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Le Sexisme Ordinaire
July 20, 2012 8:09 AM   Subscribe

In May new French minister caused a stir by wearing jeans to inaugral cabinet meeting. On Tuesday she wore a floral dress when addressing the Parliament.

One parliamentarian explained that he was only “admiring” Duflot’s looks and that she probably “put on that dress so that we wouldn’t listen to what she was saying.”
posted by zeikka (155 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Ahhh, 'ere in France, we are, 'ow you say, pigs."
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 8:12 AM on July 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


Duflot, also the sole minister to arrive and leave by public transport

That's pretty great.
posted by enn at 8:15 AM on July 20, 2012 [42 favorites]


Leaving aside all other aspects of the matter, that's a lovely dress. It would certainly be nice if such kind of dresses became acceptable replacements for suits in the workplace, since they're more comfortable, more washable and come in a greater variety of fits. (I mean, I don't wear dresses ever and wouldn't even under a theoretical new dispensation, but they're still pretty.)
posted by Frowner at 8:15 AM on July 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


Zut alors!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:17 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Peut-on dire cochon?!
posted by jph at 8:18 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


i was all uppity about why this was even news until i got the part where the parliament was hooting and hollering at her as she tried to address them.

jesus christ people get a grip.

also, maybe jeans wasn't the best choice, but come on...she's wearing a very nice tailored outfit there. it's not like she showed up in completely inappropriate attire, like converse and a hoodie.

i love that she took the bus. go her.
posted by sio42 at 8:19 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I found the print a bit dowdy.

This is both feminine and elegant. And this number on Mademoiselle Perry is vraiment chic.
posted by Egg Shen at 8:20 AM on July 20, 2012


Bunch of fucking children.
posted by odinsdream at 8:23 AM on July 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Especially after one of the happy hecklers, Patrick Balkany, told the right-leaning paper Le Figaro that he was only “admiring” Duflot’s looks and that she probably “put on that dress so that we wouldn’t listen to what she was saying.” Understand: In France, male politicians are easily distracted. Or perhaps they’re just pigs.

If your listening skills are so easily disrupted (and you are over the age of 12), you should probably lose your job. Acting like an adult is not actually all that difficult.
posted by rtha at 8:24 AM on July 20, 2012 [38 favorites]


“Ladies and gentlemen,” Cécile Duflot says. “Obviously, more gentlemen than ladies,” she adds after a short pause.
Either that's a generous translation or she was being way nicer than they deserved.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:24 AM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's 2012, right? Like, the 21st Century 2012, right?

What the fuck kind of "one of the leading progressive countries in the world" government allows that kind of sexist behavior in its parliament?

I would think more conservative choices of dress patterns would be more appropriate for the parliamentary setting, but the treatment that high ranking female official received from her colleagues in a professional and official setting is absolutely uncalled for.

Christ, what fucking assholes.

/ragefilter
posted by jillithd at 8:27 AM on July 20, 2012 [13 favorites]



If your listening skills are so easily disrupted (and you are over the age of 12), you should probably lose your job. Acting like an adult is not actually all that difficult.
OH. YEAH. YOUR lack of self-control is not MY problem.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:31 AM on July 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


What the fuck kind of "one of the leading progressive countries in the world" government allows that kind of sexist behavior in its parliament?

Well, this is just one of the more obvious ways in which that old canard about "a right wing politician in Europe would be left wing in the USA" is just ridiculously simplistic and wrong. France is "progressive" in lots of areas where the US is "regressive" but it's also pretty regressive in lots of areas where the US is progressive. The whole Dominique Strauss-Kahn phenomenon wouldn't have happened in the US, for example. There's a lot of this "sexisme ordinaire" that just wouldn't get tolerated in the US and would disqualify even a right-wing politician in the eyes of the electorate. At the same time, there's a lot of areas of actual government policy where France is way ahead of the US.
posted by yoink at 8:34 AM on July 20, 2012 [22 favorites]


You kind of buried the lede here. I'm actually kind of a fan of formality in dress in formal settings, such as when addressing Parliament, so I think the choice of dress was inappropriate, as were the jeans. But that doesn't excuse (and indeed, does not explain) the sexist idiocy in display.
posted by OmieWise at 8:36 AM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


What the fuck kind of "one of the leading progressive countries in the world" government allows that kind of sexist behavior in its parliament?

France! Take your bikini off at the beach, but for Pete's sake don't wear a shirt-dress or trouser jeans to work!

I'm actually kind of a fan of formality in dress in formal settings, such as when addressing Parliament, so I think the choice of dress was inappropriate, as were the jeans.

But a tailored shirt-dress in the right material IS business formal. Here's Michelle Obama wearing one while other women are wearing coordinated suites. The FLOTUS often wears a very similar shirt dress in a situation where other women choose to wear skirt suits. The fact of the matter is that women can't win. No matter the occassion, dresses can be both too formal and too informal. Because women exist outside the traditional business clothing structure. Because they're women.

As for the jeans, is there any reason those jeans are more casual than a pair of woven trousers?
posted by muddgirl at 8:44 AM on July 20, 2012 [43 favorites]


I'm actually kind of a fan of formality in dress in formal settings, such as when addressing Parliament, so I think the choice of dress was inappropriate, as were the jeans.

I'm a fan of listening to people who've got intelligent things to say. As long as I don't feel they have dressed a certain way in order to offend me (and it's difficult to think of what or why that could be) the primate inside of the garments made from spun plant fibers matters about a million times more than the garments themselves.

A sentence like "Yeah but you better not wear brown and black together, you don't want to make a bad impression." doesn't make any sense to me. But I suspect I'm backward in more ways than one.

What would be so bad about a government session in which people just wear what they would normally wear anywhere else in public?
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:49 AM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


and notice how that shirtdress is very late 1950s. it IS extremely conservative attire to begin with. so, yeah, women can't win.
posted by liza at 8:50 AM on July 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm actually kind of a fan of formality in dress in formal settings, such as when addressing Parliament, so I think the choice of dress was inappropriate, as were the jeans.

I applaud her informality. People should be free to wear comfortable, functional clothing in all situations. In fact, I'd just as soon nobody wore formal clothes unless they honestly enjoy them. The social requirement of wearing formal dress in formal settings is a) a regressive tax on the poor and b) a reinforcement of an implicit caste system.

Consider a job interview, for example. Putting on a suit to go to an interview requires money to buy a suit, which a poor person is less likely to have, particularly to get one that fits well. And for jobs that don't actually require wearing a suit on a regular basis (i.e. most of them), the act of putting on the suit is basically a signal that the applicant is willing to jump through arbitrary hoops, and on their own dime no less. It's the modern version of coming to the interview "hat in hand." We need to reduce the power imbalance between the applicant and the employer, not reinforce it.

With regard to government specifically, I think the formal dress gives the proceedings a completely unearned air of legitimacy. One looks at a legislative chamber full of men and women in suits, or a presidential signing ceremony, or judges in their robes and we are conditioned to assume that the product of that process is the carefully considered result of deliberation by special people who know what they are doing. In fact, NASCAR-style outfits would be more accurate, but failing that I'd rather see politicians in casual clothing.
posted by jedicus at 8:52 AM on July 20, 2012 [54 favorites]


Tangential, but about dress codes.

We're a pretty informal team when actually doing work in here, but do dress up for meeting clients and so forth. But I dress informal amidst informal dressers: running shoes always (I pity my knees, which I will need for old age) and t-shirts ranging from random schlock ("Upwards and onwards!") to band t-shirts (rocking a Portishead [P] right now) and crazy-person-pride stuff --from this guy I bought "team crazy meds", "the lithium made me eat it" and "extra medication for all!", and from somewhere else a neat elbow-length thing with "(Li2(CO)3)" on it.

Needless to say, other than my teammates, the rest of the office finds this weird -- some people even wear suits and ties. But here's the thing: where my mates get embarassed for being underdressed, I feel a weird pride about it. It caresses my ego, knowing that I will have to be taken seriously in my pill-strutting style, if maybe only because I work under one of the best coordinators in this two-tall-buildings-big institution. Try this for comparison: sometimes (not always; sometimes I ace) I get the shivers when speaking in front of an audience, but a teammate some time ago told me he always got the vibe that people were really trying to understand what I was saying despite the garbled presentation style. So I quaver with pride -- I know you need to get a glimpse of what I know; you'll have to take me.
posted by syntaxfree at 8:55 AM on July 20, 2012


and notice how that shirtdress is very late 1950s. it IS extremely conservative attire to begin with. so, yeah, women can't win.

