Liberté Chan and How Women May Never Be Able to Escape Sexist Dress Codes
On Saturday morning in Los Angeles, Liberté Chan, a weather anchor and reporter at KTLA 5, was told to cover up live on air.
For her short, black, sparkly dress that exposed her shoulders, a male colleague interrupted mid-segment and handed her a long, grey cardigan.
Initially baffled, she asked if the cardigan had been offered because it was cool outside. "You want me to put this on?" she asked. "Why? Because it's cold?" But then, the man told her the real reason: "We're getting a lot of emails."
Apparently, viewers of the show had written in to comment on Chan's attire. On air, she appeared to play it completely cool, really just laughing it off. In a video of the incident posted by Chan, who Mic has reached out to for comment, later that day on Facebook, which has been viewed more than 400,000 times, she captioned it "Apparently, some viewers think my dress is too revealing... your thoughts?"
In return, she received an outpouring of support, from women (and men) who have had it with people telling women how to dress. On Facebook, she received comments like "I don't see any reason for you needing to be 'covered up.' Your dress is appropriate for TV. It's arms & shoulders, people!," "Wear whatever you want girl!" and "I think you're deserving of a bag full of money for how you handled this."
On Twitter, plenty of women were quick to point out that a man would never be told to change his attire on air in such a way.
It's clear that women in particular are sick of their clothing, and their looks, being policed — and for good reason.
In the past few months, young women have been told that they're violating the dress code because their hair is too poofy, their collar bone is showing, their knees are showing and because a shirt doesn't cover their crotch. In some of these cases, the women were almost sent home from school, and in others, they were called to the principal's office.
It's something that has both been instilled and perpetuated since elementary school (or even before then), where women have been given a series of rules on how to dress. Don't wear tank tops. Don't wear anything that may even possibly show your bra straps. Don't wear shorts above the knee. Don't wear skirts above the knee. Don't wear dresses that are shorter than the the tips of your fingertips. Don't wear leggings. Wear your hair only in a certain way. Don't wear a T-shirt that may, even possibly, reveal a few centimeters of tummy when you raise your arms up high.
All of these rules are constructed to make elders (and sometimes young boys) feel more at ease, as if seeing a shoulder blade or knee will send someone into a catatonic, drooling, lustful fit.
And it's not just school where women's clothing is policed. Just recently, a woman was sent home from work because she wasn't wearing high heels. In July, a JCPenney employee was sent home because the shorts she was wearing, which were purchased at the retailer, were too short.
At school and at work, when women are criticized for what they wear, they are suddenly forced to concentrate not only on learning and working and producing, but also on how they appear. To the employer and teacher, the focus becomes less on their abilities, and more on how they look. It begins to feel like being judged for what we wear is inescapable.
While men do have dress code rules involving not wearing low-riding pants or hats, women are often more harshly punished and focused upon.
This instance involving Chan, who's been an on-air personality for 10 years, proves just that. In a video she posted on Facebook just hours after the broadcast, a coworker reads aloud a number of emails that were sent to the station, with many saying that her dress looked more like cocktail attire than work attire.
"Can we talk about my weather performance?" she asks.
On Chan's own blog, she decided to comment on the incident herself, insisting that she wasn't forced by the station to cover up at all, and that it was all just a joke.
"I was surprised since I hadn't seen any of the emails and didn't think there was anything that inappropriate (the beads/sequins were probably a little much for the morning, but what girl doesn't like something that sparkles?!), so I played along and put on the sweater," she admitted.
"To be perfectly honest, the black beaded dress was a backup," she continued. "The pattern on my original black and white dress didn't work on the weather wall (for some reason, it turned semi-transparent), so after my first weather hit at 6 a.m., I changed."
Read more: Meteorologist Was Forced to Cover Up On Air After Her Dress Offended Viewers
On Chan's blog, she writes regularly about what she wears and the makeup she uses. She also let fans know that she is capable of handling criticism when it comes to how she looks. According to her, it's just an unfortunate part of the business she's in.
"I've learned that everyone has an opinion and you have to have a thick skin to work in this business," she wrote. "It's a visual medium and sometimes your outfit works and sometimes it doesn't."
That may merely be an unfortunate truth for any woman in the public eye. While Chan appeared to have brushed off the incident almost immediately, many people are still chatting about it on Twitter, shocked at how public and embarrassing the event was. Shocked that a woman could be harmlessly doing her job, and then publicly blindsided by sexism. But really, there's no reason to be shocked at all. The incident was just another indication that society has a long way to go in terms of giving women the agency to dress as they please, without criticism or punishment.
So while the TV station thought of only giving her a cardigan to ease viewers' concerns, we've thought of a few other things it could have given her on air, like 1) a breakfast danish 2) a compliment or 3) a raise.