I wrote this on someone’s Facebook wall and decided I would clean it up and make it into a blog post. By the way, I know that I lapsed and missed a few days after my huge streak to start the year. There was a death in my family and I also had a hectic trip from NYC to Las Vegas. Anyway:
“Professionalism” is about conformity to a *very* narrow idea of success. It assumes the worst about people – that what we look like is somehow indicative of our worth and that snap judgments (“baggy clothes, no good”) are merited. It’s ironic that so many “professional” organizations take extensive measures to ensure that they don’t discriminate (Internet job applications have been a godsend for HR departments in this regard, since they can facelessly turn someone away without having to worry about allegations that appearance was an issue) yet constantly discriminate on nonsense like whether you’re wearing a suit or not and, more subtly, if you even have enough money and status to really be a “professional.” If you want proof that the suit-dominated world is one that has its roots in patriarchy, then look at the suit’s history as something that men wore while hunting in centuries past.
I find that the word “professional” when used as a self-descriptor is filler – there are so many other terms that could be substituted that would tell me more about you. But, its usage makes sense: It’s a keyword for a certain type of hierarchy, a differentiator meant to cut off all those “non professionals” who have to wear company-supplied uniforms (think fast food or retail) or lope around in jeans and a hoody.
Speaking of which, this is one of the few areas in which I think Silicon Valley has actually been an improvement over older corporatism. Say what you want about Mark Zuckerberg, but him wearing a hoodie to his meeting with bankers before Facebook’s IPO was a strong symbol of the gap between freedom (to wear whatever one wants) and conformity (having to wear a suit all the time). Weird how only the rich and poor (especially in the service area), by and large, can escape the professionalism trap without any consequences.
Obsession with clothing in the workplace, enforced from above by management, is, I think, a symptom of what Paul Krugman has called in his economic articles “Very Serious People,” who present airs of seriousness – Solving Big Problems, Having No Time For Nonsense – that belie their actual non-serious positions, which can run the gamut from fretting about Medicare funding during the Great Recession (Krugman’s classic example) or, similarly, worrying about *attire* in organizations that have the material resources to – if they wanted to – drop the patriarchal politics and enact enormous change for the better. That was a long sentence