Yeah, they pretty much directly said it: The only way we'll take a woman seriously in our sphere is if she's dressed in a man's uniform.
posted by muddgirl at 8:55 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


And then they'd mock her for dressing like a man, so basically fuck them sideways.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:56 AM on July 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


This is both feminine and elegant. And this number on Mademoiselle Perry is vraiment chic.

Leaving aside the fact that neither of those is a work dress for most values of work...

Really? Really? A ruffled polyester shirt dress that I would have worn in my late-seventies-vintage days and a body-con-esque dress with mesh-lace sleeves? I mean, they're both pretty enough within their vernacular, but they're only going to flatter one body-type, one is either synthetic (doesn't breathe) or possibly silk (doesn't wash); both are in off colors (beige-purple and jewel tones/black); and neither seems particularly suited to getting up/sitting down/going to lunch/walking to the bus/ordinary daily activity.

Also, I find the equation of feminine with "tiny ruffles" or "tight sheer things" a little limiting, but that's because even back in my girl-clothes-wearing days neither of those did anything for me.
posted by Frowner at 8:56 AM on July 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm a fan of listening to people who've got intelligent things to say. As long as I don't feel they have dressed a certain way in order to offend me (and it's difficult to think of what or why that could be) the primate inside of the garments made from spun plant fibers matters about a million times more than the garments themselves.

What? You seem to think saying I'm a fan of formality in dress for formal occasions is inconsistent with also being a fan of listening to people. (Just for the record, apparently unlike you, I'm a fan of listening to people period. I can come to my own conclusions about their intelligence later.)

I applaud her informality. People should be free to wear comfortable, functional clothing in all situations. In fact, I'd just as soon nobody wore formal clothes unless they honestly enjoy them. The social requirement of wearing formal dress in formal settings is a) a regressive tax on the poor and b) a reinforcement of an implicit caste system.

Bullshit re your last sentence. I dress formally for work all the time, and my entire wardrobe, except for my underwear and undershirts, is purchased from thrift stores.

People dress to convey social messages all the time. It's a primary function of dress. Almost no one dresses primarily for comfort without message also considered. Your inability to see the subtlety of some of those messages, or your condoning some over others, does not make them less present.
posted by OmieWise at 8:57 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


And then they'd mock her for dressing like a man, so basically fuck them sideways.

Yep.
posted by muddgirl at 8:57 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Formal wear in some settings really just serves as a proxy filter for status and legitimacy: "should I take this person seriously?" (rightly or wrongly -- I'm not saying it's a useful filter, just that it's used as one). Job interview? You may have no idea who a given applicant is, and any kind of information is useful, including clothing.

But, really, at the point where you're addressing parliament in your role as a member of the government, I think we're well beyond the point where you'd need a proxy: your legitimacy is that you're addressing parliament in your role as a member of the government, and if you're doing that in shorts and a t-shirt it really should not matter.
posted by cjelli at 8:59 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


People dress to convey social messages all the time.

This is true, but I'm struggling to see what message you think was being conveyed by that rather conservative and formal dress that was inappropriate to the occasion. It's not like she stood up in a boob tube and a micromini or something. Are you suggesting that only the skirt suit is suitable attire for women politicians? That seems like a pretty idiosyncratic rule.
posted by yoink at 9:00 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Formal dress is more elitist bullshit. You can't afford these clothes? Then I don't need to listen to you. If people listen to you more because of the color of your freaking pants, then they aren't too bright to begin with. The French. Jesus. Who in their right mind gives a shit about what the French think anyway. What is French for stuck up, sexist, haughty, and irrelevant?
posted by umberto at 9:01 AM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


My favorite part of international news is being reminded that my country does not have a monopoly on idiocy, racism, sexism, and other failures of humanity.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:07 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bullshit re your last sentence. I dress formally for work all the time, and my entire wardrobe, except for my underwear and undershirts, is purchased from thrift stores.

Your exceptional practices are not the norm. While formal wear is available in thrift stores, you can surely see that it will, at the very least, take longer to find fashionable clothes that are in good condition and fit well. That's time (and cultural education re: fit and fashion) that poor people are often unlikely to have. A wealthier person can simply buy new, well-fitting clothes off the rack and be reasonably assured that they will be fashionable and in good condition.

If my statement were false then there wouldn't be shopworn phrases like "dress for success" and "dress for the job you want, not the job you have." Or do you really want to argue that there is no social distinction made between someone who shows up to an interview in a suit and someone who wears shorts and a t-shirt (in hot weather)? The former is saying "I have the money/time/cultural education needed to buy an 'appropriate' suit, and I have the willingness to wear it in unreasonable weather." That latter does not. Explain to me how this situation is not disproportionately beneficial to the wealthy and those willing to humble themselves before someone in power?

People dress to convey social messages all the time. It's a primary function of dress. Almost no one dresses primarily for comfort without message also considered. Your inability to see the subtlety of some of those messages, or your condoning some over others, does not make them less present.

I'm perfectly aware of the messages conveyed by dress. My point is that our society, particularly with regard to work and politics, uses dress to convey social and economic status, with the result being yet another way in which the poor are discriminated against simply for being poor and yet another way that the powerful maintain their unearned legitimacy. I disapprove of that. Do you not?
posted by jedicus at 9:08 AM on July 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


What's kinda killing me is that France banned the voile intégrale (i.e., full-body coverings, like a burqa or niqab) in the name of gender equality and sexual freedom, and then THIS.
posted by LMGM at 9:08 AM on July 20, 2012 [34 favorites]


Formal dress is more elitist bullshit. You can't afford these clothes? Then I don't need to listen to you. If people listen to you more because of the color of your freaking pants, then they aren't too bright to begin with.

This.
posted by Malice at 9:08 AM on July 20, 2012


(addendum: not that I necessarily agree with the aforementioned ban or believe that the ban had only to do with freedom and equality.)
posted by LMGM at 9:09 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was a horribly rude reception that they gave her. That said, there is value in dressing like your peers. For the sports fans in the audience: Maybe you could shoot a three-pointer or hit a home run in your street duds, but you still show up for the big game in uniform if you want to be taken seriously.

In places like most parliaments, dressing the part is a sign of respect. Not a sign of agreement or obsequiousness, respect. I doubt that many members could plead poverty for not having clothes that fit the norm. It also would be a sign of respect to judge her by her words and ideas instead of her clothing. Respect can be shown in all sorts of ways.

But norms do change. Maybe she is at the forefront of the new normal.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:11 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Formal dress is more elitist bullshit.

So if your lawyer showed up to closing arguments of your murder trial wearing jeans and a hoodie you wouldn't bat an eye?
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:11 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


So if your lawyer showed up to closing arguments of your murder trial wearing jeans and a hoodie you wouldn't bat an eye?

Hey. HEY! I'm sure we've all of us committed the odd murder. It's impolite to bring it up in an unrelated context like this.
posted by yoink at 9:13 AM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


These people would clearly get a heart attack if they were in German politics. (That's a dude, by the way.)

While I'd avoid working for a company that required me to wear a tie I think businesses have every right to decide what is proper attire at work. On the other hand, a person democratically elected to any office should be able to discharge their duties in whatever clothes they damn well like.
posted by brokkr at 9:14 AM on July 20, 2012


In places like most parliaments, dressing the part is a sign of respect.

In what way was what she wearing a sign of disrespect?
posted by rtha at 9:14 AM on July 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


I always notice one thing/Whenever they review a he/foremost is his playing.
I always notice one thing/Whenever they review a she/first comes what she’s wearing.
posted by fleacircus at 9:21 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Typical article about this in the (southern) France press - with discussion. Machine translated to English. The reaction seems to be more or less the same as here - except there is an inference that this is a cheap dress - available here for €60 - and hence that it might have been the cheapness that caused the reaction.
posted by rongorongo at 9:22 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


neither of those is a work dress for most values of work

Madame Duflot's garment didn't strike me as a "meeting-of-parliament dress" either. This Nancy Pelosi look seems a much more successful attempt at looking like a woman and a powerful government official at the same time.

My links were only suggested for their "non-dowdy floral pattern" value. I can't speak to their comfort or shape-flattering qualities, or lack thereof.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:24 AM on July 20, 2012


In what way was what she wearing a sign of disrespect?

