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Dear Sex Goddess - I guess this is a relationship-to-work question. I work part time at a youth services non-profit. There is a dress code at the office that requires all employees to wear business casual attire. However, the office also doubles as an after school community space for the youth, and my role is to run after school programming. I spend the majority of my time with 13-18 yr olds, running programs that are intended to help them express themselves. I don't feel like I am fully expressing myself if I dress in business casual attire (which is SO not me), and I feel hypocritical telling these kids that it is OK to be themselves, whoever that is, if I am not being my true self.
The reason I am writing to you is, I think that the non-profit's concern is that if we staff wear clothing that is truly ourselves, we will be too sexy and familiar with the young people. I don't think this is a problem - A) because I know how to set boundaries with the kids I work with; and B) I don't think coming off as a sexless, lifeless adult helps them with their development, anyway.
How do I discuss this with the folks I work with? How do I change the non profit's dress code policy? If they refuse to change it, should I wear whatever I want anyway?
Bucking the System, As Usual
Dear BTSAU~ While I am in full agreement with you that interacting with youth as a sexless, lifeless adult is in no way preparing them to responsibly enter the world, and that the pretense around working with youth that their adult facilitators/group leaders/teachers are not people outside of the context of their job is pitiful, I would not suggest using this as an argument for changing the office dress code. When you work with young people, when and where you drop the word 'sex' is sticky (and not in a fun way).
However, your argument around self-expression and its relationship to your specific role with the youth is a sound one. Business casual attire, so the argument goes, promotes a professional environment by streamlining the look of the space (people and props), and making the more uptight funders more comfortable giving you money (you look like me, you dress like me, so your program can't be that bad). However, if your primary interaction is with young people, then wearing slacks, skirted suits, and ties is not only disingenuous, as you rightly point out, it is also uncomfortable.
So, how to address? Get the topic on the agenda of the next staff meeting, and bring a proposal: for part-time staff whose interactions are primarily with the youth, the dress code is casual-within-reason (so midriffs are not the best idea, but they are out of season and out of style anyway), with the expectation that these staff will wear business casual attire when attending formal meetings. Simple. If your staff doesn't go for it, then you can either A) find a job with an organization that doesn't suck so much; or B) go the "eclectic" business casual route - get a collection of business casual wear from a thrift store (do NOT spend more than $30) and pair it all with some cowboy boots. So you can buck the system and a few other things while you are at it.
Do you have a question? Email SG at SexAndRelationships@WireTapMag.org.
1. I hate rules!
2. There are no stupid questions, only stupid hang-ups.
3. Pleasure came before political correctness, and so should you!
4. Love yourself first.
Who: Who I am is unimportant. I do, however, enjoy sex, dally in various relationships, and on top of that I am an organizer by trade, or perhaps faith. I declare here and now that I know as much as anyone about sex and relationships -- which is roughly nothing and everything.
Why: Organizers, activists, change makers, closet progressives -- people trying to save the world often have a hard time figuring out how to ... do it. Whatever it might be at the moment -- love, dominate, submit, indulge, deny, give, take, fight, let go, wonder, know. I secretly suspect that if everyone were able to find the freedom to really love and please themselves (not to mention each other), the world would be a much more peaceful place.