Out of Work? Blame Your Lack of Deportment, Ladies!

Are you having trouble succeeding in your career? A New York state senator thinks it’s probably because you lack “elegance” when climbing stairs.
Publish date:
July 5, 2012
employment, gender gap

I got expelled for constantly accidentally smacking other ladies in the head with my arms.

Earlier this week, it came to light that Republican New York state senator Marty Golden had planned an event entitled “Posture, Deportment and the Feminine Presence” as part of a series of talks intended to help young women succeed in a daunting job market. This ladyness class would have been paid for by taxpayers, and among other things, would have instructed participants on how to “sit, stand and walk like a model,” “walk up and down a stair elegantly,” as well as the finer points of “handshakes and introductions.”

The event has since been cancelled, all evidence scrubbed from the senator’s website, after a few efforts at a sputtering defense:

A spokesman for Golden said the goal of the event was simply to help young women land jobs.

“In these economic times, when so many people are out of work, and graduating with advanced degrees to set themselves apart in the workplace, events such as these are also important,” said the spokesman, John Quaglione. ” Senator Golden hosts a multitude of events annually, and this is our first event of this kind, and we hope it to be successful and benefit those who attend.”

I’m not even going to ask what a “feminine presence” is because I’m sure I don’t want to know.

The cancellation, as well as the outrage with which the course was greeted, hardly comes as a shock. In the US, a lady’s “deportment” conjures up associations with earlier eras when the way in which a woman looked and carried herself -- especially in the workplace -- was of far greater consequence than anything she actually accomplished.

These days the kneejerk cultural reference to this sort of thing is usually “Mad Men,” but I always remember the charm school scenes from “A League of Their Own.” I like this reference because it (however unwittingly) makes the point that even among these female atheletes, it’s not enough that they be accomplished at their sport -- they have to be able to look pretty too.

Prettiness and femininity, it seems, are always compulsory, no matter your occupation.

I’ll be blunt: I think deportment classes are a load of crap. And I’m not just saying that because I have all the deportment of a blimp being piloted by a drunken howler monkey, although that is pretty much true.

I think these classes are bunk because they force individuals into fiddly behaviors that are a giant sham for the sake of being socially acceptable. While I affirm individuals’ right to learn to stand up straight or whatever -- for actors and other performers, this is completely appropriate -- I think requiring a certain universal “professional” standard of feminine sitting, walking, and step-climbing is both weird and damaging, particularly to those of us who are awkward, enthusiastic, anti- or unfeminine, prone to flourishes and gestures, and generally bombastic.

We might recoil at the suggestion that anyone today would believe that the thing holding women back in the current job market is their inability to gracefully mount a stair -- arguably, social and institutional obstacles like the fabled glass ceiling have SOME degree of influence as well -- but evidently enough people agreed with this senator that no one told him it was a bad idea.

Of course, this sort of thinking can be expected from members of the same party that blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act in Congress last month, which would have expanded the Equal Pay Act to ensure that women are paid the same as their male counterparts.

President Barack Obama called it "incredibly disappointing" that Republicans would block a bill relating to equal pay for women.

"This afternoon, Senate Republicans refused to allow an up-or-down vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a commonsense piece of legislation that would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and give women more tools to fight pay discrimination," Obama said in a statement. "It is incredibly disappointing that in this make-or-break moment for the middle class, Senate Republicans put partisan politics ahead of American women and their families."

The criticism of this bill is mixed: some Republicans worry that it would harm small businesses, and that it is simply piling more legislative gobbledegook on top of existing protections, while others present the argument that women make less for good reason, because of their “lifestyle choices,” like having dumb old babies and very often being those babies’ primary caregiver. (And heaven forbid any of them should want an abortion, though! See, the ladies’ REAL problem is their PESKY UTERUSES and their propensity for growing stuff in there.)

While the pay gap between men and women in genral is large enough, the gap for women with children is markedly larger. This can be blamed in part of the lack of childcare resources being developed alongside measures to address the gender gap overall -- improved access to paid maternity leave and childcare assistance has led to greater success in closing this gap elsewhere in the world, although no system has manged to erase it entirely.

That said, at least none of the Paycheck Fairness Act criticism makes the case that women are failing to keep pace earnings-wise because of the way they walk through the office. But when women’s lifestyle choices are being cited as valid reasons for their continued lower earing power, that is as much a challenge to their professionalism as any instruction on standing up straight and sitting properly.

Develop your "social protocol" skills! Or something!

The very fact that deportment classes specifically meant to develop the “feminine presence” exist is evidence of the fact that often, in professional environments, men (who notably do not need to be told how to climb stairs) are “normal,” and it is the curious alien women-creatures who require training in how to fit in with them -- while still maintaining a particular flavor of femininity, of course.

With this kind of mindset, how is it any surprise that women continue to struggle to keep up? The deck is stacked against us from the minute we need to climb the stairs to second floor. KNEES TOGETHER, girls, a lady reveals nothing.