She may have meant no disrespect. She might well have thought that her dress fit within the norm. I don't know enough about French government to know what's normal and what isn't when it comes to styles of dress.

I'm just saying that if you work in a place where everybody dresses a certain way, you'll get a better reception if you dress within those norms. Otherwise you risk creating the impression -- correct or not -- that you see yourself as someone to whom the rules don't apply. And a lot of people find that irritating.

It could even be that some of the rules are dumb and shouldn't apply to anyone. That's a different discussion. I'm talking about working within an existing social system to further your own goals. For some people, that trumps individual expression. For others, their individuality is more important. C'est la vie.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:27 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is interesting timing as I realized last night that I finally have to seriously build up my work wardrobe as I've started a new contract in a place where business semi-formal is the norm, something I've managed to dodge heretofore.

I can see both sides of the argument: clothing is definitely a class marker. However, it would show up if we all as a society decided that jeans and shirts were cool for any workplace. The expensive stuff is always better tailored and nearly always better made. You can usually tell a $200 pair of jeans from the $30 pair I bought at Ross.

And on the other hand, gov't is serious business. And while clothing is superficial, how people in general dress reflects how seriously they take the situation. Of course there are exceptions to this, but I have to agree that addressing Parliament or a cabinet meeting deserves something a bit more.

The point about the most formal of women's business attire being a version of a man's suit is not lost on me, though. (start derail) As a very large-busted woman, it's hard as hell to find dress shirts and jackets that don't show a ton of cleavage and fit properly all around. The tyranny of women's ready-to-wear (one body type only, and we cut for a B-cup and if you're bigger or smaller, well, too bad for having the wrong boobs!) is always the most apparent to me when I'm shopping for work. (end derail) And the sexist remarks that her peers felt obliged to make? Incredibly ridiculous. I'm not French and I can't pretend any honest familiarity with their cultural norms, but I'd be pretty embarrassed if my gov't officials were caught on record talking like that.
posted by smirkette at 9:29 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm just saying that if you work in a place where everybody dresses a certain way, you'll get a better reception if you dress within those norms.

...which is one facet of sexism. Women entering male-dominated workplaces can't wear the same things as men without opening themselves up to attacks of being "butch", "manly", "aggressive", "ugly", etc. I know, because my style tends towards the masculine.

available here for €60

It's actually marked down from 120 euros, but let's not let facts get in the way of explaining away sexism. None of the men in Parliament wear cheap suits? Or when they speak in a cheap suit are they harassed? I would be very curious to find out if it's true.
posted by muddgirl at 9:31 AM on July 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Typical article about this in the (southern) France press

Ah, that sheds a rather different light on things. The point doesn't seem to have been "OMG, what is she doing wearing THAT" it was rather "Ho Ho Ho, let us 'humorously' comment on that fact that she is now dressed like a proper woman ought to be dressed rather than in those scandalous bluejeans she was wearing the other day." In other words, it seems to be continuing the stupid brouhaha about the jeans rather than starting a new stupid brouhaha about the (pretty unremarkable) dress:
Nous n'avons pas hué ni sifflé Cécile Duflot, nous avons admiré. Tout le monde était étonné de la voir en robe. Elle a manifestement changé de look, et si elle ne veut pas qu'on s'y intéresse, elle peut ne pas changer de look.
posted by yoink at 9:32 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Would the jeans have been acceptable if she was the elected representative of Nîmes?
posted by rh at 9:32 AM on July 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


The reaction seems to be more or less the same as here - except there is an inference that this is a cheap dress - available here for €60 - and hence that it might have been the cheapness that caused the reaction.

Wow, originally €119 and either way not what I would call "cheap". Honestly I'd feel a lot better about politicians if more of them wore clothes that are relatively accessible to the populace they're supposed to be representing. It seems like they're giving her crap for acting like a normal person (public transportation, etc).
posted by brilliantine at 9:35 AM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


This must be read in context. And the context is that of a French center-right party which has lost every single election in the last three years or so, and is about to begin a murderous leadership contest opposing its moderates, supporting former PM François Fillon, and the partisans of "la droite sans complexes", supporting party secretary Jean-François Copé.

As a result, their (few) remaining MPs are pretty groggy right now, and the right wingers in particular must be irked by the sight of Cécile Duflot. Not because she's a woman, but because she's a Green. The Green Party did very badly in the elections but is in the cabinet thanks to pre-election agreements with the Socialists...
posted by Skeptic at 9:37 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm just saying that if you work in a place where everybody dresses a certain way, you'll get a better reception if you dress within those norms.

That may be true. However so far no one who has criticized her dress has offered the slightest evidence to support the claim that it fell outside the norms in any way whatsoever. More, no one has even suggested one specific feature of the dress which would hypothetically place it outside these supposed norms.

From the quotation I gave above, it's pretty strongly suggested that this wasn't actually a criticism of the dress so much as a comment on the fact of this particular politician choosing to wear a dress when she has not done so in the past.
posted by yoink at 9:38 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, so the context is that they dislike her politics so they attack her looks? Good to know that women in France will only be subject to sexual harassment when their colleagues are pretty groggy.
Talking at the podium, like Duflot did last Tuesday, makes them easy targets. “When you go to the ‘roost,’ some subjects are treated in a rather peculiar way,” a female legislator told the Parliamentary chain. “You get comments on your looks or even on your underwear.” And things can get worse. Like when a young representative has to slap her colleague after he jokes that he’s going to show her “the difference between giving a blowjob for a minute and getting sodomized for a minute.” Or when another woman has to listen to the guy sitting next to her ask if she’s “going to get laid” every time she leaves the room.
posted by muddgirl at 9:40 AM on July 20, 2012


Oh, and for those who don't read french, the bold part in the quotation above reads: "Everyone was astonished to see her in a dress. She has clearly changed her look." This is clearly not a comment on that particular dress, it's a comment upon the fact of this particular woman choosing to wear a dress--any dress.
posted by yoink at 9:41 AM on July 20, 2012


I have often lamented the fact that I have to dress a certain way to retain my "engineering cred" at work. I would prefer to be comfortable in jeans, but I dress the part I need to play as a female engineer in a major corporation. Were I to dress in jeans, there would be an additional barrier to the respect I receive on top of being a female, short of stature, and relatively young looking.

That being said, if anyone at my place of business said anything close to what this woman has had to endure, I would bring them up on charges so fast it would make their head spin.
posted by blurker at 9:41 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's kinda killing me is that France banned the voile intégrale (i.e., full-body coverings, like a burqa or niqab) in the name of gender equality and sexual freedom, and then THIS.
It's enough to make you wonder if their motives were less than pure.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:42 AM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


So if your lawyer showed up to closing arguments of your murder trial wearing jeans and a hoodie you wouldn't bat an eye?

I would because unfortunately clothes do matter in that situation, but they shouldn't. I would rather everyone in the courtroom was wearing the clothing they were most comfortable with so that everyone could focus on the trial, not whether the defense or the prosecutor is wearing the nicer suit.

And this isn't a theoretical concern. Indigent defendants represented by public defenders are typically dressed up in formal clothes so that they "look presentable" in court. But, budgets being what they are, this usually means that they get one of a handful of old, ill-fitting suits purchased from thrift stores that probably haven't been dry-cleaned or pressed in years. It's better than an orange jumpsuit, but nothing compared to a wealthier defendant in his freshly-pressed tailored suit.

So, we very much judge the people involved in a trial based on their appearance, but I'd rather we didn't. We could do this by mandating that everyone wear the same thing (or by expanding the public defender clothing budget), but I'd rather we just stopped caring about formalwear. It's a cultural institution created by elites, for elites, but perpetuated by non-elites to their own detriment.

And while clothing is superficial, how people in general dress reflects how seriously they take the situation. Of course there are exceptions to this, but I have to agree that addressing Parliament or a cabinet meeting deserves something a bit more.

Maybe we can have government-issued "SRS BZNS" hats that politicians wear when they are being serious. It would add formality without the unearned authority that comes from traditional formalwear. To prevent the hats from becoming traditional formalwear, the design should be changed every ten years or so to ensure that it's always something goofy. We can start with the Jughead hat, then a novelty beer can hat, then maybe an Australian cork hat.
posted by jedicus at 9:42 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your exceptional practices are not the norm. While formal wear is available in thrift stores, you can surely see that it will, at the very least, take longer to find fashionable clothes that are in good condition and fit well. That's time (and cultural education re: fit and fashion) that poor people are often unlikely to have.

