Megyn Kelly reported on the Republican National Convention while wearing a spaghetti-strap dress. The internet went crazy: people saying she was inappropriately dressed and people saying we should all shut up about her dress because "you go, girl," or whatever.

Here's the deal: Society has norms, and when you go against those norms you're going to get backlash.

There's a reason employees at Target wear khaki pants and red shirts, and the cashier at Burger King wears a uniform, and there's a reason you put on a suit when you go for a job interview. Your clothing is a symbol that indicates who you are.

You don't see emo teens wearing pink party dresses, and you don't see biker gangs wearing tuxedos. Everyone chooses their clothing (or in the case of a uniform, the boss chooses the clothing) because it represents who they are and what they do. 

There is nothing universal about what a particular outfit means. Brides in the United States wear white, while brides in China wear red. It's all cultural. And right now, the culture is that newscasters don't wear spaghetti straps. 

Megyn Kelly has worn spaghetti straps plenty of other times without the internet going crazy. The difference is she wore them in a different setting.

It's not about women being held to a different standard, and it's not about sexism. It's about societal norms. If her male co-host had shown up in a tuxedo or a Hawaiian shirt, that would have been equally inappropriate. This challenging of societal norms doesn't justify people calling her names or insulting her. Saying "That dress wasn't appropriate for a reporter" is one thing. Saying "she's a horrible person because she wore spaghetti straps on the air" is quite another. I firmly believe in pushing back against the new societal norm that says it's OK to be rude to people as long as it's on the internet.

Now, does this mean  that Kelly shouldn't have challenged societal norms? It depends on what you think about this particular norm. Personally, I like the norm that spaghetti straps are an evening or beachwear choice. If Kelly wants to make it a news anchor norm, she can certainly work to do so, but she can't do it without expecting some pushback. She can continue to wear spaghetti straps to work, encourage other female journalists to do the same, and eventually change the norm. If that's what she wants, super-duper. If not, she should probably put on a sweater.

Some norms deserve to be changed; others are fine. Personally, I'm thankful for people who pushed back against many societal norms involving racism and sexism. People who challenge dress-code norms aren't on the same level.

Kelly can, of course, wear what she wants (as long as her boss allows it--remember, she's not just representing herself; she's representing her company), but just like the rest of us, she can expect to receive criticism when she steps outside the norm. There's no right to wear whatever you want to work, nor is it bad for a company to have dress standards. If she wore that to many offices, she'd be sent home to change or at least handed a cardigan. That's not sexism; that's a dress code.

Published on: Jul 26, 2016
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