Friday, June 29, 2007

Because girls wear frocks and boys wear trousers, that's why

Living in the South things are often slightly different than in other parts of the country. We drink sweet tea, say y'all, and call soda, soda, not pop. I've technically lived in the South my whole life considering I grew up in Florida but most laugh when I say so because though Miami is geographically further down the map, I've been told that saying you're from the South because you grew up in Florida is like saying the manatee by the wharf is your uncle because he's a mammal, like you.

Now that I live in the undisputed South, I've found that despite certain indisputable perks such as the never ending supply of sweet tea, shorter winters yet the ability to experience snow, and ofcourse birds which seem to be everywhere at all times, there are certain things in the legal arena that could use some updating.

Granted, we've come a long way from the days that the US Supreme Court said banning women from practicing law and limiting the profession to men only was A-OK but for women at least, the South still has some ways to go to equalize the playing field. This might be an issue beyond the South (and if so, please share) but friends who practice up North laugh incredulously when I tell them of patiently answering questions at interviews regarding whether or not I'm married, if I have children, or intend to in the future, and ofcourse the dress requirements. Women wear skirts, men wear pants. I'll never forget sitting in a filled to capacity lecture hall as our career advisor passed out a handout illustrating proper interview attire for men and women: Skirts for women along with makeup tips and pants for men. One student raised her hand asking if we had to wear skirts to which the advisor, looking slightly annoyed, told us he receives too many complaints from interviewers at the top law firms wondering why our school's female body insists on disrespecting them by showing up in pant suits: If you want the high paying job in the top notch law firm, play the game. After the talk, I waited for the crowd to die down and approached him explaining I was Muslim and couldn't wear the illustrated skirt for religious reasons to which he responded that it was a shame I didn't wear the headscarf because at least law firms would know why I showed up in a pant-suit. Is that a first y'all? Being told by your career advisor (who is not an imam of any sort) that wearing a hijab might be a good career move? Sadly, beyond the law firms, there are countless stories from women practicing in the South who have told me about JUDGES ordering them to leave their courtroom because they dared walk in in pants and disrespect their courtroom.

Well imagine my surprise (read: sarcasm) to hear that a woman in a head scarf (and undoubtedly pants) was denied access to a deep south Georgia courtroom to contest a speeding ticket because her attire offended the judge. (Thanks for the link Dwyane!) Its outrageous but its not surprising. When I went for my court date I tried my best to show the Judge despite my pants I understood my role as a feminine female by wearing a pink shirt, a matching pink bag and pearl earrings but I still wonder if its why he had such a sour expression on his face and spoke to me as though I offended him with my very presence. I guess if women can be turned away from court for daring to wear pants, a head scarf must have appeared as alien to that judge, as an actual alien complete with eight arms and pink polka dots walking into his courtroom.

It's also not surprising that googling the story resulted in only one article. Because I'm freaking out about the Bar and frankly can't spare the stress I'm already expending on aforementioned bar and my air conditioner (which is still on the fritz) I debated writing about this fearing the confrontational debates that may insist on being had... but I figure if this girl can show up to Court and stand by her principles and not shy away despite the pressure, the least I can do is tell y'all about it. I hope she knows reading her story gave me the extra boost I needed today as I sat with my books towering higher than me, and remembered why I want to practice law in the first place: Civil rights, because its what makes this country great.

Disclaimer, etc: This post is not about the morals behind hijab, or whether or not I should or shouldn't wear it and where you speculate my place in the afterlife will be. Any discussion going there will be promptly deleted because the point of this post was to let others know what happened, and to point out an area in the South that still needs some work, not for tangential discussions on the morality of hijab. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I miss uncle lester by the wharf.

Hehheh." saying the manatee by the wharf is your uncle because he's a mammal, like you."

Had me cracking up out loud for quite some time.

eun ha said...

ARE YOU SERIOUS??? Wow. Ugh. I don't really have anything of substance to add to this comment, so I'll stop.

working said...

I don't think conservative professions are different in the North. I had to find long-skirt suits for my interviews because like you, I don't wear hijab, but was interviewing for professions where a skirt suit was expected. Keep an eye out - maybe you'll find something.

Aisha said...

Ali, lol, Uncle Lester was one of the nicer uncles, indeed :)

Eun ha, ridiculous I know! :(

Working, yeah I have one long skirt suit but its not particularly nice plus most of the nicer ones have long slits all the way up so its hard to wear them. Luckily, I have a fellowship and hopefully during these two years I can make a name for myself and people will judge me based on what I've done and not on what I'm wearing.

Huda said...

Long skirt suits just don't look very pretty, at least not the ones in the stores. I tried a couple on when I was interviewing (for my programming job during the height of the dotcom era, when people showed up to work in ripped jeans and soccer jerseys, but the career counseling department still insisted on "conservative attire") and finally gave up, opting for pants. And while I do wear hijab, there's no guarantee that all of the companies I interviewed with knew what it signified.

I wonder if things will change as the old guard phases out and more people from our generation become judges and partners. Insha'Allah. :)

chickpea said...

Aaah, this actually makes me appreciate in the NYC Metro area. While you do see many women wearing skirt suits, you see almost the same amount wearing a pants suit. In all my professional interactions (applying for corporate internships, working at the State House in Jersey), I've never heard that women couldn't wear pants. To me that sounds nuts! But I don't doubt that it happens up here at certain organizations.

Love your comment about the manatee.. it's so apt! I don't think of Florida as the south either!

chickpea said...

Oops, my comment should read: Aaah, this actually makes me appreciate living in the NYC Metro area.

Phoenix said...

Interesting.Would this be an inequality issue? I don't think so, that would be pushing it too far.