Exactly. And it's not only about money; it's about the knowledge of how to wear a suit (how it should fit, what kind of suit is appropriate for what situations) and about making clear who belongs and who doesn't—people from certain backgrounds are going to be more comfortable in business dress than others, and the fact that dress codes make people from certain classes feel uncomfortable is absolutely part of their purpose, and that is pretty indefensible—especially in a government setting, in a country that gives lip-service to the equal treatment of people from all classes. (I say this as someone who doesn't own a pair of jeans.)
posted by enn at 9:44 AM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm actually kind of a fan of formality in dress in formal settings, such as when addressing Parliament, so I think the choice of dress was inappropriate, as were the jeans.

In the cabinet meeting, she was effectively meeting with coworkers, so I don't think that business casual was out of bounds. I could make the same argument about her address to parliament, where she's obviously not giving a formal address but something akin to an update to an oversight committee in the USA. The dress is appropriate.

If she showed up to an international summit, Hollande's inauguration, or some other international event in jeans or otherwise less than formally, then I'd argue otherwise.
posted by deanc at 9:45 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are vastly more male than female politicians and government ministers.

And yet who here wants to bet that a Nexus search will find more total news articles about what a what a male government official was wearing than articles about the attire of female officials?

It's really not hard for women to figure out what they should wear. Here, let Subnormality explain it to you.
posted by straight at 9:45 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dressing formally in formal situations is a convention. Here are other conventions I support: using standardized spellings in business communication, using proper "standard English" subject-verb conjugation, not using "text" speak in business email, not checking my cell phone during a lull in dinner table conversation, sending thank you notes. None of these are anything other than conventions. None of them have any basis in anything other than convention. Several of these are arguably more of a "tax on the poor" (who know a thing or two about shopping at thrift stores, and for whom that is the norm) than formal dress. Unless you support having no conventions at all, I can't see that supporting the wearing of formal dress in formal settings is a particular political crime. I'm well aware of what it does and does not convey (does: understanding of the conventions; does not: intelligence).
posted by OmieWise at 9:48 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is clearly not a comment on that particular dress, it's a comment upon the fact of this particular woman choosing to wear a dress--any dress.

Ah, they weren't saying "booooo" they were saying "boo-elle robe"?


That's a Simpson's reference - I can't actually hear what her colleagues are shouting, but it doesn't sound like "You look appropriately and unusually feminine in that dress!"
posted by muddgirl at 9:49 AM on July 20, 2012


Yes, so the context is that they dislike her politics so they attack her looks? Good to know that women in France will only be subject to sexual harassment when their colleagues are pretty groggy.

The whistling may have been pretty disgraceful, but equating it to "sexual harassment" rather trivialises the latter, don't you think?

Anyway, I wasn't excusing the behaviour of those "messieurs" (which doesn't mean quite the same as "gentlemen"), merely explaining that some of them are rather sore losers, on top of being sexist.
posted by Skeptic at 9:49 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


My point is that our society, particularly with regard to work and politics, uses dress to convey social and economic status, with the result being yet another way in which the poor are discriminated against simply for being poor and yet another way that the powerful maintain their unearned legitimacy.

After spending 3 weeks in Turkey and seeing even farmers or otherwise far-below-prosperous people walk around in suits almost universally, I can tell you that this is not in the least bit true. Suits are, in a sense, a great, great equalizer-- an ubiquitous style, requiring little color coordination or fashion understanding.

As far as fit and quality, that will still be the case outside of any sort of formal dress. I'm wearing a pair of jeans and a sport shirt that I specifically selected because they fit me very well.
posted by deanc at 9:50 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would parachute Tim Gunn in there, he'd handle that whole mess end to end.
posted by drowsy at 9:50 AM on July 20, 2012


So it wasn't that she was wearing an inappropriate dress, it was that she was wearing a dress at all. And, I guess, in either case, the proper reaction would be catcalling.

That's just stupid. If you're going to call someone out for dressing unprofessionally, you do it in a professional manner. If anyone was disrespecting the venue, it was the assholes who whistled and catcalled and acted like they were at a strip club rather than their jobs.
posted by rtha at 9:50 AM on July 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


The whistling may have been pretty disgraceful, but equating it to "sexual harassment" rather trivialises the latter, don't you think?

In the U.S., this could be categorized as a hostile work environment, especially since it seems like this is not a thing that just happened the once.

Is sexual harassment only a thing if it's physical? If it's quid pro quo? If this is something - the catcalling, the comments - that happens a lot to female pols, as some of the quotes seem to indicate, then yes, it's sexual harassment even if it's not as bad as some other kind of sexual harassment.
posted by rtha at 9:53 AM on July 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Exactly. And it's not only about money; it's about the knowledge of how to wear a suit (how it should fit, what kind of suit is appropriate for what situations) and about making clear who belongs and who doesn't—people from certain backgrounds are going to be more comfortable in business dress than others...

I find this really confusing point of view. Everybody learns how to wear their particular choice of clothes and how to convey their particular messages. I understand some of the structural issues with poverty, I do not consider problems with formal dress to be particularly high on the list. (And I work with a lot of poor people, many of whom dress very carefully, whether formally or not.) The discussion shades for me a bit from concern into a general suggestion that poor people do not have agency.
posted by OmieWise at 9:53 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The whistling may have been pretty disgraceful, but equating it to "sexual harassment" rather trivialises the latter, don't you think?

I don't read French, but yes, the video I watched in conjunction with this quote:
One parliamentarian explained that he was only “admiring” Duflot’s looks and that she probably “put on that dress so that we wouldn’t listen to what she was saying.”
Is sexual harassment. I don't think it's trivializing of any other kind of sexual harassment to identify it as such.

Maybe that parliamentarian was mis-quoted - I don't read French.
posted by muddgirl at 9:54 AM on July 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


In places like most parliaments, dressing the part is a sign of respect.

No, it isn't. It might certainly be the case that others impute disrespect to someone who is not "dressing the part." This right term for this is "irrational prejudice," because there is no clear causal connection between disrespect and dress.

If you want an actual sign of respect, you'd look at respectful behavior. Hooting and catcalling your colleague's appearance is not respectful. Hooting and catcalling your colleague's appearance demonstrates that you do not respect the institution of which you are a part.

The actual logical inference to draw here is that suits and ties are a sign of disrespect, since it is the suit-and-tie crowd that was actually engaged in disrespectful behavior.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:55 AM on July 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


The whistling may have been pretty disgraceful, but equating it to "sexual harassment" rather trivialises the latter, don't you think?

Whistling like that is absolutely considered a form of sexual harassment in the work place. It would not be allowed in the institution I work for, and in fact in the past serious discussions have occurred when off-campus contractors (construction) have whistled at the students and created an unsafe environment for them to live and study in. It's not at all considered SUPER DUPER HORRIFIC and I doubt you'd get fired for it unless it was paired with, I don't know, comments about a colleague's underwear, but yeah, it's not really trivialization, it's just part of the spectrum.


(For the record I think her jeans were a poorer choice but that seems like a perfectly fine dress and I doubt that her colleagues were commenting on its price point, unless they are all fans of Tim Gunn or something.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:55 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's a Simpson's reference - I can't actually hear what her colleagues are shouting, but it doesn't sound like "You look appropriately and unusually feminine in that dress!"

Well, I already gave one crack at a paraphrase ("Ho Ho Ho, let us 'humorously' comment on that fact that she is now dressed like a proper woman ought to be dressed rather than in those scandalous bluejeans she was wearing the other day." In other words, it seems to be continuing the stupid brouhaha about the jeans rather than starting a new stupid brouhaha about the (pretty unremarkable) dress) but if you like I'll have another:

Imagine you're the girl who goes to highschool who always dresses deliberately in a really "unfeminine" way. The shithead boys at the school constantly give you grief about it and you do your best to ignore them. Then one day for the heck of it you show up in a totally unremarkable and ordinary dress. The shithead boys start whistling and catcalling and doing cartoonish leers etc. This is because they are continuing to comment on the fact that you normally refuse to abide by their standards of what a girl "should" wear, not because they, in fact, think that the utterly ordinary dress you're wearing that day is remarkably provocative or unusual. You follow?
posted by yoink at 9:56 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


But, you know, the poor people discussion is really beside the point. She could have afforded formal clothes, and I would bet she owns plenty.
posted by OmieWise at 9:56 AM on July 20, 2012


let Subnormality explain it to you

There's nothing gender-specific about beach attire being considered inappropriate elsewhere. Or even small differences of measurement separating "fine" from "catastrophically ill-fitting". One inch too few in a man's trouser leg will make him a clown.

