KEEPIN IT REEL aka REEL TALK aka GOT2bREEL: Casual Disempowerment

evelyn

I wish I could I say I was wearing this.

Once upon a time I interned briefly for a prolific African American filmmaker.

On my first day we worked an outdoor event.

It was August. I had not yet moved to New York and was living out of a suitcase. It rained unexpectedly that morning and I was wearing shorts (the only thing I had. It was August!)

I greeted Mr. Director as he walked by.

He stopped.

“Why are you wearing daisy dukes?” He asked eyeing my shorts suspiciously

“They’re not daisy dukes,” I said.

“Yes they are,” He said.

I started to respond “Well, I was rushing to pack and…”

And he walked away mid sentence (I have to admit I admired this move).

Needless to say, I.Felt.Like.A.Dumb.Ass.

Not only did he not think my outfit was cool, I could not come come up with a witty retort.

I was a loser all around.

To avoid any confusion, my shorts were not daisy dukes.
I’m wearing them today and nobody’s giving me the side eye. They’re on the short side but in no way obscene (I wish I had the balls to wear DDs, but I don’t).

This was a casual event and the women were dressed in jeans. The men were wearing jeans or shorts.

I’m sure this director meant no harm. He liked to tease and he has a rep for being prickly

But this tiny interaction was powerful.

In a matter of seconds I was stripped of any dignity (which was little to none to begin with. I was an intern).

Cut down in one fell swoop.

I wondered if he was implying that I was trying to get male attention. I felt frivolous, like a little girl, and self conscious about my body.

It’s hard to have a “I don’t give a fuck what he thinks, I’m wearing the hell out of these shorts” attitude when
A) He’s your boss.
B) You think he’s amazing.
C) You want to make movies too one day and you think his opinion matters.

Would he have treated me in the same way if I was one of his many male interns? Probably not.

This could have just been some new intern hazing, but it seems to me that given his famous awareness of race and class, he could have been a little more conscious about assertions of his own power.

But really, why would he do that? He’s already successful as hell.

P.S. Though the daisy duke interaction was disappointing, time spent with this company was great. It was an office full of people of color and I’ve never experienced that before. I was very grateful for the chance to be a part of it.

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26 Comments on KEEPIN IT REEL aka REEL TALK aka GOT2bREEL: Casual Disempowerment

  1. [...] Casual Disempowerment | This Moi "This could have just been some new intern hazing, but it seems to me that given his famous awareness of race and class, he could have been a little more conscious about assertions of his own power. [...]

  2. links for 2010-04-23 | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture on 23 April 2010
  3. Ouch. I’m familiar with that feeling. :/

  4. softestbullet on 23 April 2010
  5. it is always upsetting when you think you look decent and someone criticizes your clothes, him being male and your boss just adds onto it

  6. Lola on 23 April 2010
  7. But what if he was actually trying to be helpful in saying that your shorts didn’t look professional? There are business casual shorts, sports shorts, etc.

  8. Alice on 24 April 2010
  9. In regards to professionalism the clothing was fine. The weather is the only thing that calls its appropriateness into question

    To avoid any confusion, my shorts were not daisy dukes.
    I’m wearing them today and nobody’s giving me the side eye. They’re on the short side but in no way obscene (I wish I had the balls to wear DDs, but I don’t).

    This was a casual event and the women were dressed in jeans. The men were wearing jeans or shorts.

  10. admin on 24 April 2010
  11. I also work in the film industry, am of color, and handle all interns for my company. If one of them came to work dressed in a sloppy or overly casual way, regardless of the reason, it reflects badly on ME for choosing interns who don’t care enough about our company to represent it well. And if they
    made excuses for their clothing (my luggage got lost, my dog ate it, etc.) my next thought would be, well, then you are not cut out for my industry. I need people who can replace an actor, a piece of equipment or three pages of writing at the drop of a hat, and if you can’t even handle your own clothing without feeling deeply wounded and making excuses, then you’re not that person.

  12. InternCoordinator on 25 April 2010
  13. I couldn’t agree more with the comments re the inappropriateness of the dress of this person. Not only do I NOT view the director’s criticism as an unreasonable abuse of male power, I see it much more as an effort to school a female colleague in exactly how to avoid having herself viewed as a sex object and, therefore, objectified and devalued for her more relevant skills/talents. And that he didn’t feel like listening to your efforts at justification, I find that awesome. It’s like a parent basically saying, don’t give me that crap. It’s what you deserved (you can get a more patient explanation from your friends, family, or commenters here). I say, take the advise, learn from it, and dress more conservatively next time. End of story.

