in that land, ended up paying very close attention to the only thing they could see, the fingers. He would see a woman’s fingers come out from beneath the robes to purchase food in a market and he would think “Wow, what great knuckles” (I am not making this up).

    On the other hand, one can go to sub-Saharan Africa and find places were women go about in public without any clothes on above the waist and no one (i.e. no men) even blink. A sight that would cause males in this country to break-out in a sweat is not given the slightest of glances by the local men (there are those of us of a certain age who became aficionados of National Geographic for this very reason). However it would cause a riot among the locals if one of these bare topped women were were to show the slightest bit of their thigh. When the local men stare at women, it is for their thighs which are fully covered yet hinted at beneath their clothes. Women in skirt cut even just above the knees would cause many dilated male pupils and racing pulses in these lands while here it would not be cause for much attention at all.

    The bottom line is that men like to look at women, no matter what they are wearing. What exactly they might fixate on is largely arbitrary and culturally defined. If never a women showed the décolletage again, men would seek something else to fix their gaze upon.

    So really it is not a question of whether men in the United States will look some part of woman, including but hardly limited to the bosom, they will. The question is, rather, will they do so in a fashion that will make women uncomfortable, i.e. will they *stare*. Perhaps more to the point, will they use their stare to diminish and deride, to debase what is desired? When this happens, it does not matter what clothing a woman is wearing.

  4. What about men that seem to be physically unable to cover their butt crack? Talk about the unmentioned elephant in the room… geez.

    Just say no to crack – Butt crack that is.. Yes – I am biased.

    Dennis – Portland OR

  5. David, I take your point. As someone who tends to dress fairly modestly,I’ve never understood a woman who is comfortable exposing so much flesh in a professional setting where the focus must remain intellectual.

    I don’t think I’m prudish (and maybe I am) but why dress in a way that clearly can make others really uncomfortable. To me, male or female flesh overexposed, is bad taste or bad manners. At work. Off the clock, not my business.

  6. I live in Russia. Women here dress in very sexy, form fitting clothes. The men aren’t as obsessed with staring and porn as they are in the USA. The true issue is repression and a disconnect from reality.

    If the culture is against women wearing clothing that shows off their figure and a woman bucks this trend men act like school children hitting puberty. Why do women deny their nature and at the same time deny men’s? It’s natural, we want to look, we appraise women constantly as prospective mates. I believe we are repressed in USA corporate culture to make us more productive. It’s much easier to be interested in accounting or some other crappy job when there are no breasts around.

    The Russian woman is very conscious of her femininity. It’s not repressed, it’s expected, as is a males masculinity. But yet in the USA this line is becoming more and more blurred in many areas especially in the corporate world.

    Furthermore, does anyone comment on the fact that in business settings all men dress exactly the same in bulky, bland suits? Men have much less latitude to dress creatively. And being a fit person myself I find it impossible to find a decent fitting suit without either having it custom made or spending 10 times what I would at macy’s. Most are made for fat men, bulky.

  7. “I believe we are repressed in USA corporate culture to make us more productive. It’s much easier to be interested in accounting or some other crappy job when there are no breasts around.”

    I agree.

    As for why suits are made for fat(ter) guys, there *are* slim-fitting suits but they tend to cost a fortune, as you know.

  8. I think there’s a difference in being tasteful and being trashy. That being said, if you put them on display, expect them to be looked at.

  9. ….What I know is definitely uncool is for you, a young, straight man in the workplace — not a minority unless it is Opposite Day — to take umbrage with a female colleague’s apparel choices.
    This sounds pretty hostile, juvenile, and sexist (i.e. targeting a particular demographic)to me. It is “uncool” to request that workplace rules are upheld? So workplaces have 2 sets of rules: those that are in writing, and the unwritten coolness requirement?
    Where I work, we frequently have to remind men and women to cover up. It’s part of our culture. The reason we do it, is because people get hopping mad and disgusted when co-workers show too much skin. It is what it is.

  10. Leon, the problem of leaving these choices wide open is that some people have zero notion of boundaries. I, personally, do not wish to see much of the exposed flesh we’re all subjected to in summer weather. I don’t think you have to be hideous about it (i.e. pantyhose, etc.) but too much skin is not the right choice in a work environment.