And Tim Gunn's blazer last night... I have concerns.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:57 AM on July 20, 2012


After spending 3 weeks in Turkey and seeing even farmers or otherwise far-below-prosperous people walk around in suits almost universally, I can tell you that this is not in the least bit true.

Maybe I should have clarified that "our society" means the United States and not Turkey. I have no first hand knowledge of French views on the subject, but from the linked articles they seem to be closer to the US than Turkey (in that social strata are demonstrated through dress rather than having everyone wear basically the same thing).

As I mentioned above with regard to indigent defendants: having everyone wear the same thing would possibly be preferable to the system we have, but I'd overall prefer we just didn't care about clothes so much.

The discussion shades for me a bit from concern into a general suggestion that poor people do not have agency.

They have agency, but they are (almost by definition, in a capitalist society) restricted in their ability to exercise that agency. So a poor person may carefully select from the limited range of clothing available in the stores they have the means and opportunity to shop at. A wealthy person can carefully select from a much larger range of clothing available in a larger range of stores.
posted by jedicus at 9:58 AM on July 20, 2012


She could have afforded formal clothes, and I would bet she owns plenty.

OrnieWise, I really do wish you'd explain what you think is "informal" about that dress. The hemline?
posted by yoink at 9:59 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, I already gave one crack at a paraphrase

That was your paraphrase of an article, right? French media reactions to her dress aren't what I'm talking about. What are they actually shouting in the video?

And based on your paraphrase, the article you quoted is quite a bit sexist, too:
Imagine you're the girl who goes to highschool who always dresses deliberately in a really "unfeminine" way.
Again, there's nothing particularly unfeminine about her trouser jeans, I assume even in Paris women wear nice jeans on a regular basis. I wear jeans, trousers, and dresses and manage to be feminine in all of them. Saying that only dresses are feminine is a suburban 1950's view of femininity.
posted by muddgirl at 10:00 AM on July 20, 2012


Everybody learns how to wear their particular choice of clothes and how to convey their particular messages.

This is not at all an easy thing to do for professional women, especially not those in office environments that have issues around gender relations. Have you ever seen how much women get attacked for their clothes? There are whole websites that ferociously attack Michelle Obama for what she wears to innocuous events like gardening, let alone state events. Hilary Clinton once was berated in the press for daring to wear something that showed a bit of skin. And, frankly, this dress would be considered overly formal in my office, not too informal for an event...but even on the days when I've changed for a gala or something at the office, no one hoots or hollers at me, despite seeing me in jeans three days a week. I should think these politicians would be better at conveying their particular messages through their actions and words, but apparently not.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:03 AM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


jedicus, my point was that there is no actual economic barrier created by having suits serve as a dress code in certain settings, and your economic arguments are not really relevant. Even in rather poor countries, suits can exist as a normative expectation without being some sort of class-stratifier any more than clothes of any sort serve as a class stratifier. And in fact, they are a great fashion equalizer, at least in the most formal of settings, because any deviation from dark suit/white shirt/blue-or-red-tie would be seen as inappropriate, or at least eccentric.

The phenomenon in the modern USA where someone might argue that even an average lower-middle class person would not own a suit and that it would be considered some grand social and economic burden to own one is idiosyncratic, to say the least.
posted by deanc at 10:05 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was your paraphrase of an article, right?

No, it was my paraphrase of an interview with one of the conservative ministers doing the whistling.

You somehow seem to have got the impression that I'm saying that this makes the attack non-sexist. I am baffled that you could get that impression (does the phrase "shithead boys" really suggest praise or exoneration to you, somehow?) but allow me to try to be as clear as possible: this is absolutely revoltingly and blatantly sexist.

Again, there's nothing particularly unfeminine about her trouser jeans

They're "unfeminine" if you're playing the game of pretending that you're "shocked, shocked" by her decision to wear them. Again, I'm not saying that this was a valid position, I'm saying that this was the "shithead" position and that they are making a big fuss about her wearing a dress as part of that general shithead position. In other words "let's mock her for being informal and unfeminine for wearing jeans--then when she finally wears a dress we'll make a big ironic song and dance about how "feminine" and "sexy" she is by contrast with what she was wearing before.

Do you see how I'm not defending the men whistling at her now, or suggesting that it's not sexist?
posted by yoink at 10:06 AM on July 20, 2012


Just a reminder that Condoleeza Rice was always conservatively, appropriately dressed, as she and the rest of that clan declared wars for fake reasons, destroyed the economy, gutted environmental protections, .....
posted by anothermug at 10:07 AM on July 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


but I'd overall prefer we just didn't care about clothes so much.

This will just never happen. As long as there have been textiles there have been people obsessed with how to drape their bodies with them. I, for one, would not consider myself too concerned with fashion, but I DO like to look crisp and nice for a wedding or a job interview. Looking good makes me feel good. Also, I live in Harlem which is not exactly a haven of millionaires, and let me tell you that people there pay loads of attention to who's wearing what. Fashion is not just for "elites."
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:08 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unless you support having no conventions at all, I can't see that supporting the wearing of formal dress in formal settings is a particular political crime.

I don't support conventions that exist for the purpose of maintaining the unearned position of social elites (see, e.g., David Mitchell's discussion of linguistic conventions, particularly this bit).

I'm well aware of what it does and does not convey (does: understanding of the conventions; does not: intelligence).

Really? You don't think many (prejudiced) people look at someone in shabby clothes, or clothes associated with a minority culture, or someone who doesn't spell well, or someone who uses text abbreviations in business emails and think, even subconsciously, that that person is less intelligent? I think that happens all the time.

And if all it conveys is understanding of the convention, and it's nothing other than a convention, then why bother defending it? Why would you care if other people, who—inexplicably to you—cared about this particular convention, managed to change it? The new convention would just be another meaningless convention, right?
posted by jedicus at 10:08 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you want an actual sign of respect, you'd look at respectful behavior. Hooting and catcalling your colleague's appearance is not respectful.

I did look at their behavior, ROU_Xenophobe. I said it was horribly rude. Maybe you skipped over that part. I also said that respect can be shown in all sorts of ways.
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:10 AM on July 20, 2012


Fashion is not just for "elites."

Yes and no. Within a particular social group, fashion is still often a tool for elites, even if they aren't elites in the wider society.

But what I'm specifically decrying are the fashions (particularly formalwear) that were created by and for elites to the detriment of everyone else.

This will just never happen. As long as there have been textiles there have been people obsessed with how to drape their bodies with them.

And as long as there have been sharp rocks we've been bashing each other over the heads with them. There's plenty about human nature that isn't very admirable, and I think that's true of many of our primate social status demonstration mechanisms.
posted by jedicus at 10:12 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The whistling may have been pretty disgraceful, but equating it to "sexual harassment" rather trivialises the latter, don't you think?

Absolutely correct. That's what busybodies have accomplished in society: by redefining discrimination and harassment to include virtually anything, they've reinforced the sexist myth that broads are always making a big deal over nothing. You're welcome, women who've actually been sexually harassed!
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 10:13 AM on July 20, 2012


The inter-locking themes of fashion, femininity and sexuality in the male-dominated world of politics reminded me of this: The case of the Canadian MP's Disappearing Cleavage
posted by Jaybo at 10:16 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink - your second paraphrase is very different from the machine translated article - maybe that's where my misunderstanding stems from:
it was rather "Ho Ho Ho, let us 'humorously' comment on that fact that she is now dressed like a proper woman ought to be dressed rather than in those scandalous bluejeans she was wearing the other day." In other words, it seems to be continuing the stupid brouhaha about the jeans rather than starting a new stupid brouhaha about the (pretty unremarkable) dress
This is very different from (bad translation):
It obviously changed his look, and if she does not want anyone is interested, it may not change your look. Besides, maybe she had put on this dress do not you listen to that she had to say.
They're saying she's wearing a dress because she wants to seduce her colleages into not listening to her. That is exactly the opposite connotation of "like a proper woman ought to dress."
posted by muddgirl at 10:16 AM on July 20, 2012


I did look at their behavior, ROU_Xenophobe. I said it was horribly rude.

