Dresscode Discrimination: Weighing in on the “High Heels” debate

This week, there’s been some coverage in the media calling on the British government to add further protection for women in the workplace. It was highlighted that some firms required their customer-facing female members of staff to wear high heels as part of the company dress code, with reports of some women being sent home without pay if they didn’t. Following a successful petition, the issue will be discussed in parliament and responded to.

When stories like this emerge, social media gets worked up into a frenzy, and this was no exception. Fortunately, for every tweet complaining about whining Feminazis, there were dozens more in support.

You don’t have to be a genius to work out where I stand on the issue. While Companies are well within their rights to a specific dress code policy, and their employees are bound by those policies as a condition of employment, they still have a duty to provide a conductive working environment for their employees. That also works in the company’s best interest: comfortable staff = productive staff. I can’t say I’ve spent days on end, constantly on my feet wearing high-heeled shoes, but I do at least have a point of reference: whenever my wife has worn heels at a wedding, she always carries a pair of flat shoes in reserve when all the standing-around gets too much (why do wedding photographers always have to be so perfectionist?!). Forcing a woman to wear painful or uncomfortable shoes as a condition of employment, based on nothing more than an anachronistic view of heels as both “sexy” and “powerful”, is demeaning at best and oppressive at worst.

I’m no legal expert, but if an employee becomes physically unable to wear high-heeled shoes, and the company is unwilling to make a reasonable adjustment, they are in breach of the Disabilities Discrimination Act of 1995. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

In fact, company dress codes can be bad on both sexes for archaic and impractical reasons. Although I wasn’t in any physical pain (so this pales in comparison), there have been occasions when I’ve had to wear a full suit in the middle of summer, on a day close to being the hottest of the year, on the grounds that it looks “successful” and “professional”. I certainly didn’t feel very professional with beads of sweat dripping off my forehead, and I probably didn’t smell all that professional either – even antiperspirants boasting “24-hour protection” have their limits. Likewise, a woman wearing a pair of heels that are killing her feet is not going to feel all that professional or empowered either. If I was a potential customer being given a tour of a company, and my guide was grimacing with every laboured step, I’d find her a chair and go speak to whoever’s in charge. What use is privilege if you’re blind to injustice?

I was having a discussion with another Twitter user who had weighed in on this subject. Their initial tweet had diminished the oppressive aspect on the grounds that there are far greater oppressions abroad. True, but it’s pure sleight-of-hand: draw your attention to one big oppression so that you’re blind to the hundreds of little oppressions that carry on while you’re not looking. One greater oppression does not excuse the hundreds of smaller ones – they all need to be dealt with, so it’s better to pick a battle where you can influence and make a difference, however small that battle may be. These little wins all add up.

The discussion quickly turned to appearances vs. qualifications. My friend (as Jeremy Corbyn would put it) argued that you need to ‘look the part’ when you’re at work; after all, you wouldn’t entrust your savings to a bloke in a track suit, would you? Well, if you were that superficial, no you wouldn’t. I asked them if they would trust me with their savings if I was wearing an expensive, tailored Italian suit, to which they replied “more than if you were wearing anything else”. Well, you know what they say about fools and their money, don’t you?! Whether I’m wearing an Armani suit or my birthday suit, you should never trust me with your savings: my degree is in computer science, not investment banking. Looks can so easily be deceiving, but it’s hard to fake a qualification.

I’d have loved to have kept the discussion going, but when I brought up the legal implications should a woman become medically unable to wear heels during her employment, they dismissed these as infrequent and was not worth changing policies for “a couple hundred deformed”. At that point, I knew the conversation had crossed the line and wasn’t going to go anywhere constructive, so I politely took my leave.

I do agree that clothes say a lot about you, but like any other art-form it’s open to interpretation. It should always be our attitudes, our aptitudes and our behaviours that speak louder. I personally believe that a relaxed dress code at work, particularly for non-customer-facing staff, encourages freedom of expression and creativity. Dress-down Fridays where I work feel more relaxed, conductive and informal, so I don’t understand why we can’t have that every day. I also think it’s time this superficial view of professionalism was done away with – are first impressions really all that important?