  11. I just can’t agree with this. Who is the arbiter of dress codes? There are women of a size in any office who are going to look like they’re showing off mad cleavage just because of the way they’re shaped, unless all they wear is button-ups and sweaters. I’m not saying that women should dress in inappropriate clothing at the office – there’s a time and place for everything and the skin tight skimpy Ed Hardy dress is never appropriate for the office. But saying that we should cover up totally just so we don’t offend the sensibilities of those more conservative, or make all the boys stare is ludicrous.

    Why is it so often accepted as fact in this country that men have no self control when it comes to lady bits? Women have to cover up. Women have to be wary. Women can’t look too interested or too sexy or too whatever, we are the ones told we always have to be on guard because any guy we walk past is a threat. Personally, I’m sick of this idea that women are the end point of responsibility for sexuality.

    • Amen, sister.

    • Hi Evafortune Well you see womens boobs do really distract men ate work . I dont understand why women should show cleavage at work .I’m teaching a class of adult students and one of the female students who has a beautiful figure and big gorgeous breasts comes into class wearing tight skimpy tops and tight pants which emphasize her breasts and her figure. She often asks me over to her desk with a question. And she gave me a present. She’s friendly to me and comes up to my desk to ask something . She must know that it really turns me on. Or is she just being friendly – I don’t know why she dresses like that in my class. I’ve been very helpful and nice to her with her English studies but I want to focus on her brains rather than her boobs but shes making it difficult for me to concentrate. Ladies what do you think?
      Ross

  12. Either I was not clear or we simply fundamentally disagree. I am not in any way suggesting women protect men from their impulses. Please.

    But as a woman and a professional, I have no interest in watching another female bounce around the office or workplace because….? She can’t be bothered to buy a properly-fitted bra or blouse or shirt? Unless you’re a 44DDD, and even then you don’t have to show everyone what you’ve got, it’s possible to find a top that’s attractive but, yes, modest enough it doesn’t embarrass others – including some women.

    This is not about sex or sexuality. It’s about taste, or lack of same. Manners are defined as behavior that makes others feel comfortable; bad manners would be the opposite of that. If what you wear makes others — including other women — uncomfortable, why is the need to show off your breasts so important to you?

    If a woman wants to dress provocatively, i.e. designed to draw and provoke attention to her body, then whatever. That’s her decision. But I don’t have to like it or agree with it.

    • It makes me uncomfortable to see men and women with multiple tattoos. Does that make the wearers of the tatoos lacking in manners or is it my problem? My point is simply that you can cover up the offending body parts, tattooed or not, all you want but at the end of the day, taste is in the eye of the beholder. All other dress code standards should be made and enforced by HR.

    • Caitlin, why would someone be embarrassed by what someone else is wearing? This seems a fundamental flaw of logic and perhaps the crux of the issue…

    • Well I’m teaching a class of adult students and one of the female students who has a beautiful figure and big gorgeous breasts comes into class wearing tight skimpy tops and tight pants which emphasize her breasts and her figure. She often asks me over to her desk with a question. And she gave me a present. She’s friendly to me and comes up to my desk to ask something . She must know that it really turns me on. Or is she just being friendly – I don’t know why she dresses like that in my class. I’ve been very helpful and nice to her with her English studies but I want to focus on her brains rather than her boobs but shes making it difficult for me to concentrate. Ladies what do you think?
      Ross

  13. I worked retail with people who had piercings and tattoos. Didn’t bother me.

    The problem with leaving it to HR is they don’t do much about it, half the time.

    • You just proved my point. What bothers you doesn’t bother others. Don’t like it? Don’t look.

  14. Clearly a point on which we completely disagree. Which is fine.

  15. Well I’m teaching a class of adult students and one of the female students who has a beautiful figure and big gorgeous breasts comes into class wearing tight skimpy tops and tight pants which emphasize her breasts and her figure. She often asks me over to her desk with a question. And she gave me a present. She’s friendly to me and comes up to my desk to ask something . She must know that it really turns me on. Or is she just being friendly – I don’t know why she dresses like that in my class. I’ve been very helpful and nice to her with her English studies but I want to focus on her brains rather than her boobs but shes making it difficult for me to concentrate. Ladies what do you think?
    Ross

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