...and what conclusions about dress and respect should this have led you to?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:17 AM on July 20, 2012


but I'd overall prefer we just didn't care about clothes so much.

I care about clothes very much. I am maybe a little obsessed with clothing construction, textiles, how clothes have been worn, how they've changed. Given half a chance I will talk at tedious length about the various US makers (current and defunct) of men's shirts, their different styles of construction, etc. For my birthday my girlfriend arranged for me to tour one of the very few remaining men's dress shoe factories in the US, and it was the best birthday present I've ever gotten by a considerable margin.

I don't think there is anything wrong with caring about having quality clothing and looking nice, as a hobby. But that's not a reason to turn it into yet another way to judge people, to make people feel that they don't belong, or to divide people into different groups. If you're taking clothing more seriously than, say, stamp-collecting or bird-watching, you're doing it wrong.

And certainly in the context of what is supposed to be a fundamentally democratic institution like the government of France, there is absolutely no justification for adopting the preferred dress of one particular social class as the mandatory uniform required to participate in that institution.
posted by enn at 10:19 AM on July 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


If your listening skills are so easily disrupted (and you are over the age of 12), you should probably lose your job.

Let's be clear: If you're in the French parliament, and you are under the age of 12, you should probably lose your job.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:27 AM on July 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yes, I was sloppy. I support people wearing whatever they're comfortable in (within certain bounds of reason; for example, someone wearing a Las Vegas showgirl outfit in a courtroom would rightly be asked to leave because that's an unreasonable distraction). Caring about clothes is fine, but judging other people for their clothes is much less so.
posted by jedicus at 10:28 AM on July 20, 2012


one of the very few remaining men's dress shoe factories in the US

Allen Edmunds?
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:28 AM on July 20, 2012


Just a reminder that Condoleeza Rice was always conservatively, appropriately dressed, as she and the rest of that clan declared wars for fake reasons, destroyed the economy, gutted environmental protections, .....

That time Condi wore those fuck-me boots was fairly controversial.

I was actually just in France and one of the things I noticed is how the whole "male gaze" thing there is still really intrusive and off-putting, way more than in the US.
posted by padraigin at 10:28 AM on July 20, 2012


...and what conclusions about dress and respect should this have led you to?

Just what I said: Respect can be shown in all sorts of ways. One way is to observe the cultural norms of the organization in which you work. Another way is to not act rudely when you encounter someone who chooses not to adhere to those norms.
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:28 AM on July 20, 2012


People have pointed out how dressing to fit the norm of a group helps you integrate and get along, which makes me wonder — with her being a Green coming in after Sarkozy's removal, is she sending a message of "Things have changed."?

Also, this comes only from an episode of The Bugle, but I remember Andy Zaltzman saying that when women MPs first started showing up in Parliament, back-benchers would shout things like "Boobies!" when they would stand to speak.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:28 AM on July 20, 2012


Let's be clear: If you're in the French parliament, and you are under the age of 12, you should probably lose your job.

I dunno. If the French parliament is anything like the US Congress (and this incident is not doing anything to suggest otherwise), then it could probably be improved by switching out certain MPs for 12 year olds.

Also, this comes only from an episode of The Bugle, but I remember Andy Zaltzman saying that when women MPs first started showing up in Parliament, back-benchers would shout things like "Boobies!" when they would stand to speak.

That was an example of The Bugle reporting actual facts:
Don't get me wrong; things have got better. Women don't have to face Tory MPs wiggling their hands under imaginary breasts and mouthing "melons" when they get up to speak – as Labour's Barbara Follett did when she became an MP in 1997. Or Gillian Shephard's experience when she arrived in 1987 to find herself called Betty by an MP who explained he called all the female MPs that "because you're all the same . . . it's easier". These were just a few of the experiences recounted by a major study of women MPs back in 2004, The New Suffragettes by Boni Sones.
posted by jedicus at 10:34 AM on July 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Respect can be shown in all sorts of ways. One way is to observe the cultural norms of the organization in which you work.

By that logic, she should show respect for the institution by behaving disrespectfully towards her colleagues.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:44 AM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Assholes still gotta be assholes.

Now, if you can assure me that NO men have EVER worn tailored jeans into a cabinet meeting, then I will slightly raise an eyebrow at her. If you tell me her dress was cut to the bellybutton and split to the thigh, then I will raise both eyebrows.

Then I will tell you shut up and listen to what she has to say.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:47 AM on July 20, 2012


By that logic, she should show respect for the institution by behaving disrespectfully towards her colleagues.

Tossing the relevant morons out of the building would absolutely show respect for the institution.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:50 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


the dress incident involves sexism but the jeans incident doesn't
posted by Bwithh at 10:57 AM on July 20, 2012


Is this where Republicans stop calling them "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys" and start high-fiving their colleagues in the French Parliament in celebration of macho bullshit patriarchy?
posted by symbioid at 11:09 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


the dress incident involves sexism but the jeans incident doesn't

I haven't been able to find a decent-sized group picture of the cabinet meeting, but I'm wary of declaring any situation where a woman is admonished for her (neat, tailored) clothing to be sexism-free. Was she underdressed? Sure, I will grant you that she's underdressed. Why is this an issue deserving of national attention and censure? I suspect one of the men at the meeting was wearing dark jeans and a sport coat with no tie (although again, all that I can confirm for sure is the lack of tie) - why isn't this dress cause for declaring him disrespectful and ungentlemanly?

(I wore jeans to the office today, even though we don't have a Casual Friday policy! Thankfully my faux pas will not be published in the company newsletter.)
posted by muddgirl at 11:15 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the jeans were a subtle shout-out to Joschka Fischer, the former foreign minister of Germany (and Green Party member). He caused quite a stir back in the 1980s by wearing jeans to his first major inauguration. And before I looked at the pictures I pictured some worn-out and dowdy Laura Ashley style floral. But honestly - tempest in a teapot. I think she looks good, even if she isn't wearing a staid skirt suit or pantsuit. The male, conservative members were in the mood to heckle her. They would have found something to yell at her, no matter what.

I agree with others that it's often a no-win situation for women when it comes to business-formal clothing.
posted by stowaway at 11:26 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get it- when I was a deputy for the department of Vosges, I used to wear summer dresses all the time, when the weather was appropriate. Of course, I would usually go with Yves Saint Laurent at the very least, so maybe that's it.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:56 AM on July 20, 2012


Sacrebleu!
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:56 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As jetlagaddict points out, women in high-profile political positions are hauled over the coals for what they wear, especially if it is not a skirt suit with either a menswear blazer or a more Nehru-style, as Barbara Bush was prone to wear. When Hillary Clinton chose trouser suits as her daily uniform, the reaction was quite strong. I believe this, in large part, was due to her decision to put comfort and practicality above traditional Western signifiers of femininity (i.e., she wasn't showing the shape of her legs, and she was covering all skin except head, throat, and hands).

While I wear jackets to work all the time, I disagree with the concept that a dress cannot be appropriate for formal work occasions.
posted by catlet at 11:59 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Clinton could also wear lower heels with trousers, which is a huge contributor to practicality and comfort.
posted by catlet at 12:01 PM on July 20, 2012


I'm a guy, but I can say that in my workplace (which is about 50/50 male-female), the only woman here who ever wears a dress to work is also the best-dressed person by far.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:25 PM on July 20, 2012


As an American appalled by the boorish behavior of the French Parliament, I will henceforth refer to French cuffs as Freedom cuffs.
posted by horsewithnoname at 12:34 PM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Frowner: " silk (doesn't wash)"

Silk washes just fine. I have a silk shirt that I've washed several times. I'm sure I can wash it a few more before it's unusable.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:41 PM on July 20, 2012



Silk washes just fine. I have a silk shirt that I've washed several times. I'm sure I can wash it a few more before it's unusable.


I know we're arguing about clothing technics in a politics thread, but although some silks wash quite well (I have some eighties parachute silk shirts that have probably been washed a hundred times since they were new), if that linked dress is silk then it won't wash - it's lined, for one thing, and it's a chiffon-y silk with a delicate finish for another. I once washed a skirt with a silk chiffon overlayer and a synthetic lining (and it's very unusual for silk dresses to have a silk lining - you're talking Valentino levels of haute couture here) and the chiffon shrank up (plus its texture changed) so that the lining was visible for about an inch under the skirt. It looked a little goofy but I was a student so I just wore it anyway - but a whole dress with many more points attaching the silk to the lining? Shrinkage would destroy the dress.
posted by Frowner at 12:53 PM on July 20, 2012


If I behaved at a seminar like those French MPs apparently routinely do at parliament sessions, I would be shown the door and asked not to return. Why are they allowed to behave like this?
posted by Scientist at 12:59 PM on July 20, 2012


If I behaved at a seminar like those French MPs apparently routinely do at parliament sessions, I would be shown the door and asked not to return. Why are they allowed to behave like this?

