“America, we have a problem.”
The American educational system and in turn the workplace is becoming a place where it is more important to compete for sexual attention then valedictorian or employee of the month.
Walk into any high school or college in America today and you will see hundreds of girls and sometimes even boys with their belly buttons decked out in “bling” and their breasts only half covered up. Walk into any workplace that does not strictly monitor their employees attire or require them to wear uniforms and you will see the same behavior.
At what point did modesty, decency, and self-respect become an option? It is now unfortunately the exception rather then the rule.
Why is this a problem for employees and employers?
The workplace is a place to apply and enhance your skills, training, education, and talents while earning money for your efforts. It is a place to develop both temporary and permanent platonic relationships with both co-workers and company or organizational leadership that may eventually assist in future career opportunities or an increase in your earning potential. In this process personal friendships and romantic or sexual relationships do develop but they are not nor should they ever be the focus of one’s workday. Nor should one’s efforts to pursue this become a distraction to their co-workers.
Employees who choose to dress this way in the workplace easily become a target for sexual harassment, office gossip, reprimanding, and embarrassing documentation in their personnel files. They may also have difficulty in developing strong and cohesive relationships with their co-workers who are either bothered by the feelings that their scantily clad coworkers outward need for attention conjure up or too busy checking out their belly button ring to really pay attention to the task they are suppose to be working on together.
Employers who allow this behavior to go on are in the least inhibiting the development of a good team oriented environment and allowing for tension in the workplace. They may even be opening themselves up to potential lawsuits or sexual harassment claims.
Educational institutions that do not enforce the school dress codes or have a too relaxed approach to managing what students wear are not properly preparing students for the world of work, maybe actually putting students in danger of being abused by teachers, and are certainly opening themselves up to potential legal problems.
Why is this happening?
It is starting in the homes and educational institutions all across our country. Although most schools and workplace’s have dress codes that require modest dress and attire schools are becoming more and more relaxed about enforcing the rules and punishing those who refuse to follow them.
I recently asked a male friend of mine who is a high school teacher in the inner city of Cleveland after visiting the school that he teaches at “How are the children in the school getting away with dressing in clothing that clearly shows their bellies, breasts, boxer shorts, etc.? His response was interesting. He replied “ Well it kind of works like this, if a girl comes into my class dressed in a shirt that shows her belly or her breasts and I write her up and send her to the office, the question out her mouth is ….”Why were you looking?” Now I am in a position to be accused of sexual harassment. If I write up a male student for wearing saggy pants with his underwear or belly showing the first question out of his mouth is…..”Why are you writing me up and not the girl with the low cut shirt?” Now I am in a position to be accused of discrimination. I’m darned if I do and darned if I don’t.”
Unfortunately, employers are in the same predicament. In our extremely litigious society, employers and educators are constantly put in the situation of attempting to enforce rules while protecting themselves from false accusations.
Even in schools and working environments that require that students and employees wear uniforms, they still find a way to “expose themselves”.
It starts in the home.
Parents allow their children to dress provocatively and indecently. They are too busy, too lazy, or too irresponsible to monitor and limit what their children can and cannot wear while in or out of the home. In some cases, daughters are mimicking their mothers and sons are mimicking their fathers. Parents are also becoming more and more liberal about what they allow their children to be exposed to on television, the Internet, and whatever other electronic communication device ‘little Susie” might have gotten for her 12th birthday.
As there becomes more and more emphasis in the media to sexualize children and to make a buck, and as we as a society continue to attempt to botox our way back to our mother’s womb, the American worker will go to farther and farther extremes to appear sexually attractive in the workplace.
Sure, we can go on and on about the irresponsibility of the media moguls who keep pushing the “sex sells” envelope closer and closer to the brink of danger. We all know that our children are bombarded with scantily clad images and the societal acceptance of using sexuality for various gains.
(A major department store in America is selling “thong” underwear for preschoolers. How much farther can we possibly go?)
What can we as a society do to reverse this problem?
Let’s start with in our own homes.
Parents, here is some tough love.
Stop letting your children dress this way!
Start right from the birth of your child. Do not dress your two your old daughter in little pin blue jeans that say “cute” across the butt and putt glitter lipstick on her. Didn’t any learn anything from the death of Jon Bennett Ramsey?
Moms, stop walking around in front of your daughters with you bellies hanging out. Save it for your husband. He’ll appreciate it. If your single, save it for Friday night out with the girls. Dad’s stop encouraging this behavior in your wives and daughters and please, pull your pants up. Only your wife should know whether you wear boxers or briefs.
Go shopping for clothes with your children. Teach them the difference between dressing attractive and wearing fun and fashionable clothing and looking like they should have a sign on them that reads “please kidnap me”.
