16 Things Women Were Told They Couldn't Do in the Year 2014
When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella suggested earlier this month that women shouldn't proactively advocate for pay raises, heads exploded. But as frustrating as Nadella's comments are, they are just the most recent example of things women have been told they can't — or shouldn't — do this year.
They also remind us that despite it being 2014, women and girls still don't have carte blanche to do as their male peers do. Despite an almost universal right to vote, widespread equal pay laws and the largest-ever representation of women in government, women are far from being treated equally.
Indeed, this year has borne witness to a slew of restrictions imposed on women around the globe, with an emphasis on physical appearances and presence in public spaces. On the surface, these bans may seem ridiculous, but their intentions are grim. Women's clothing, makeup, facial expressions and access to employment, among other things, are still being controlled in an effort to undermine gender parity.
Here are 16 things women were told they couldn't do this year.
1. Wear miniskirts.
In February, Uganda approved a new rule that bans miniskirts as part of larger anti-pornography legislation prohibiting "indecent show ... of sexual parts of a person for primary sexual excitement." As the Daily Monitor explained, anyone thought to be skimpily clad is at risk of violating the draconian law. Indeed, in a strikingly counterintuitive move, an angry mob forcefully undressed eight women wearing miniskirts in public, claiming they were helping to enforce the anti-pornography law.
2. Laugh in public.
In a speech about "moral corruption" this past July, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Ar?nç attempted to ban women from laughing in public: "[The woman] will know what is haram and not haram. She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness." His push for chastity also targeted women talking on the phone about "unnecessary" topics — whatever that means.
After Ar?nç's outlandish demand, women protested by taking pictures of themselves laughing and circulated them on social media with the hashtag #kahkaha, which means "laughter" in Turkish. According to the BBC, more than 300,000 tweets were sent with the hashtag. Protesters also suggested the government focus on issues like domestic violence, rape and child marriage instead of women laughing.
3. Wear yoga pants or leggings.
As part of what seems like an endless array of attempts to body-shame young girls in the U.S., a Michigan school district banned its female students from wearing yoga pants or leggings because they were distracting to male students. While the reactions in Michigan were mixed, with some welcoming the change and others debating its sexist nature, students in Evanston, Illinois, who faced a similar ban, fought back with petitions and protests.
Ultimately, bans like these disproportionately target female students, making them not just unfair, but also sexist. Girls' clothing is not responsible for boys' behavior.
4. Watch the World Cup.
Iran has a long history of banning women from sporting events, and it is also illegal for women to enter national stadiums or watch sports in public with men. But Iranian authorities took the ban one step further this year as the World Cup neared, warning restaurateurs not to show the games, effectively making it impossible for women to watch them in public.
According to The Daily Beast, "The president of the Coffee Shop Owners Union told ISNA news agency that 'we have told our members that during the World Cup games they must either turn the TV off or switch to a channel which is not broadcasting the games.'"
But it didn't exactly work. Proud Iranian female soccer fans defied the law, gathering in public places and cheering right alongside men. As it turns out, love for soccer trumps all.
5. Expect birth control to be covered by health insurance.
In its stunning 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that family-owned corporations aren't required to pay for contraception in employer-sponsored health care plans if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.
As Mic's Liz Plank noted, "Although the majority called the ruling 'narrow,' there is really nothing limited about it. In fact, 9 out of 10 businesses in this country are 'closely held' companies, employing roughly half the U.S. workforce." To make matters worse, 46 corporations followed Hobby Lobby's lead and filed lawsuits seeking exemptions from covering birth control.
So much for equitable health care.
6. Cover their faces with burqas and niqabs.
This July, the European Court of Human Rights rejected a woman's appeal of France's law banning burqas and niqabs. The law, which went into effect in 2011, has been contentious from the start, with religious freedom advocates butting heads with those claiming the veil marginalizes or even demeans women.
According to the Guardian, the woman, a 24-year-old French citizen of Pakistani origin, argued that the ban was "inhumane and degrading, against the right of respect for family and private life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of speech and discriminatory."
French politicians in favor of the ban have claimed that "the government is acting to 'protect gender equality' and the 'dignity of women.'" But since when has dictating a woman's dress in public leveled the proverbial playing field?
7. Paint their lips.
At the start of the year, BBC executives banned its children's TV presenters from wearing red lipstick, claiming it sends the wrong message. Melissa Hardinge, executive editor of CBBC Independents, explained, "We know that a lot of young girls will look at how our presenters are dressed, and they shouldn't look too sexy." She went on to say, "The older end of our 6-to-12 age groups are very interested in relationships, and we have to show positive role models."
Because wearing red lipstick automatically makes you a bad role model?
The assumption here, as Cosmopolitan points out, is that red lipstick "screams sex," rather than being a simple form of self-expression. The BBC claims it wants to avoid any oversexualization of its younger audience, but its lipstick ban embodies a double-standard: Namely, it oversexualizes female staff.
8. Work as waitresses.
According to Bloomberg News, police commander Khalil Helali announced in late August that Iranian women "by law" can't work in public areas of teahouses, coffee shops and restaurants. They can, however, work in the kitchens.
Critics argue that alongside the blatant sexism of such a proclamation, this ban will only deepen the female unemployment rate, which is already a staggering 18.9 percent in the country. In a truly depressing aside, 80 percent of women who work as waitresses in the U.S. report being sexually harassed at work.