Because they make the rules, so who's going to tell them what to do? Same reason US congressmen were until recently allowed to conduct insider trading under federal law, Putin gets to do whatever he wants, etc.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:05 PM on July 20, 2012


Whatever happened to the French beheading conservatives in formal attire? If they want to bemoan the erosion of traditional values, that would be a good one to restore.
posted by clarknova at 1:05 PM on July 20, 2012


It strikes me also that part of the "women can't win" trap may be that what exactly it means for a woman to be dressed appropriately for work is probably still a much more recent question than the corresponding one for men. Apart from Silicon Valley, male professional dress has been pretty stable since before women were even routinely able to have "careers". There aren't very good one to one parallels across the sexes, either: it seems to me that a guy can wear a plain suit in a dark color in essentially any situation and be considered appropriately dressed, while people seem to expect women's clothes to reflect all sorts of additional fine gradations and subtleties.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:11 PM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


And what those fine gradations actually say changes too, over time and from person to person. My possibly inaccurate sense is that pants used to be strongly symbolic of liberation and workplace equality for women but that maybe younger women may be more likely to see pant suits as a sort of inauthentic male drag instead.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:17 PM on July 20, 2012


I suppose the best response to "formality [of] dress in formal settings" fandom might be :
Why is China so obsessed with America's backpack-wearing, coupon-clipping ambassador?

I wore an xkcd tie to the interview for my current gig, currently waiting for a formal occasion for angry laser kitten.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:23 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd support mandatory NASCAR style jumpsuits for American politicians too.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:28 PM on July 20, 2012


Those French pigs have wives, sisters, and mothers. Why do those women allow the piggish attitude?
posted by Cranberry at 1:31 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


but that maybe younger women may be more likely to see pant suits as a sort of inauthentic male drag instead.

Yeah, Women dared to put on Pant Suits, bravely standing up for Equality... and then realized that pant suits are really boring and are hard to grade correctly for women's bodies so quality suiting for women is overpriced.

I mean, there are vast swaths of men who aren't flattered by a suit, or who can't afford a well-fitting suit, but when men put on a suit it is like Criticism Armor - they may be judged on the fit and quality, but at least they meet the bare minimum requirement for respectability.
posted by muddgirl at 1:50 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


mudgirl, I'm not yoink but to me it's the earlier part of that quote that implies that they think she's now dressing like a proper woman.

Oh hey, I see what the problem is. There's a sentence missing from the machine translated version. The French text yoink quoted says this (sort of, I'm not an expert):
We did not boo or hiss at Cécile Duflot, we admired her. Everyone was surprised to see her in a dress. She had obviously changed her look and if she did not want people to pay attention, she should not have changed her look.
It's the bit about being surprised to see her in a dress that I read as people thinking that she was now dressed "better".
posted by fansler at 2:08 PM on July 20, 2012


Yeah, that sentence is in the machine-translated one - yoink has quoted it several times. Here's my problems:

(1) "We admired her?" Really? By shouting out and whistling? That's not how men admire a woman they think is properly dressed - it's how the "admire" a woman they despise. Everything else is a dodge.

(2) The very next sentence is "D'ailleurs, peut-être avait-elle mis cette robe pour ne pas qu'on écoute ce qu'elle avait à dire"

Again, my french is very poor, but the translated version implies "Besides, maybe she wore that dress so that no one would listen to what she had to say." Which, summarized, means "She wanted to distract us with her clothing." I suppose the assumption is that this sentence connects to the first two? But it seems a separate thought to me - she wore that dress to distract us with her femininity. How can distracting clothing be proper?
posted by muddgirl at 2:16 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


(3) There's nothing unfeminine about her jeans outfit. Like a said, a nasty dodge on the part of her colleagues to defer criticism. "Hey, we were just fucking admiring her!"
posted by muddgirl at 2:19 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


if she did not want people to pay attention, she should not have changed her look.

And this is complete rubbish, that troglodyte will probably make the same argument if tomorrow she shows up in an identical dress with a red pattern. 'ooh I was looking at what she looks like, if she doesn't want us to be focused on her physical attributes she ought to be invisible or A GUY'.
posted by jacalata at 2:33 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think she chose these clothes with consideration for her audience and an understanding of some of the results.

At that it looks like she may have been more successful than she expected. Nothing like making most of your opponents look like sexist dogs.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:36 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think she would have been heckled no matter what she wore. Her clothing is being used as a dodge to excuse the shameful behavior of French parliamentarians.
posted by muddgirl at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, never mind about the missing sentence thing. I got confused somehow and thought that the "Everyone was surprised to see her in a dress" bit wasn't in the machine translation.

Anyway, I don't disagree with what you're saying, mudgirl, about the problems with that quote or the mindset that it betrays. However, I think that's yoink's paraphrase of the quote is accurate, at least as long as you only look at the actual words being used.

But it seems a separate thought to me - she wore that dress to distract us with her femininity. How can distracting clothing be proper?

Proper clothing can be distracting if it's worn by someone who normally dresses quite differently, I think. Also, I bet that the man who was quoted thinks that proper clothing for a woman is supposed to be seductive, even clothes suitable for work. He probably thinks that any woman who isn't trying to attract a man's attention isn't dressed "properly".
posted by fansler at 3:04 PM on July 20, 2012


Does she normally dress quite differently? Or did she wear some nice pants to what she thought was an informal meeting and now that's going to be held against her for the rest of her career?
posted by muddgirl at 3:27 PM on July 20, 2012


Catcalling, hooting, hollering, etc. at women is sexual harrassment. When done to women on the street, it's called street harrassment. When done in a work environment, it's illegal in North America. WTH other sort of sexual harrassment does calling this this sort of sexual harrassment what it is trivialise? That's kinda like trying to make a distinction between rape and "rape rape", and claiming that prosecuting for one type of sexual assault somehow trivialises another.
posted by eviemath at 3:33 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ugh. More "women being judged by their appearance." Where to begin? There are so many levels at which a woman can be criticized. Her shoes, her hair, her make-up, her clothes and her accessories are all up for judgment.

The fit.

The colors and patterns.

The stylishness: fashionable, too fashionable, old-fashioned.

How flattering something is.

Whether or not something is age-appropriate.

Whether she blends in or stand out.

Whether she is or is not wearing something appropriate for the current weather conditions.

To put this into perspective, movie stars who have all the money and talent at their disposal to dress their best, routinely fail. There are a number of blogs out there such as Go Fug Yourself that exist to turn a critical eye on what people (mostly women) are wearing. It really isn't as easy as you might think to dress appropriately. There are many women out there who would love to buy a few good suits, some nice ties and dress shirts and call it a day. Unfortunately even if women started wearing business suits and ties to work they would be expected to wear something else for social events.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:35 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


stowaway: "I think the jeans were a subtle shout-out to Joschka Fischer, the former foreign minister of Germany (and Green Party member). He caused quite a stir back in the 1980s by wearing jeans to his first major inauguration."
Not quite. He was heckled for wearing a well-worn pair of sport shoes (badminton, if I were to hazard a guess) to his inauguration as minister of the environment in the federal state of Hesse. The shoes are currently on display in the German Leather Museum.

Recently the Pirate Party has drawn a few headlines due to some members of various German parliaments not giving a toss about (informal) dress codes. Here's Gerwald Claus-Brunner giving a speech in Berlin. His fellow pirate Fabio Reinhardt was taken to task by a social democrat for wearing short pants at a meeting.

It's not just the Greens and the Pirates, though. Andrea Milz, member of parliament for the conservative Christian-Democratic Union, came to the opening session of the NRW parliament wearing pink plateau shoes and a matching hair ... er, thing.

I, for one, welcome that the people who decide how society should be run look like real people. And I don't know anybody who wears a suit unless there's a wedding or a funeral on.
posted by brokkr at 3:41 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does she normally dress quite differently? Or did she wear some nice pants to what she thought was an informal meeting and now that's going to be held against her for the rest of her career?