  14. Geellis on 25 April 2010
  15. InternCoordinator, thank you for your thoughts, but if you read the post again, you will see that my dress was in no way inappropriate in terms of professionalism. Of that I am certain. As I said, the men were wearing jeans or denim shorts, and the women were wearing denim as well. I would also like to point out that there is a large difference between being deeply wounded & feeling embarrassed and considering the interaction.

  16. thismoi on 25 April 2010
  17. Geellis, You are simply incorrect. Again I will state that in terms of professionalism my dress was very appropriate and in no way strayed from the way other staff was dressing.
    Now: Firstly, I reject the idea that in order to be taken seriously, a woman must dress like a man. That is not empowerment and it is utter bullshit. What power do women achieve when the only way to gain respect and position is by appearing as masculine as possible? If simply wearing normal length shorts to a casual event (where men are also wearing shorts) is considered suggestive, that speaks volumes not about my professionalism, but his warped views on gender.

    Secondly, aside from common sense (not wearing stripper heels to the office) It is not a woman’s responsibility to avoid looking like a sex object, it is the man’s responsibility to not consider her a sex object. Because she is not. This is something that is apparently extremely difficult for many men (and unfortunately women) to understand. Sigh. It is quite sad that a woman wearing shorts is understood as inviting male admiration, while a man who wears the same incurs no judgment.

  18. thismoi on 25 April 2010
  19. Wait, is the person who wrote this blog comparing her casual dress to the people attending the event, or the other interns or people working there? She keeps saying “what others were wearing” but it’s hard to form an opinion as to whether the director was being a macho oppressor or was dealing with a naive intern who thought she should be able to dress like the invitees to an industry event.

  20. Question on 25 April 2010
  21. I, the person who wrote this blog, would like to make (even) clear(er) that I have been referring to the way the other staff was dressed.

  22. thismoi on 25 April 2010
  23. …Question, what was even the point of your first comment if all you had to offer was your second?

  24. booya on 25 April 2010
  25. Hey, so you’re definitely getting some pretty, not-surprisingly, sexist heat from questioning the director’s comments. It’s not about you being an intern, nor is it about the weather, or about your short length— it’s about the (male)director feeling like it was O.K. to criticize your dress in a way that did not recognize the power he held or, when contextualized, how his comment is part of the larger problem– that women should dress to appear more masculine (as you you’ve said), so that they might be viewed with more “respect,” and that he WRONGLY believes is within his right to comment on your dress in an unproductive and unprofessional manner.

    …just expressing my solidarity.
    Keep up the fight.

  26. Misscorso on 25 April 2010
  27. I just don’t get where all this “power dynamic” nonsense is coming from. First, the blogger, based upon her subsequent comments, demands that we view her shorts in exactly the same manner as she does so we can, presumably, agree with her thesis. Well, given the fact that there are no photos for us to independently judge her dress, I say no. Her description of the response of the director tells me really all I need to know. And why is that. He did not say, “you dressin like a hoe” or something to that effect. From her own quote, he thought the shorts were too short (daisy dukes in fact). And that’s all he said.

    She responds to my earlier comment by suggesting a couple of points to which I will now turn. First, your statement that your dress was appropriate does not make it so. Period. Obviously you thought it was appropriate or you would not have worn the daisy dukes. But the director disagreed with you and, without knowing more, there’s no reason for me/us to credit your version of what you wore over his. At this point it’s your word against his and, sorry, but you have an inherent conflict (to not look like someone with poor judgment) and he does not. Therefore, I credit his perception more than I do yours.

    Then, you put words in my mouth and defeat (more like pummel) arguments I never made. I never, ever said that a woman must dress like a man to be taken seriously. However, what I will say to you is this. As long as you work for someone else, there will be various rules, expectations, etc. that you may or may not like. That’s the real world. Now, I do not mean to say that all such requirements are reasonable. They are not. In fact, some might transgress the law. But, without going into too much detail here, I find nothing in your quote of what the director said that goes anywhere close to that place (his comments seem neither too much and certainly are nowhere near transgressing the law).

    It’s reasonable advice from a man who understands the movie business far better than you. He was, in essence, saying, you’re dressed too provocatively and will not be taken seriously that way. Given that you don’t suggest that the director is gay, I assume he has no problem with women looking and dressing like women. Just wear longer damn shorts the next time. Easy as that.