These days, if someone approaches me wearing a suit, I’m initially quite wary of them – particularly salespeople. Any trickster can throw on a suit and look far more trustworthy than they actually are – when you look formal but act informal, my brain tells me something’s amiss. Put on a pair of jeans and a company-branded polo shirt, and you might find me a bit less defensive.

What are your thoughts on the whole debate? Do you think employees are right to protest when company dress codes cause severe discomfort, or do you believe that should be their cue to find work elsewhere? Do you think company dress codes are too traditional and formal? Do they even contribute anything? Let me know in the comments section below.

I didn’t know what an “SJW” was either.

During my weekend YouTubing, I watched a couple of videos that appeared to be ragging on so-called “Social Justice Warriors”, or SJWs. Like the term “special snowflake”, it’s not one I’ve come across until recently – it might just be more prevalent in the US than over here. Rather than continue in blissful ignorance, I looked it up.

The opening paragraph on Wikipedia describes the term as “a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views including feminism, civil rights, multiculturalism, and identity politics”. Okay, so basically anybody whose politics leans to the left. It continues: “The accusation of being an SJW carries implications of pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction, and being engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise personal reputation, also known as virtue signalling.” So, by that definition, an SJW is someone who expresses left-leaning political views to serve their own reputation and not out of conviction. Is that right?

The way these videos were describing SJWs, you’d think they were trying to create a new world order by censoring and arguing with everybody who has less-progressive views than them. This actually sounds a bit extreme to me, and I doubt such actions are applicable to most progressives, whether they class themselves as an SJW or not. However, by such definition, it’s not all that different from a vocal Brexit voter shouting down anyone who wants anything but an immediate, hard Brexit. I’m also willing to bet that it’s these extreme fringes that get the press attention and, with simplified black-and-white thinking applied, we all get tarred with the same two brushes.

I hold rather progressive views – I make no apologies for that – but while I’ll express them here and on social media, I don’t insist everybody agrees with them. I’m all for civil debate, but I won’t get involved in a flame war.

I do also hold feminist views, but I’m somewhat more relaxed compared to how feminists are described in those YouTube videos. Again, I make no secret of my feminist views, but you’re more likely to find me acting upon them than preaching about them – it’s called “leading by example”.

In the whole debate about identity and gender politics, while I’m not all that keen on labels personally, I now understand how a lexicon of identities, labels and pronouns is important to those exploring and defining their identities – if a definition already exists, there’s at least one other person who identifies the same way. You’re not alone! I still maintain that all this exploration around gender identities adds vibrancy and colour to what is traditionally a strict monochrome. There does need to be some accommodation on both sides though, especially around the use of pronouns like “xe” and “hir” – it’s easy to add new nouns or verbs to your vocabulary, but as pronouns are woven into the fabric of the English language, new ones take a lot of getting used to, especially to a native speaker of almost 40 years. The singular “they/them/their” comes a lot more naturally.

The way I understand it, activism is a bit like driving a car. Those at the extreme ends have their cars in low gears with the needles on their tachometers constantly in the red: their engines are noisy and angrily revving away, but they’re not going anywhere fast and are likely to be doing more harm than good. The rest of us cruise along in higher gears at a more relaxed pace and make good progress.

I could sum all of that up in just two words…

Calm down!

I didn’t know what the term “Special Snowflake” meant… now I think Katie Hopkins is one!

Two words I often see hurled around on the internet form the term “Special Snowflake”. The term gets flung around whenever I watch YouTube videos on gender issues – the people in those videos tend to be in their teens or twenties, and the comments tend to come from more conservatively-minded people who dismiss their views as ‘unimportant’; that may be true on a global scale, but we all have different personal priorities.

I might just be showing my age or ignorance here, but I had no idea what one of them was. Of course, I had to go and look it up.

Based on the definitions I read, and the people often referred to as so-called “Special Snowflakes”, I can’t help thinking it’s a rather loaded, pejorative definition that doesn’t so much describe someone’s attitudes, but amplifies them. From what I read, Special Snowflakes:

  • Are ‘difficult’ people
  • See themselves as unique
  • Demand attention but won’t earn it
  • Have an overblown sense of entitlement
  • Are offended very easily
  • Often complain about being oppressed or victimised

Is anybody really like this, or is it just an overblown caricature used to fling at the younger generation? Are these attention-seeking ‘snowflakes’ drawing attention only to themselves, or are they using their own experiences to raise awareness of something important to many others? Has anybody even tried listening to and empathising with them to understand the nature of their offence or victimisation, or have they just dismissed it as “complaining”?

