The University of Cape Town held an academic dinner yesterday evening, where new professors were presented by recently appointed Vice Chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng (affectionately known as Fab Academic).
Images from this prestigious private event made it onto social media - as event images often do - drawing attention to Fab Academic's glam getup, which so happened to reveal an insignificant, inoffensive glimmer of cleavage and a small tattoo on her inner left arm. Fab indeed, but not according to Twitter user @rinmor, who apparently did not approve of the look, deeming it inappropriate for an evening with professors.
Of course, Tweeps are not here for any attempt at shaming women for how they dress, and rallied behind Prof Phakeng and subsequently, women's rights to absolute autonomy on how they present themselves.
There’s a great book out that I have been reading. Judgement Detox. Grew up with extremely judgmental parent and have a hard time not minding my own business. It just might help you and anyone out there who like to police people’s appearance based on antiquated notions.— Heidi B (@Knoppsy) November 20, 2018
Karin, it seems you love policing black women's appearance. Last time it was Lindiwe Sisulu's hair which you called 'wild' as I recall.— Madeleine Fullard (@mfullard2) November 20, 2018
So stunning??????. Fresh!!! She’s such a stylish woman. Beauty+brains+elegance can be very intimidating to the disinclined.— nthabeleng (@nthabel04931260) November 20, 2018
This is perfect. The colour, design, flaire, creativity...when I look at all the ‘appropriate’ retail dullness on the stage, I can’t help but swell with pride that a black African woman is doing exactly what I love about us: breathing oxygen to dead flesh so it rises again.— Lerato Vagabond Mogoatlhe (@MadamAfrika) November 20, 2018
Hehe VC rocking the boat of the prudent academia and morality police. Go VC .. beautiful woman with beautiful mind!!— LadyB33 (@ladyb33zar) November 20, 2018
As the above responses explicitly state, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the manner in which Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng was dressed as a Vice Chancellor or woman of any other profession, yet there is still a small population of people who constantly take it upon themselves to police how women dress.
It's not just the likes of women in academia who are subjected to these kinds of respectability politics - such archaic and patriarchal dress-code restrictions are imposed on girls as young as 13 years old (or even younger) and are carried on right up until adulthood, where it manifests as slutshaming.
Zodwa Wabantu, Amber Rose, Cardi B, the Kardashian Klan, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Lil Kim, Modern Family's Ariel Winter (for a breast reduction nogal), Beyoncé (for performing in leotards), and the list goes on.
For most of these women named on the above list and others not mentioned, lest this article become a Google Doc, the premise (albeit flawed) is founded upon the fact that they choose to express themselves, their sexuality, and their bodies as they see fit without subscribing to antiquated notions of what a "lady" is.
And that makes gatekeepers of respectability incredibly uncomfortable.
So yes, every now and then we need to have this conversation where we remind each other that women do not exist for anyone's gaze and approval.
Whether we reveal a small bit of tattooed skin (like Fab Academic) or an entire sleeve á la Kat Von D, we can do so if we desire, without fear of judgement. Our hemlines and our necklines need not be a measure of our value either.
And when it comes to overall standards concerning how the female form should be exhibited in public? I'd like to think that 'appropriate' is just another social construct we can do without.
Here's to more decolletage, exposed shoulders, and ink on prestigious podiums.
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