    Finally, you go on to lecture me on the man’s duty not to objectify women. Duh. But we live in the real world. Moreover, in the real world, women wear daisy dukes not to emphasize how big their brains are; but rather, to emphasize how big their booty is. So, your little diatribe about the male gaze and the unfairness that men can wear shorts and women cannot simply misses the point of the criticism. Furthermore, last I looked, the VAST majority of men were wearing shorts that were several sizes too big and not the least likely to display or emphasize their wares, so to speak, so you really have no point at all here.

    The director was effectively (and I’d say nicely) telling you, emphasize something other than your hips next time. And that’s sound advice and not at all sexist. You didn’t say that all of the guys were shirtless, sweaty, and in bikini underwear. So buy some work appropriate shorts and call it a day. Unless you’re saying that women’s shorts must, inherently publicize their assets or else they’re men’s shorts. I would find this reasoning quite circular and lacking merit. Next time, just wear bigger shorts. Simple as that. Get it?? Good.

  28. Geellis on 25 April 2010
  29. “He was, in essence, saying, you’re dressed too provocatively and will not be taken seriously that way. Given that you don’t suggest that the director is gay, I assume he has no problem with women looking and dressing like women. Just wear longer damn shorts the next time. Easy as that. Finally, you go on to lecture me on the man’s duty not to objectify women. Duh. But we live in the real world. Moreover, in the real world, women wear daisy dukes not to emphasize how big their brains are; but rather, to emphasize how big their booty is. So, your little diatribe about the male gaze and the unfairness that men can wear shorts and women cannot simply misses the point of the criticism. Furthermore, last I looked, the VAST majority of men were wearing shorts that were several sizes too big and not the least likely to display or emphasize their wares, so to speak, so you really have no point at all here. The director was effectively (and I’d say nicely) telling you, emphasize something other than your hips next time. And that’s sound advice and not at all sexist. You didn’t say that all of the guys were shirtless, sweaty, and in bikini underwear. “

    This is the only part of your argument that needs pointing out. I suggest you really examine what you’re saying.

  30. thismoi on 25 April 2010
  31. Actually, I thought more than twice. I was quite lucid in every argument I made. I explained, for example, precisely why I chose the director’s take on your outfit as opposed to yours. I’m a lawyer by education (and profession) and would tell you that you failed, in the first instance, to satisfy what is, essentially, your burden of proof to demonstrate that your outfit was not inappropriate. We do not have to accept your word for this and I explained why. Furthermore, you absolutely put arguments/words into my mouth about women having to dress like men. If you return to my first comment, I challenge you to quote me saying this. You will not find those words. So it was quite fair more me to take you to task for failing to accurately represent what I actually said as opposed to what you wished I’d said and therefore, chose to respond to. Finally, if you cannot handle honest/frank criticism, don’t post to an open forum such as this. I was quite a bit more measured in my response than could have been.

  32. Geellis on 25 April 2010
  33. You will have a folder of evidence (fibers from the shorts in question, photos, affidavits, fingerprints, stool samples, clipped finger nails, a piece of food from my toothbrush, SAT scores and Pap smear results) on your desk in the morning. Get in there tiger!

  34. thismoi on 25 April 2010
  35. @Misscorso: Sing it sister.

  36. thismoi on 25 April 2010
  37. Geelis, you are making an assumption on “appropriate dress” based on too little knowledge of the event, the industry, and the people working there. At a formal business event I would have been out of place, but this event, as I said, was casual, was one in which staff were encouraged to be fashionable, rather than orthodox or formal. This specific event dictated I could wear those shorts and not be inappropriate. I am not speaking about “the workplace” in general. Unless Mr. Director was making pointed comments at everyone dressed the way I was dressed, it was inappropriate. At the very least, he could have said, “this is inappropriate” and not made a suggestive remark.

    By saying things like “next time emphasize more than your hips” you are perhaps without meaning it, allowing the right to men (anyone looking at a woman) to think she is a sex object depending on what she is wearing. Why is the onus on women to ensure that men’s fantasies do not stray too far? Clothes in and of themselves are not invested in any inherent “sexiness” outside of the fanstasies, desires and assumptions we project onto them (the same is true for power – suits do not confer power onto their wearer by being a suit. An observer projects their ideas of power onto the suit because we connote suits with business, money, law, etc. because people who wear suits do those things. However, ultimately, the fault would be ours if we approached a man wearing a suit and, taking him for a banker, handed over all our money. He/the suit did nothing to actively suggest this. Our own assumptions did. While recognizing that assumptions are socially dictated and can seem to exist in their own right, ultimately, we have to take responsibility that we generate our assumptions, they are not generated by the thing we make assumptions about).

