From boudoir to dress codes

Sexuality does not define a woman’s worth

Editor’s note and trigger warning: This article contains the brief mention of sexual assault and violence against children.

A woman’s sexuality is not a reflection of her work ethic, ability or professionalism.

In July, Liberal candidate for the provincial election, Robyn Ingraham, faced scrutiny because of her experience with boudoir photography. This was information she had shared with the Nova Scotia government prior to her candidacy to be the member of legislative assembly for the Dartmouth South district. 

She says she was removed from her Dartmouth South riding because of her connections with the risqué photography and was asked to lie. Ingraham said the Nova Scotia Liberal Party told her to tell the public she had withdrawn due to mental health reasons. 

The party lost the election, seeing a majority Progressive Conservative government take the reins. 

Boudoir is a style of photography focusing on sensual images, often containing lingerie and other items found in a woman’s boudoir or changing room. The concept began in France and can be traced to the 1920s. While some boudoir photos depict nudity, they differ from pornography in their artistry.

Taking part in boudoir photography should have no sway over a woman’s value as an employee.

What happened to Ingraham is an all-too-common occurrence for women in the workplace and it doesn’t start there. Young women are exposed to misogyny long before they graduate and seek to join the workforce. 

It starts in the classroom

Women have come a long way since the suffrage movement, but as Ingraham’s situation demonstrates, there are still miles to go. When it comes to policing women’s bodies, we need to begin in the classroom.

This spring, West Kings District High School in Annapolis Valley, N.S., experienced its own encounter with misogyny. Kenzie Thornhill, 17, was suspended for voicing concerns in-school and online about another student’s inappropriate clothing.

The clothing in question was a t-shirt printed with the lyrics, “Deck the halls with mounds of babies…Tis the season to be rapey…” While Thornhill was penalized for taking a stand against the shirt, the student wearing the lyrics went unpunished.

Eva Crook, another student at West Kings, told the Dalhousie Gazette, “Girls at our school get dress-coded daily and boys are rarely told they can’t wear something. Most of the outfits that the girls wear shouldn’t even be considered inappropriate. For example, girls with a larger chest get in trouble for wearing almost anything.”

Crook was disappointed in the decision the school administration made regarding Thornhill’s case.

“The entire situation was unbelievable. I’m disappointed in the principals and the school board. Yes, the student who wore the shirt got suspended after our walk out, but that’s the problem. It was only after we made a big deal. Because it is a big deal. The glorification of rape needs to stop,” she says.

Changes are coming

Recently, Sydney Academy in Cape Breton updated their dress code after a student protest. Students felt the school was sexualizing female belly buttons by acting on rules banning crop tops, while ignoring male code-breaks.

In response to the change, Glace Bay principal Donnie Holland voiced his concerns to the regional centre for education about creating a distinct dress code, because students might try to “make a point” by breaking the code, the CBC reported.

He said the only issue at his school is girls wearing “extremely revealing” clothing.

I find it difficult to believe with the number of male teenagers I see leaving the high school near my house with beer logos on t-shirts, pot leaves on hats and underwear hanging out of their jeans that females are the only ones dressing inappropriately at school.

Rather than focusing on how much skin our children are showing in the classroom, perhaps we should focus on our attitudes about showing skin.

The amount of skin one shows does not reflect aptitude, personality or worth. This is clearly a message the Nova Scotia Liberal Party needs to hear when considering candidates like Ingraham. 

It’s only skin deep

Like the boudoir photography deeming Ingraham incapable of performing in a government position, I wonder what is it about seeing a woman’s skin that offends?

Is it the skin itself, something we all share? Or is it the sexual connotation attached to that skin?

Why is our skin considered sexual in areas like shoulders, bellies and legs, while a man’s skin isn’t?

Why should my skin, and how much of it I choose to show, have anything to do with my job or role in my community?

I agree that there are times and places for all things, and I’m not about to wear a bathing suit to a jury summons. However, what a woman chooses to wear (or not wear) in her personal time, should have no bearing on her work life.

If there are no other means of measuring a woman’s value than her body, we have bigger problems than the voters’ opinions on boudoir. 

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