9. Ask for raises.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made waves earlier this month following very ill-advised comments at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix, Arizona. One of Microsoft's female board members, Maria Klawe, was interviewing Nadella in front of a female-packed audience and asked how women might ask for raises.
His answer served as a perfect reminder of why women in the U.S. are still struggling for equal pay: "It's not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along." Facing immediate criticism for his comment, Nadella backtracked and apologized. But the damage had already been done.
As Suze Orman and others were quick to point out, karma is not a negotiating tool. She's right. Women have not — and will not — achieve pay equity by "having faith."
10. Call out male privilege.
In this Daily Show clip, Jessica Williams perfectly captures what it's like walking down the street as a woman.
"Let's take my walk to work. For most guys, it's a calm, boring commute," she said in the segment. "But for me, it's like I'm competing in a beauty pageant every day. ... And if I don't want people talking to me when i walk to work, all I have to do is go four blocks north to avoid teenagers hanging out at the bodega, three blocks west to get around those creepy old guys playing dominos. Oh, and avoid Wall Street douches, white guys, Latino guys, black guys, Middle Eastern guys — really, any men!"
In other words, street harassment is everywhere you look.
When she sat down with women to discuss their experiences with catcalling, however — which, for anyone confused, is not complimentary — one woman reminded us how calling men out on their privilege is a potentially dangerous no-no: "That's the scary part for me. I never know how to respond. Is my safety compromised if I make a response, if I call them out?"
11. Marry a Saudi Arabian man.
If you're a female from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar or Chad living in Saudi Arabia, Saudi men are off-limits. The Kingdom recently tightened its restrictions on who its male citizens can and cannot marry, targeting women from those four countries. The reason why isn't completely clear, but one thing's certain: This marriage ban is an extension of the myriad ways Saudi Arabia exerts absolute control over women.
12. Show your post-weight-loss stomach.
In May, Shape magazine told Brooke Birmingham, who shed an amazing 170 pounds, to cover up her body for a before-and-after photo spread in its Success Stories section. The problem? Brooke was in a bikini, which revealed her loose skin, a natural occurrence after major weight loss.
Refusing to bow to the absurdity, Birmingham wrote on her blog, "If I couldn't have the picture of me in my bikini to go along with my story, then it wasn't MY story. The story I wanted to tell and shout out to the world, not their ideal story. So, if I couldn't tell it my way, then they weren't going to be able to tell it at all."
Following the brouhaha, Shape claimed the whole thing had been a "misunderstanding" and said they would be glad to feature Birmingham — and her new bikini body — in their magazine.
13. Compete in a gaming tournament.
The International e-Sports Federation banned female gamers from competing in its Hearthstone competition, sparking the ire of many when news of the rule was revealed this summer. According to The Verge, when faced with backlash, IeSF tried to explain away its sexism by saying, "We know that e-sports is largely dominated by male players and females players [sic] are actually a portion of the overall player base. By hosting a female-only competition, we strive to promote female gaming on a global scale."
So... where's the all-female Hearthstone competition?
14. Look like a tomboy.
8-year-old Sunnie Kahle was expelled from Timberlake Christian School in Timberlake, Virginia, this March for defying "God-ordained" gender roles. In other words, she's a tomboy and her conservative school didn't approve. In a letter, the school said Sunnie's gender expression "disturbed the classroom environment," and that if she didn't stop looking like a tomboy, she would not be welcomed back.
Sunnie's guardians wisely rejected the school's demands and enrolled her in a public school. "How do you tell a child when she wants to wear pants, a shirt, and go out and play in the mud and so forth, how do you tell her, 'No, you can't, you've got to wear a pink bow in your hair, and you've got to let your hair grow out long,' how do you do that?" said her grandmother, Doris Thompson. "I can't do that."
Thompson is right: No child deserves to be scrutinized for how he or she chooses to express her gender. You keep on rocking that short hair, Sunnie.
15. Have certain hairdos.
This year, the Pentagon decided it had a problem with certain black hairstyles and nearly booted Petty Officer 2nd Class Jessica Sims, a Navy hospital corpsman, for wearing a braided hairstyle. The sailor was reportedly told to cut her "unauthorized" hair, even though she's worn her hair that way for nearly a decade.
Believing the new hair restrictions specifically and unfairly singled out black women, Sims told the Navy Times, "I do think that it's a race issue. The majority of the hairstyles that have the strictest regulations are hairstyles that black women would wear."
It's hard to disagree with Sims, given the evidence supporting this assertion. After a three-month review, even Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel agreed the rules were over the top, notifying Congress in August that hair regulations would be relaxed across the various branches.
16. Feed your child.
An act as natural as breast-feeding your child should be uncontroversial; it's protected by state and federal law. But that hasn't stopped many mothers from being harassed and humiliated for attempting to feed their hungry child. This year, breast-feeding has been ousted from numerous places, including Victoria's Secret, LA Fitness, courtrooms, swimming pools, malls and even Facebook. It's a sad reality that the breast has become so overtly sexualized that its original, biological purpose — feeding babies — has become twisted and offensive.
The good news is that women aren't putting up with these frivolous bans and have staged protest after protest after protest. Hopefully, society will get to a place where such protests will no longer be necessary.
Sexism is a problem reaching every corner of the globe. True equality will never materialize so long as women and girls are constantly bombarded with lists of things they can't do.