Update: 4p.m. Well, that was quick. State Senator
Mary Marty Golden’s website has canceled the event. I guess you’ll have to learn your feminine wiles elsewhere. [New York Observer]
Please tell me this is a joke. This is a joke, right?
The office of a Republican politician in Brooklyn, New York, will be offering a class for women in his district about “Posture, Deportment, and Feminine Presence.” Ostensibly this is a career development event about etiquette, but the packaging is really, really WTF.According to a mailer to his constituents (photo here) and information on his website, Republican State Sen. Marty Golden’s office will hold the event, paid for with taxpayer money, that will purportedly teach them “business etiquette and social protocol.”
But business etiquette and social protocol are another thing entirely than what’s actually being taught at the event, and indeed, the event name itself, “Posture, Deportment and Feminine Presence.” According to City And State, Golden’s website said women in attendance will learn how to “sit, stand and walk like a model” [emphasis mine], “walk up and down a stair elegently,” and “differences in American and Continental rules governing handshakes and introductions.” However, the wording has actually changed on the event page on State Sen. Golden’s website, presumably after the language was criticized by other bloggers online.
I won’t disagree that professional comportment is a key skill in these economic times. Not just in these economic times even — of course it’s important to know proper manners in a business setting, such as proper handshaking. Unemployed folks in the State Senator’s district may never have learned these skills in high school or higher education like some of us did. (Or at home. My mom used to whack us on the arm with a fork if we ate with our elbows on the dinner table.)
But professional comportant is different from feminine comportment. Women should be able to choose how they display their femininity — or not display it — themselves. This event is teaching gendered skills — er, “skills” — like how to “walk like a model.” I’m not suggesting that women or men should slouch in job interviews or chew gum or any of those other mistakes people make; I am saying it’s sexist to suggest women learn how be more stereotypically womanly as a means of getting a job. Just like it would be sexist to teach men how to be more stereotypically manly — learn how to wrestle a saber-toothed tiger, boys! — as a means of getting a job.
Besides being sexist, it’s also a just plain dumb waste of money. As Feministe blogger Jill Filipovic rightly noted when quoted by City And State about the event, charm school lessons may look glossy, but they don’t actually address the very-real structural issues impeding women’s employment. “Our political leaders should be focusing on necessary policy changes to make sure that all women are paid fairly and are able to succeed professionally, regardless of their ability to walk with a book on their head,” Filipovic wrote in an email.
How about we focus more on equal pay for equal work, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and educational opportunities instead? Leave the pinkies-up tea time lessons to Dutchess Kate.