Well,it doesn't really make sense why judges have to be so particular about clothing, especially in this matter of pants and skirts, when the rest of the world outside is least bit bothered!

Anonymous said...


Ahmed said...

What the freaking heck, I'd be so upset if I was that woman! I wouldn't agree to pay the fine, I'd be like I'll be back with some lawyers and some charges about whats going on here. I hope CAIR is able to do something about this stuff.

I'm working in NYC and originally from Canada...being a guy I'm not aware of what girls go through in interviews, but my mom, sister, and my friends that are girls wear pants more often than not professionally.

compaq said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tee said...

Someone hold me back. I feel like feeding a troll. >:/ ... Delete that comment Aisha before I hurt someone.

As for your post - that is an outrageous and sexist rule. Ugh :p

youngMuslimah said...

wow, that's sad:( I am glad that woman stood up for her beliefs though.

Anonymous said...

i wore long skirts PLUS a scarf when i interviewed and now to a large corporate firm. (my interview suit was jones new york -a little expensive but the skirt didn't have a slit and it was actually nice.) and while i'm not in the south, my state doesn't give you the "north" feeling either. however, i am in a medium sized city where there is some degree of diversity. i haven't read this story but maybe it was in a small town? i hope she sues. i haven't given it any thought myself, but do you think she has a case?


Aisha said...

Huda, yeah, I've searched for the long skirts but they look like they're too long. They dont look right. And with the cut all the way up past the knee you can't wear it, but without it, you can't walk. And yes insh'allah things will change.

Chickpea, mostly its ppl from NYC I've noticed who are outraged by the stories I share. I guess life is different there.

Phoenix, if certain women who can't wear the rquired skirst are as a result denied similar jobs or make a less than impressive impression, then there is an equality issue with the dress requirement. Incidentally, how did you find me, I noticed your're coming from an inda times site. I had someone from that site plagiarizing from my site. Just curious if this is a coincidence or you came from that site and the comment I left.

Ahmed its crazy isnt it? I heard that you only need to waer it to interview, afterwards its relaxed. but for many of us thats not an option.

Tee, deleted :)

YM/Frenchita, I noticed you left comments at the other site today, Angel's site that was copying my website post for post? I also noticed on my statcounter that you visisted me today from "Angel's" account. I found that interesting.

Aisha said...

Rasha, yes the story was in small town Valdosta Ga by the Florida border. Are you able to walk comfortably in the long skirts? I might have to check that line of maker out. Thanks for letting me know.

youngMuslimah said...

aisha: whats yr email? i dont think i can explain here..pls delete yr comment to me!

Anonymous said...

I am not Muslim but very familiar with Islam. There has to be a middle ground here. Can you find a tailor perhaps who could make some skirts the length you need. If your going to practice with those judged, I wouldn't want to get on their bad side. I hope you all the best.

mystic-soul said...

I met a guy in airplane once, who still feel sorry, why south lost civil war.

Suroor said...

This is sad but my best friend who is Muslim and a lawyer in San Francisco has very similar things to say.

Keep the pink shirt and pearl earrings handy, always :)

Anisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
slskenyon said...

Well, at least in the interview world, I go in with the preferred outfit on, then, after getting hired, wear whatever I wanted.

However, I'm sorry that this standard isn't sensitive to the idea of difference of belief--let alone just difference in opinion. Or anything "different" at all.

Lawrence of Arabia said...

ah yes. welcome to the south. *sigh*

i hadn't realized the law profession was quite that conservative. but i grew up in a house where my mother only wore dresses or skirts. indeed i saw my christian mother in an abaya and an SK before i ever saw her in jeans. she forbid my sister from wearing pants, etc. it wasnt until my sister put her foot down sometime in high school that the madness finally broke.

there are still large portions of the south which long for the "good old days" when men were men and women were....well...screwed.

good luck out there,

Aisha said...

Amira, yeah I actually found a nice skirt suit at banana republic recently. I will eventually buy one (I have one but its awful) but the point is more for me that this has to be done in the first place... its something that should be outdated in the new era we live in ya know? Thanks for your advice!

Mystic- doesnt surprise me one bit

suroor, SF really??/ I picture them to so liberal and forward thinking!

Slskenyon, yeah, that is what our CSO said to us, he said wear it to the interview and then be done. It can be done I guess if you try hard enough for that first interview, but in some ways it stinks that it MUST be done ya know?

Lawrence of Arabia, thanks for that perspective! I guess in my household it was pretty much always hammered in about length of what you wore, so pants were never questioned... for me and my Muslim perspective I'm surprised that pants that cover the legs and are more modest are considered liberal over skirts that show skin you know? That is fascinating about your mom though, did she grow up in the South?

sonia said...


i suppose here all the barristers are cloaked up in the gowns.

Lawrence of Arabia said...

yes, my family is from the carolinas. and from a christian holiness background (which includes methodists, wesleyans, nazarenes, various pentecostals, etc.). it was long skirts, long sleeves, no make-up. long hair on women, married women with their hair up. no shorts for boys. its interesting how we are so obsessed with (esp. womens) clothes.

the prejudice was there against pants because, as your title indicates, pants were mens clothes, so it indicated women stepping out of their god appointed place.

best wishes,

working said...

Try to find an a-line skirt and a shorter jacket in black. I think I got mine from Ann Taylor. Then you don't have to deal with the slit issue and it should look nice. I have one that I've worn for interviews, evening events where everyone else is wearing a little black dress (but that won't work for me obviously) etc. I worked in a conservative profession in NYC and I wore pant suits most of the time when working, but always wore a skirt suit for an interview.

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