Not OK: Sexist holiday sweaters are all kinds of wrong

There are several things you should avoid doing at a holiday party at all costs, including but not limited to: causing fire damage, drinking too much spiked eggnog, and acting like a misogynist. The latter, apparently, is not a hard and fast rule for all. Case in point: a line of “ugly” Christmas sweaters (possibly designed for office parties?) have hit the shelves of retailers in the UK.. The problem, however, is the sweaters very specifically look to mock work-place sexual dynamics and the punchline overwhelmingly comes at the cost of female employees.

This may seem like an innocent joke taken too seriously, but as Victoria Richards writes on the Independent Online, these ugly Christmas sweaters are “designed, presumably, to highlight the ‘humor’ and so alleviate accusations of sexism or sexual objectification, but it only has the opposite effect.” Rather than combating sexism through comedy, these tasteless jumpers are reminding us that women are still viewed as sexual objects first and foremost. If you have respect for the women in your life and want to contribute to ending toxic work environments, how about supporting the push for equal pay? Or applauding female colleagues who earn promotions, rather than disparaging them and assuming they earned their place by handing out sexual favors like Christmas cookies?

Sexual objectification and harassment are very real issues for women in the workplace both in the UK and here in the US. Just this month news broke that a major American online rental listing company, Zillow, is facing a lawsuit from a former employee who says she was harassed repeatedly during her time with the company. The case, as USA Today points out, is only the most recent in several high profile lawsuits and allegations against US companies, including ones from lodged at the dating app Tinder. And just this week, Reuters reported the general secretary of the UK Independence Party — a rising political force in the nation — was suspended after reports of sexual harassment.

The problem really is a cultural one. Women are told to laugh along while men go unchecked and the cycle continues; women are encouraged to be silent and smile and men are allowed to make jokes without fear of criticism. It’s a cultural way of thinking that starts long before women ever enter the workforce. A recent survey in the UK found 60 percent of women aged 13 to 21 faced some form of sexual harassment, and “more than half of girls aged between 11 and 16 say that teachers and staff sometimes – or always – tell girls to ignore incidents of sexual harassment or dismiss it as a bit of ‘banter’.”

There’s this stereotype that feminists fail to really get in on the joke. We’re somehow “not funny” because we don’t laugh at one-liners that insinuate success comes from how we use our bodies and not our minds. I’m not sorry that these holiday sweaters offend me and I’m not sorry that my desire to work in an environment that is safe and inclusive overrides the desire to make a childish quip.

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