However, based on those definitions, I’d argue that one prime example of a “Special Snowflake” is conservative tabloid columnist Katie Hopkins. I know she’s not the kind of person the term usually gets applied to, but based solely on her public profile, she fits most of the definitions quite neatly:

  • She’s not been known to back down from her position, even when presented with verified evidence to the contrary; she’s also not been known to apologise whenever such comments cause mass offence. I’d say that blinkered stubbornness would make her quite a ‘difficult’ person.
  • Her extremely conservative views can be construed as an attempt to appear unique and special – particularly as they provide that ‘love-to-hate’ persona that perpetuates her car-crash celebrity.
  • Looking at her history, it appears she’s not done much to earn the attention she gets. Oxford University wouldn’t accept her, she was not commissioned to join the army due to an epileptic seizure, and prior to her public appearance on a reality TV show, she worked for the Met Office. Where’s her talent? Where’s her expertise? What does she provide to the public besides outspoken opinions?
  • As for being easily offended – in 2013, she admitted on daytime TV to a dislike of “lower class” given names and that she’d prevent her children from playing with anyone who had one. In addition to her rather callous comments about migrants, refugees and Muslims, I’d say she’s offended by anyone who is not of the same social class as herself and is probably upset at her tax contributions being used to provide services and assistance for these people.

I reckon you’d have to be a really unstable and inflexible person in order to meet the criteria of a true “Special Snowflake”.

In fact, come to think of it, it is possible that it is those who use the term to demean others who are the real Special Snowflakes. Think about it!

A Pledge for 2017

Instead of tweeting or writing stuff on this here blog type thing, I’ve spent most of Christmas building things, inserting batteries into things, installing things and listening to a myriad of Prog Rock LPs I’ve received over the holiday. With Christmas over and done with, and a new year fast approaching, I’ve taken a few moments to reflect on 2016 and make a few (realistic) aims for 2017.

First and foremost, I plan to use my online presence – small as it is – as a force for good. I paid a fleeting visit to a few public forums earlier today (I won’t mention their names) and was astonished at how much bandwidth was being wasted moaning about or regurgitating vitriolic rhetoric towards other people. I feel that some people are quick to complain when they don’t agree with something, but very reluctant to compliment when they do. I plan to use my online space to credit and compliment wherever I feel it is due.

I also recognise that, while I have made significant progress in this area, I need to do more to stop worrying what others think of me. My views, opinions and behaviours may not be in line with the wider British culture, but I shouldn’t censor myself so much.

Although it’s not 2017 yet, I’m going to get a head-start by proclaiming the following:

I like Phil Collins.

I realise I may lose some “Prog Cred” for saying so, but I I feel a lot of malice has been levied towards Phil. I must admit I got on board the Collins = Bad bandwagon over the years, but revisiting his 1980’s solo and Genesis work in recent months has proved to me that he wasn’t the sell-out he’s often made out to be. He just came from a different background and had different influences – as such, no solo or Collins-era Genesis album is totally devoid of merit if you take them on face value (no pun intended).

Not even Invisible Touch!

Are people “objects”?

Another day, another YouTube video, another scroll-down to the comments section and yet another question I’m left asking.

The video I was watching told the story of a young couple, both of whom are transgender – not that you’d know that unless you knew them personally or had watched the video.

I scrolled down to the comments section, and there were at least a couple of people asking:

“So what are they?”

Not who, but what! Did this make them gay, straight, pansexual…?

It got me to question why some people feel the need to label other people as if they were objects. I came to think of it this way:

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This is commonly known as a Vinyl Record. It is a disc made of polyvinyl chloride with an etched spiral groove from which analogue sound can be reproduced.

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This can also be described as a vinyl record as it has the same characteristics as the one above. The grooves look identical to the casual observer but there is a major difference between the two – one plays a recording of Scoundrel Days by a-ha, the other Legion by Mark Shreeve. We can verify this by listening to the original master copies of each recording and comparing them to the signal etched in the grooves.