I have no idea what she normally wears but the quote says that she changed her look so that's what Balkany obviously thinks. Or wants his audience to think. He could well be exaggerating for effect.
posted by fansler at 4:03 PM on July 20, 2012


Those French pigs have wives, sisters, and mothers. Why do those women allow the piggish attitude?

So when a man behaves like a boor, it's not his fault, it's the fault of the women in their families who "allow" it? That's just as offensive as saying that the cat-calling on the part of the men is the fault of the woman who dressed "that way", which in this case means "in a modest and attractive dress".

When a grown man behaves in a rude, boorish fashion, it is his fault, not his mother's, not his wife's, not his sister's, not the woman who "puts up with it", not the woman who "dresses that way".
posted by orange swan at 5:20 PM on July 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


It occurs to me that no one has asked what may be the most important question here.

Where on earth can I buy that gorgeous dress??
posted by triggerfinger at 5:52 PM on July 20, 2012


What a shame. It's disappointing that this comes at a time when 50% of French ministers are women.
posted by ersatz at 5:58 PM on July 20, 2012


Ouch. I think I just dislocated my jaw reading that Balkany quote.
posted by maryr at 6:14 PM on July 20, 2012


The dungarees say: I like the way my ass looks in these jeans.
The floral dress says: At least I'm wearing a bra so shut the fuck up.

-and those shoes! the horror.
posted by vozworth at 6:51 PM on July 20, 2012


Found it! Boden.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:52 PM on July 20, 2012


Or wants his audience to think. He could well be exaggerating for effect.

Yes. That is my point. If Balkany wasn't winking and nudging the reporter, and perhaps saying, "Eh? Eh?" I'd be pretty surprised.
posted by muddgirl at 8:00 PM on July 20, 2012


Skeptic: "The whistling may have been pretty disgraceful, but equating it to 'sexual harassment' rather trivialises the latter, don't you think?"

Sexual harrassment is what it is. It is not trivialising a thing to call that thing by its proper name.

Parallel example: 'It's pretty disgraceful that he got angry and happened to pick up a gun and fire it at another man's head, but doesn't equating it to 'murder' trivialise the latter?'

Human beings have words that are relative; that is how meaning works. Murder is murder, whether it's the BTK killer or a single happenstance killing in a fit of rage. And sexual harrassment is sexual harrassment, whether it's catcalling on the street or a years-long period of deeply traumatic abuse.

That is simply what those words mean.
posted by koeselitz at 9:05 PM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Cat-calling is certainly considered sexual harassment ("eve-teasing" in Indian criminal-law circles) in all the jurisdictions im familiar with. Absolutely no Overton Window there; that was, is and will be not cool.
posted by the cydonian at 12:24 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It bears repeating (see Skeptic's comment upthread) but this came from the UMP (right-wing) benches, who just lost two major elections in a row. Another MP also called another junior Minister, Fleur ("flower") Pellerin, a "flower pot", a common derisive term used against women supposed to be employed only for being pretty.
Those folks are really, really sore losers, and are using primitive sexism to rally conservative votes just as they used dog-whistle xenophobia during the campaign. We can expect some more ugliness (French HuffPo, slightly NSFW) when the Parliament will vote in favour of gay marriage in a few months. The good thing is that the public response (as seen in blogs, newspaper headlines and comments) was overwhelmingly negative to the UMP MPs behaviour. It would have been much more sympathetic a few years ago and its not like socialist politicians have been sexism-free either.
The amusing thing is that while the French Parliament has a dress code for men, it does not have one for women, since there were no female MPs when the code was created during the IIIrd Republic. In the 1980s, the popular socialist Minister of Culture Jack Lang was prevented from entering the Parliament for not respecting the dress code. After he was finally allowed to get in, he was booed by the right-wing MPs, just because he was wearing a certain fashionable jacket.
posted by elgilito at 8:34 AM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Incidentally, I've just learnt that French male politicians have worn jacket-and-jeans combos before, without much controversy. In fact, it looks exactly like the kind the minister in question has worn to Elysee Palace.
posted by the cydonian at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sexual harrassment is what it is. It is not trivialising a thing to call that thing by its proper name.

Skeptic did call it "disgraceful behavior," and that's its proper name. You're making it sound like we're not being sufficiently outraged unless we call it "sexual harassment."

Parallel example: 'It's pretty disgraceful that he got angry and happened to pick up a gun and fire it at another man's head, but doesn't equating it to 'murder' trivialise the latter?'

Worst. Analogy. Ever.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 2:24 PM on July 21, 2012


So what is it about the behavior of the male pols as experienced and witnessed by various female pols at different times disqualifies the behavior from being sexual harassment? (.pdf)

I don't care about your outrage or lack of it, fwiw.
posted by rtha at 2:44 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um, because I happen to think proper sexual harassment is a serious enough charge that we should have qualms about the way we accuse people of it. Note that in the first comment posted to this thread, I indicated that I think the male politicians involved are pigs. They're engaged in a partisan vendetta against a rival politician and they're being as sexist and hypocritical as they see fit.

If you don't care about my outrage or lack of it, then drop it.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 3:05 PM on July 21, 2012


I happen to think proper sexual harassment is a serious enough charge that we should have qualms about the way we accuse people of it.

And sexual harassment is a serious enough action that we should name it as such when we see it. Specifying this particular disgraceful behaviour as being sexual harassment is an important step in identifying patterns of behaviour that perpetuate inequity. We can't seek to redress inequity if we don't identify it first.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:50 PM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


We can't seek to redress inequity if we don't identify it first.

Okay. But is this shit-fight in the snake pit of Parliament a case where we expect people to be nice to one another, like at the local insurance office? Or is it a case where we're pretending that the sexism and hypocrisy of right-wing politicians will just go away if we apply the correct terminology to it?
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 3:58 PM on July 21, 2012


This is a bit of a derail, but, like rtha, I'm rather confused as to what, Skeptic and Fritz, you think sexual harrassment is? Serious question here, I really would appreciate some clarifying examples.
posted by eviemath at 4:02 PM on July 21, 2012


I'd be interested to know what people here think sexual harassment isn't. This female French legislator is dealing very capably with a partisan vendetta over trivial issues. I wonder what these right-wing pigs could conceivably say that wouldn't qualify as sexual harassment in your definition.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 4:14 PM on July 21, 2012


Dude. Rtha posted a link to a definition of sexual harrassment. Read it, then please either engage in a reasoned debate with specifics to back up your point of view or just, ya know, stop being a concern troll.
posted by eviemath at 4:25 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can't wait to do this little assignment for you, eviemath. Thanks for being civil and reasonable.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 5:10 PM on July 21, 2012


Seriously, I thought this was just extremely simple, Fritz. Yelling, hooting, or shouting at somene is harassment. Isn't it? This seems to have had a sexual component. Didn't it?

It seems like you're hesitant to call this what it is because of the 'seriousness' of the charge, but we are not debating punishment or sentencing here. We're not saying these men need to be taken out and had their balls cut off. We're saying this is sexual harassment.

In the vast universe of human interaction, there are many different kinds of harassment. This example does seem complicated, though. It's an example of shouting at someone - harassment - which has a sexual component. Seriously, why is that so weird?

I'm honestly puzzled as to what you are hoping to reserve the term "sexual harassment" for. Sexual harassment is different from sexual abuse - we're not talking about sexual abuse here. So can you give an example? What would qualify as sexual harassment to you? Seriously, I am confused.
posted by koeselitz at 5:15 PM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, I said 'seriously' three times in that comment. Apparent I am very serious.
posted by koeselitz at 5:16 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


and I meant "does not seem complcated. blah. typing on an ipad is stupid.
posted by koeselitz at 5:17 PM on July 21, 2012


A partisan vendetta and sexual harassment are not mutually exclusive. Naming behavior is not calling into doubt the ability of someone subjected to it to deal with it.
posted by rtha at 5:33 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Folks, this is beginning to look like one of those "don't make the thread all about one person" situations. You know what to do. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 5:49 PM on July 21, 2012


That's interesting, brokkr -- I had heard the story several times about Fischer and the emphasis always seemed to be on the jeans, not the shoes. (Really it's the whole outfit!) But perhaps that was to make it clear just how casually he was dressed, as it seems universally understood that jeans are more casual than not.
posted by stowaway at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2012


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