    Lastly, this forum is not a court of law, and as such, I am not held to the standards of showing a burden of proof, etc, but am parlaying in a layman’s forum. Because of this it is your responsibility to commune in this way, not mine to meet any legal standard. In layman’s land, the “burden of proof” to show that I was dressed appropriately is not necessarily mine as I am not preparing for court and the consequences of the discussion are not serious enough to warrant such a high burden of proof.

  38. thismoi on 26 April 2010
  39. wow! so much fervor over what this moi experienced. maybe instead of minimalising her feelings, try to put yourself in her place. yes i’m talking to you geelis! i don’t know if you are male or female, but i can say that i wear inappropriately short/appropriate length shorts and the reaction i get is almost always the same: i should feel ashamed/objectified because my legs are showing.
    this moi, i feel your pain.

  40. its debatable on 26 April 2010
  41. Sounds like your boss thought your shorts were no work appropriate. It would have been nicer for him to discreetly pull you aside and say so directly, but people don’t always play nice.

    Bottom line, is in the real world we don’t get a rule book and with experience we figure out how to read between the lines. Regardless of how you viewed your shorts, your boss disagreed. If you want to continue to work unfortunately you have to take heed. Even during casual days in the office, we have to self edit on what we roll in with.

    I think Geellis makes a valid point about how men’s shorts are cut differently than woman’s cut. We have more fitted and shorter cuts than men’s shorts. The only ones that come close are Men’s tennis shorts, and men do not wear those in the office.

    I don’t think you have to dress like a man to get ahead at work! That idea is ridiculous. You can dress feminine and work appropiate at the same time. Long dresses, solid color skirts, pencil skirts, button down blouses with floral patterns or lace collars. These are all examples of acceptable attire for women.

    Every office has a different dress code and it sounds like you accidentally stepped on a landmine. It sucks that your boss made you feel like crap but take the experience as a learning experience. At least you didn’t get fired and now you know how your boss communicates sensitive issues (blunt rhetorical opening, followed with indirect comments about the issue).

  42. Iggles on 26 April 2010
  43. Iggles, I understand what you’re saying, but you are missing the point :)

  44. thismoi on 26 April 2010
  45. I can’t believe the arrogance of the commenters who came on and basically said “That can’t have been sexism: you must have deserved it,” missing the fact that thismoi specifically said that her shorts weren’t inappropriate and the wider point about women not being responsible for men treating them as sex objects. I don’t know if these commenters have a prior relationship with thismoi, but just from the comments on this post it really looks like bullying.

  46. foxinthesnow on 26 April 2010
  47. Thismoi, I think we have a difference of opinion. I don’t excuse your Boss’s rudeness. But to me the Daisy Duke comment doesn’t mean, “You can’t wear those because we’re going to sexualize your legs”. There are things women wear that are considered not appropriate for work, and there are things men wear that aren’t appropriate (for example, pants so low that underwear shows). There is some overlap, but absolute there is gendered clothing that is okay for men, but not for women and vice versa (for example, even on casual day a man wearing women’s clothing would not fly). That’s just the way things are, at least for now.

  48. Iggles on 26 April 2010
  49. Reminder: Here at wonderful thismoi discussion and disagreement is always encouraged, however, it must be in a way respectful of the post’s author and other commenters. If you made a comment and don’t see it here, it’s because you had nothing to offer except a pointless insult and fake email address. Try, try again.

  50. thismoi on 26 April 2010
  51. Just want to add, as they say: if you’re going to work in corporate america then you have to put on the suit.

    foxinthesnow – I hear you on the idea that women aren’t responsible for men treating them like sex objects. But I don’t think it’s applicable in this case. I didn’t sense that her boss was objectifying her. Gendered remark about “daisy dukes” — yes. Poor choice of words, yes. Roundabout way of expressing to her “Your shorts are too short” — yes. Would he had said the same thing to a guy, no. He would have found another way to express he didn’t think the man’s clothes were appropriate.

  52. Iggles on 26 April 2010

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