From a woman’s lament on Refinery29:
While Caroline was trying to establish a strict work-life balance — despite rarely leaving her apartment — she still found herself mindlessly checking her emails ahead of the week. That’s when she noticed a message pop up from her executive director. In the email, which was addressed to the entire company, her boss provided tips and resources for “looking good on video calls” — from lighting and backgrounds to personal hygiene. While his advice to invest in an advanced webcam setup infuriated Caroline (because of income disparities within her company), she was most bewildered by his suggestion to wear makeup. “While it’d be bad advice at any time for playing into sexism, it just felt incredibly tone-deaf during this particular time,” she tells Refinery29. “It was demoralizing. It’s not appropriate to be talking to women about their appearance and much less so during a crisis.”
Caroline isn’t alone. On social media, you’ll find many women sharing their frustrations of being told they look tired or less engaged, and some have even reported managers who flat-out ordered them to wear makeup for video calls. “I’ve had more than one Zoom meeting where my boss has asked if I’m tired. This is just my face without makeup,” wrote one Twitter user. “First day we had a meeting, my boss said, ‘You guys didn’t put on any makeup!”
Whoa! A male superior telling a woman she has to wear make-up in the workplace is potentially sexual harassment. It’s also just plain wrong. Don’t we know this by now? Imagine a fat, bald boss demanding that his female employees need to pay more attention to their appearance. As my wife has told me more than once, she wears make-up for herself. I have limited sympathy for radical feminist claims that “if men can go barechested , so can we!”, but in the matter of make-up, there’s no valid argument for the convention that women are obligated to wear it. If a woman chooses not to use make-up, that’s her choice to make.
Incidentally, here is how one online video says that the woman above should appear in Zoom meetings…
Moving the venue to home merely makes such a request—or demand—more ridiculous, but no more offensive. Looking presentable in Zoom meetings is a matter of professionalism, respect, and personal taste. It is ethical to appear awake, groomed and clothed, and appearing in pajamas or deliberately provocative clothing is obviously—at least it should be obvious— inappropriate. If you are going to appear like this, ostensibly to lighten the mood,
…you better be certain of your workplace culture, or ask the meeting-holder’s permission first.
Would a supervisor be justified in pointing out that a female employee should not be Zooming in a bikini, or other garb that would be fairly labled poor taste? Sure, though that conversation is always a metaphorical tightrope-walking exercise. I have told female subordinates—actually one—that her total lack of professional dress and grooming would likely handicap her advancement in a Washington, D.C. professional association setting in many subtle and unproveable ways, but it was her choice whether to acknowledge this in practice or not.
If we accept supervisors telling women to wear make-up, then we must accept it when they express their preferences for the kind of make-up. If they can tell women to wear eye-shadow, they can tell men to ditch the bad toupes. Meetings using Zoom require some minimal presentability, but that’s all; I’ve had no pants on in all of my Zoom seminars. just as a matter of principle. I’ve worn a tie while addressing lawyers, because it helps suggest seriousness and authority (but still no pants.)
I have NOT worn make-up.
The fact is, everybody looks lousy on Zoom.