On Dress Codes, Modesty, Utilitarianism, And The Golden Rule [CORRECTED]

 

There were a lot of ethical considerations being ignored or scuffed in a strange conflict in Utah County, Utah.  Rebecca Ortinez, a regular plasma donor to BioLife Plasma Services, was told by managers at the facillity that she could not donate and had to leave the premises because of her immodest attire. According to Ortinez, who issued a detailed account of her treatment on social media, she was told, “We have a lot of RMs [Mormon Returned Missionaries] that donate and how you’re dressed is very distracting, so you are going to have to leave.”

Ortinez added a selfie of her outfit, chosen, she said, because she expected to have to wait outdoors and it was “95 degrees in the shade”:

When she was told she had to leave, Ortinez refused and demanded that the request be put in writing, which the manager refused to do. Then the manager elaborated on her objections to Oridnez’s appearance: she informed Ordinez she was distracting because her “nipples were poking out” and added  that she should be ashamed of herself. Ortinez reacted to that by refusing to leave unless the objections were put in writing and she could see the plasma center’s dress code provisions. The managers threatened to call the police and did so, telling them that they wanted Ortinez banned for life from all Biolaife Plasma Centers

After she finally left the property and received a copy of the police report, Ortinez sent out a Facebook post “For Donors, ACLU, ACLU Utah, Fox News, KSL 5 TV, KSL Newsradio, KSL.com, KUTV 2News,” telling the tale and announcing,  “Now I’m blasting BioLife on my extensive social media platforms!”

You go girl!

Analysis:

  • The managers of the Bio Life Plasma Centers have dead ethics alarms.  This is fat-shaming and cruelty. Those sensitive Church of the Latter Day Saints missionaries can avert their eyes; the woman was giving blood, a public service.

If they are going to have a dress code for donors, which seems ridiculous on its face, then the centers should make it known to all. I assume there is no dress code. Of course, all businesses assume a base level of modesty and common sense will be maintained by the public.

  • This is a pure Golden Rule episode. Who would want to be humiliated and insulted like that while trying to do something that is in the interests of public health?

The conduct of the managers was also a breach of simple utilitarianism. Their duty is to get plasma, not protect the delicate sensibilities of  those who might be “distracted” by a woman’s protruding nipples. Let the missionaries be “distracted,” get the plasma, and suggest to the offending donor that she should wear a shirt next time. How difficult is that?

  • This is not to say that what Ordinez chose to wear was appropriate for public presentation. No, society has no dress codes either; those days are past, and so is the once majority ethic that one is obligated to make some effort to dress and behave, as George Washington would say, with consideration of and respect for of all those individuals one might interact with.

This is part of civility. Apparently Ordinez has no appreciation of it. She is, to be blunt, a slob, and apparently proud of to be one, indeed defiant about it. Yes, she has a right to dress like that in public. That doesn’t mean it is right, however.

  • She is wrong about BioLife violating her civil rights, with or without a dress code. As a private operation, they can reject and eject anyone they please. Discriminating against someone based on their poor choice of attire is not “invidious discrimination,” nor is a plasma center a public accommodation.

I do not think the ACLU will take her case.

  • Added: When I first wrote this a few hours ago, I was not aware that plasma “donors” like Ortinez were compensated for their plasma; none of the accounts I read nor Rebecca’s Facebook post mentioned that detail. Based on that fact, which I should have included, she might have a case— a weak one, I think, but you never know what a court will do—that she has a “right” to sell her blood like any other commodity.

It’s a legal issue. She seems just the kind of person who would litigate over it, too. [Much thanks to philk57 for the correction]

  • How people feel empowered by social media: Look at Rebecca! She got herself a viral social media entry! She might get interviewed on TV! She might get those mean BioLife managers fired, or at least cause them a lot of trouble! Power! Fifteen minutes of fame!

