Can we stop policing women’s bodies already?

BC news anchor

Last week, Kori Sidaway, a B.C. news anchor, received a harassing email about her appearance during a broadcast. The viewer shamed her for wearing a shirt that showed a hint of cleavage, dubbing themselves “The Vancouver Cleavage Patrol.”

While female journalists are no strangers to disproportionate sexual harassment in the workplace, Sidaway’s story begs the question: why are we still policing women’s bodies?

Professionalism is expected in any occupation, but what that professionalism looks like is subjective and can easily be skewed and weaponized to fit someone’s purposes. In Sidaway’s case, it was to harass women.

Too often, professionalism is a thinly veiled guise for discrimination. Tattoos and Black hairstyles, for example, have historically been considered “unprofessional,” if only to oppress and disadvantage the people who wear them. In the same vein, women are expected to be attractive, yet get shamed for being “too sexual.” 

 This double standard is especially true for women in the public sphere, like female journalists and online creators on platforms like YouTube—spaces where backlash can make or break their careers.

Policing women’s bodies isn’t truly about professionalism, but exerting power. At the end of the day, the way a woman looks doesn’t take away from the content she’s creating, whether that be on a YouTube video or in a newscast. Rather, the fault lies with the men who are sexualizing these women in the first place.

We need to protect women on online platforms and in the workplace from harassment. That starts with making sure women feel comfortable, especially in environments which might be male-dominated.

Companies themselves need policies in place to protect their staff from harassment. Not being attacked at work is a basic human right and should be treated as such.

We also need to stop ingraining dress codes in girls from a young age, in schools as well as the workplace.

That’s not to say women needn’t be presentable at work—they should be—but women shouldn’t be shamed for short skirts or low-cut tops, nuances that don’t affect their job performance whatsoever.

Having cleavage isn’t unprofessional, but demeaning women for the way they dress is. We have a long way to go before women will ever truly be equal, but ending the tradition of policing women’s bodies is a necessary start.

—Journal Editorial Board

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