A Firm Line on Neck Lines

So, a black lady, a white lady and an American Muslim man, first generation of Indian decent—the ladies boss—are all in a meeting about dress codes in the corporate world.

Sounds like the start of a bad joke. It’s not, it’s a story my wife (girlfriend at the time) once told me, while working as a young, lowly 2nd shift registration receptionist at a hospital under the Barnes-Jewish umbrella in North St. Louis County. I knew her boss, I got her the job. It was weird, for everyone. It’s weird for a male boss to address his female employees about the level of their neck lines. And let me be crystal clear, neither women dressed in anything, but your standard corporate attire we see everyday. My wife isn’t one for confrontation or hysterics, so her shock about the talking to about her neck line, was startling. It made an impression. Like I said, it was weird…
Being that it occurred in North St Louis, my wife’s co-worker and still friend, the strong black lady—provided the push back, which was immediate and firm. She quickly put her boss back in his place. He was a male boss in an all female office. If you know women from North St Louis, you love and sometimes fear them, they’re tough enough to hold places like Ferguson together this long, just to put their strength into perspective. She didn’t tolerate it for a second, she also wasn’t one prone to hysterics, but she was older and had more seniority than my wife. So, she refuse to even hear it. My wife quietly joined her in refusing to hear the critique. Nothing more was ever said. All three have advanced far in their fields. I can also say, all three learned a lesson that day.

That short example was brought to mind by this tweet.

@ShafikHammami: “@fhussains: Awesome. #StopTheSag http://t.co/iiXbrpyXda sagging nick line for women.

For good measure, here’s a picture via a screen shot.

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The post was an NPR story about a local Florida civic leader fining young men who “sag” on city property. The piece is essential hyping up a national movement calling for young African American men to have more self-respect. And talks about other historical fashion statements that cause societal derision. I wouldn’t vote for such legislation, but at the same time I’d encourage self-respect and say pull up your damn pants. It does make your whole city look bad and for better or worse, that style reminds people of criminal behavior. Are sagging pants a reason to stop a young black man for suspected criminality? No, of course not. However, it is a style and fashion of “gang culture”. People who organize and commit crimes. It’s also a innocuous way of self-expression for the “hip-hop culture”, most of which are not criminal at all. More like artist. Plenty of ethnicities use this style for self expression. Asians, Latinos, and white suburban kids. I wouldn’t advocate for such legislation, but I also recognize different authorities to regulate dress, under different circumstances. A judge in a court room for example, can have someone removed from the courtroom, if that judge feels the person’s clothing, or lack thereof, is distracting or interrupting the proceedings of the court. Businesses have the right to set dress standards—in an office modest clothing is required, in a strip club it’s forbidden. However, a broad city ordinance on “sagging” seems impossible to enforce. Do police walk around with rulers measuring how far a mans pants are down? What is “sagging”, in legal terms? You see the snowball of questions that are raised. It’s a piece that makes you think. It’s made Shafik Hammami think about “sagging neck lines”. That pushed my button and made me think. You can see it here, the thread heats up immediately.

We constantly are inundated with narratives about a war on women and victim blaming in a rape culture. Here it is:

@ShafikHammami: @GrantGambling exposing women’s chest in public=exposing men’s behinds. Both should be outlawed. The end.

Again, for good measure here is a screen shot.

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People who want to legally regulate a women’s neck line, in my experience, are the same people who say it’s a rape victims own fault because they chose to dress in a way that tempted their attacker. Mr. Hammami made it clear how he feels about women’s fashion. I firmly and irreverently push back at that cultural trend. In fact, fuck that logic. Who regulates a women’s neck line? Are people walking around with rulers? Do we get fashion police, but they actually enforce laws? You, the reader, can see how ridiculous this is. It should be met with contempt, irreverence, and mockery.

I’m here, meeting it. My irreverence is quite seasoned. This is where I push back on culture. One more time, for the cheap seats—fuck a dress code based on a religion, enforced by law. How you choose to dress is a choice.

Why would I firmly draw a line here? Well, Mr. Hammami is the father of the most famous American to join a militant Islamist organization. His son, Omar, joined Al-Shabaab and led other militants on raids for the better part of a decade in the Horn of Africa. He wasn’t just a fighter, he was a commander. Sadly, this led to Omar’s death. It is not a decision I’d recommend to anyone. I do not blame Shafik for Omar’s decision, but as a father I know how and what we teach our kids effects them. That exchange was quite an insight into what seeds planted early on, might have grown to radical level in Omar. It was two dads talking about women’s fashion. Two fathers who couldn’t disagree more about what the law represents and how it should be used.

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