Here are some suggestions of activities you can do with your children that may help:
When your child is born begin saving magazines, sales ads from the Sunday paper, etc. Every year from the time they are about 3 years old, about a week before your child’s birthday plan a special day that is called “birthday outfit shopping day”. Make a big deal out of it. Make whole or at least a half of day of it. Let them pick the department store (Wal-Mart, Target, whatever store has a good selection of children’s clothing) that they want to shop at and a restaurant that they would like to go out to for lunch or dinner. Spend the day talking about fashion and celebrities and what is ok and not ok to wear. Go through the clothes on the racks in the store and show them different outfits and explain to them why some are ok and some are not. Without seeming gossipy or being obvious about it, point out different people you see in public throughout that day and explain to them what is appropriate dress and what is not. Don’t forget to explain why. Then on your child’s birthday from the time your children are about 3 years old (yes, they will already care about fashion) sit down with some paste and scissors and make a collage with them of different kinds of clothes, pictures of properly dressed children and adults, pictures of properly dressed cartoon characters (not all are) etc. While your are doing this fun little project talk about things like modesty and decency in the way people dress and why they are important. Leave a space in the middle to past a photo of your child. Then at their birthday party take a few photos of your child dressed in their cool but appropriate birthday outfit. Let them choose the photo that they like the best. Paste the photo in the middle of the collage. Frame the collage and hang in a special place in their bedroom where they will see it everyday. Do this every year of their childhood. You can even do this on a very low budget. If a local department store is out of your budget range, try a thrift store or flea market. Thrift stores are a fiesta of kid’s clothes for literally pennies!
Dollar stores usually have a great selection of poster board and arts and crafts supplies. If a restaurant is not in your budget let your child select from a variety of fast food establishments such as McDonald’s or Burger Kind. You can even pack your child’s favorite peanut butter and jelly or fried bologna sandwiches and a couple of juice boxes into a brown paper bag and eat on a blanket in the park or while parking your car where there is a cool view that your child likes such as near the airport where the planes take off and land, near a local waterfront where the boats come in, or even in the local mall parking lot so you can people watch and talk about the way they are dressed. You can be creative and frugal at the same time.
Reward your children for their good judgment in the way they dress. Develop a point system. Make a game out of it. Let your child help make up a name for it like “The Dress The Best” game or “Who Wants To Be A Fashion Icon?” Help them a poster with a chart on it. Hang it in their room. Every time you see them in an outfit that is appropriate give then a point. Every time you see them with something on that is not, take a point away. Make a deal with them for a reward for their good fashion judgment. For example, when they earn 10 points they get a new outfit or when they earn 100 points they get to go on a little shopping spree for new clothes. You’ll be amazed at how well they respond to positive re-enforcement.
Most importantly, be a good example and be consistent in your expression of the importance of decency in the way they dress.
Educators, have a system in place and some safety pins.
Develop a good dress code for you school or college and diligently enforce it. Make it seem a little overboard in its requirements. The harsher it is the closer you will get people to following it.
Have a “fashion assembly” where students participate in the planning, modeling of clothes, etc. Invite speakers in from local business to talk about the importance of decency in attire in the workplace.
Have a dress for success contest day once a month at school. Put ballot boxes in the classroom. Ask a local department store, amusement park or restaurant to donate gift certificates for prizes.
Here is an idea that I gave to friend who is a teacher.
At the beginning of the year before the first day of school take three colored pieces of construction paper one red, one green, and one yellow. Laminate each of them. Make a key for the students that indicates the meaning of each. Red can indicate that when it is held up by you during class, someone in the room is dressed in an extremely inappropriate way and that they can figure it out for themselves and ask for a pass to go take care of it. Have a spare sweatshirt, some safety pins, a couple of t-shirts ect. stored in the guidance off that can be requested for by a student to fix their problem. Yellow can be that someone in the room is walking a fine line and that they should take a look at themselves and come more properly dressed the next day. Green can mean that someone is getting written up. Write out the referral and pass to the office and hand it to them with what the dress code violation is written on it. This system eliminates any accusations of sexual harassment or discrimination.
Employers, be smart but be fun.
Develop a dress code and diligently enforce it. Include a video about proper workplace attire as part of your orientation. Take action immediately when someone violates it. You can do it discreetly and even allow for a first and second warning policy but stick to it. Don’t show favoritism to certain employees and let them get away with not abiding by it.
Have a “Best Dressed” employee of the month contest.
Have a work attire fashion show once a year.
Trade dress for success speakers with other businesses in your area and have someone from another business come in to give a presentation on the importance of workplace decency and modesty.
There are I am sure that there are dozens of great ideas that you yourself can even come up with to consider as possible solutions to this growing problem in our society. Even little changes in the home, schools, and work places can begin to make a difference.
For the record, it’s not about being prudish, old fashioned, overly conservative, or boring. It’s about common sense, safety, increased work productivity, respect for others, and respect for oneself.