They are objects. They also have labels telling you what they are, so you can easily tell at a glance whether you are about to listen to a-ha or Mark Shreeve. Vinyl records are static and not sentient – the a-ha record will always play the same music every time, as will the Mark Shreeve record. Vinyl records come in all shapes, sizes and colours but, as long as they are made of polyvinyl chloride and have an analogue signal etched into a spiral groove, they will always be Vinyl records.

These are humans. Unlike Vinyl records, they are sentient and not static in that their behaviour is not so accurately predictable. Talk to either of them about a subject, and talk to them about the same subject a month later, and you may find that their two answers differ. Their sentience gives them what’s called a personality, and this personality will be significantly different when compared to other humans.

They can be divided into sub-groups called male and female based on their respective biology, but in terms of personality, the distinction is not so clear. Ryan and Jasmine have biological differences, but there will be areas of their personalities that they share with the other.

But all that is a rather long-winded explanation.

Unlike Vinyl records, human beings are not produced to serve a single, predictable function. They are not cut to spec, nor are they mass-produced – no two humans are entirely identical, ergo they are not objects and cannot be labelled as such.

So, to answer the question of what they are, just so you can give them the appropriate label, there is only one answer:

Humans.

Transgender Children: They exist. Get over it.

I don’t know why, but whenever I view or read something online, I feel the desire to scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the comments. I’d been watching another TEDx video, one about a parent coming to terms with the unexpected revelation that their middle child, assigned male at birth, wanted to be a girl, and wondered what the public’s reaction would be towards it.

I’ve watched a number of these TEDx presentations, and they’ve all been pretty progressive on the topic of gender, validated by presenters who were speaking from experience rather than opinion. For the most part, the comments posted were positive or at least supportive, but there’s always the odd few that post a negative reaction. Whether they’re speaking from the heart or just engaging in trolling remains to be seen, but there were common threads running throughout.

They weren’t speaking from experience

Unless you’re the parent of a transgender child, comments are superficial at best. The same applies to me too as neither of my children are transgender as far as I’m aware, so I can’t speak from experience either. The difference is that I will happily listen to and learn from other people’s experiences rather than jump in and add my 2p worth of bigotry.

They believe it is their business to determine how another person raises their child

Again, the same applies to me too – it’s none of my business either – but if you’re willing to give unsolicited parenting advice to complete strangers, you should be willing to accept advice from them in return; given that neither parent would act on the other’s advice, it’s just a complete waste of bandwidth. Besides, all children are unique and a parenting style that works for one child would not necessarily work with another.

They won’t leave the Bible out of this

There’s always the one über-Flanders type who dusts off their Bible and starts quoting cherry-picked verses out of context as a means to accuse parents of raising an ‘abomination’. Speaking as someone who has done his fair share of Bible study, I’d like to point out that Jesus had no real interest in the so-called “holy people”, preferring to reach out to those marginalized by society: tax collectors, lepers, women and so on. Based on that information, if Jesus came back tomorrow, would he be more likely to (a) visit a conservative church and give them all the thumbs up for enforcing conformity to Old Testament laws, or (b) visit a transgender child and tell them that, despite the teasing and bullying they receive, they are very much loved?

They’re ignorant of history (but they’ll try to prove otherwise)

“You never heard about Transgenderism until recently, which must make it a relatively new thing. There are no examples throughout history, so it must be some kind of modern (mental illness/liberal lunacy/Satanic work)*”

I always find this kind of talk rather amusing since it ignores the very meaning of recorded history. A lack of historical evidence supporting Transgenderism does not implicitly mean that it didn’t exist in previous centuries – gender dysphoria was neither as widely-reported as it is in this internet age, nor as widely-understood. It’s equally plausible that those who did experience gender dysphoria back then suffered in silence.

*Delete as applicable


Let’s say, for example, that one of these YouTube pundits finds themselves in the same room as a transgender child. What is the worst that’s going to happen to them? The risks are exactly the same whether the child is trans- or cis-gender: you may be subjected to a conversation about Pokémon or One Direction. Why? Because children are children. End of.

Ultimately, such comments are prejudiced, plain and simple; and there is no excuse for prejudice. My nan was quite conservative in many ways, but quite liberal in others. As a religious person, she was always conscious of the parable of the Good Samaritan and what it says about holding prejudices. When you’re in a life-or-death situation and somebody is standing in the middle, you’re not going to refuse their help on something as trivial as their sex, gender, race, religion or nationality.