Professionalism and Oppression

Early in the life of my blog, I was trying to focus on being “adultish” — which included some fashion and lifestyle tips and musings that reflected on acting more mature and professional. But lately, I’ve been wondering, what does that even mean?

At some point not too long ago, I was introduced to a site called Dress Profesh, which comes with the tagline “challenging notions of what it means to look ‘professional.'” It shows people of all different sizes, races, and genders wearing what they work in. It really snaps into focus the fact that being “professional” is an arbitrary and often oppressive guideline.

A post was just going around a few days ago in which a college senior was rejected from a tech job because the guys that interviewed her claimed her outfit was more for “clubbing” than interviewing. There are plenty of people out there who think her tasteful top, skirt, sweater, and tights outfit is “unprofessional” because it’s not a suit, ignoring the fact that tech companies are usually pretty casual, and in fact, overdressing too much can make an interviewee look out of touch with the culture of their field.

Regardless, insisting that everyone on the job hunt wear a suit is one of those oppressive things about the notion of professionalism that I take issue with. Suits are expensive. If you’re long-unemployed, or you’re a college student just starting out, even a find at Marshall’s or a thrift store can be out of your budget. Plus, if you don’t wear a straight size, or you are a woman with a large chest, it might be impossible to find anything that will even cover your body — let alone fit well and be without cleavage — especially when price is a dire concern. Additionally, if you are fat or busty (or both, like I am), there are some who will always classify you as unprofessional. No matter what you wear, being too fat will likely get you called sloppy, and simply having a large chest will get you classed as sexy or inappropriate.

There are racial implications, as well. Black people are often maligned for having natural hairstyles like Afros or dreadlocks — women are generally expected to relax their hair and wear it straight, or wear a weave, to look “professional,” for example. That is, if they even get an interview to begin with, since people with white/European sounding names are more likely to get called than someone with a more “ethnic” (for lack of a better word) names.

The idea of professionalism is outdated and ridiculous. It should be enough to say, perhaps, make sure you are wearing anything required for safety, your naughty bits are covered, you don’t smell, and you aren’t wearing hate speech symbols. Anything beyond that is unnecessary, and upholds a white supremacist, cisnormative, heteronormative, sexist, sizeist, kyriarchical structure.

This post originally appeared on my blog, Reluctantly Adultish.

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[E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

2 thoughts on “Professionalism and Oppression”

  1. I ..think this idea of professionalism is outdated, and it should stand for work ethic, office atmosphere and so on, more of the internal instead of the external side of things. Society expects us all to be clean and wholly dressed, why should there be a higher level to show how much of a better employee you are.

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