I dislike the BioLife prudes and bullies more, but I don’t care for Rebecca much either. In the spirit of late Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs Spy,” this kerfuffle was “Jerk vs Jerk.”

  • Is there any doubt that if Rebecca were black, this would be reported as a racist incident, the managers would be fired, and the BioLife Centers would issue a  public apology?

17 thoughts on “On Dress Codes, Modesty, Utilitarianism, And The Golden Rule [CORRECTED]

  1. Jack,
    Every plasma center that I am aware of pays for the plasma. I imagine there are some out there that are donations based, but I don’t know of any. BioLife does pay for plasma “donations.” I don’t see that this has any significant effect with respect to your analysis, but I am aware of your desire for accuracy.

  2. A couple of minor points. She stated she dressed thusly ‘because she expected to have to wait outdoors and it was “95 degrees in the shade”’. I assume the waiting outdoors part of this was due to social distancing rules, so this is one more side effect of the pandemic. One assumes (at one’s peril, to be sure) that this was not her regular attire if she expected to be waiting inside the facility.

    If she was, as stated, a regular donor at this facility, one also assumes that perhaps she even lives in that town. Perhaps she has made the acquaintance of a Mormon or two, being as this is Utah? I do not know personally, but do Mormon communities tend to have a more traditional dress mode? One can only conclude that this person has little regard for and little concern about the feelings of her neighbors.

    OK, I think I might’ve had another point, but my brain seems to have gone on strike. It is rummaging through the list of rationalizations on behalf of this woman, pulling them out and trying them on, one after the other. Let’s just be happy than most of my ancestors are safely tucked away in their graves and don’t have to witness this sort of thing.

    • Utah Mormon here (and BTW Jack, it’s the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). There is sizable LDS population here of course, but it’s only about 50%. In Salt Lake City it’s actually less than that, from what I’ve read. The concentration is probably highest around Utah County because of BYU, With that in mind, my church does encourage modest dress, but we’re not exactly Muslims here. Basic principle, don’t go out looking like a slob or a hooker. In any case, you’ll find people dressed all sorts of ways in Utah. The plasma center shouldn’t have had to reference returned missionaries, or the Church in general. Just have a dress code posted out front, problem solved.

  3. “One can only conclude that this person has little regard for and little concern about the feelings of her neighbors.”

    I think this is exactly right. Having lived in South Florida (you want 95 in the shade?) and having had a job that often put me in the company of Orthodox Jews, I was mindful of the way I dressed. Normally, I was a tank top, shorts, flip-flops kind of girl. But when I would be in the company of the Orthodox (especially men), I was dressed appropriately “frum” (there’s your yiddish word for the day). Was I required to be? No. Did I have the right to dress anyway I damned please? Yes. But it would have been rude. And honestly, what did it cost me to be considerate of the people in whose company I would be for a few moments in time?

    Why is it so hard for some to understand?

    • When I am driving around town or around my neighborhood, I’ve seen any number of people out jogging, especially early in the morning. A good number of those folks were outfits that can only be described as skimpy. However, when I am in stores, I don’t recall seeing that sort of thing — people tend to dress more modestly.

      Thinking about it just now, I would bet that people out jogging after dark would also dress differently but perhaps for different reasons.

      Where I work, my colleagues tend to dress more ‘professionally’ and, in fact, I believe it is mentioned in the company code of conduct. We’re tax preparers, they really don’t want us to look like slobs or hobos. I have what I privately think of as my work ‘uniform’, which is essentially slacks and a tie. It is, probably, the only job I’ve ever had where I needed to wear a tie every day.

      Final thought: this discussion again reminds me of pictures I see of people attending baseball games — all the guys were wearing a coat and tie. Needless to say, these are not recent pictures, but they are a reminder of how things have changed over the last 75 years.

      • “…my work ‘uniform’, which is essentially slacks and a tie.”
        Adding a shirt and shoes to your outfit probably wouldn’t hurt. I was told all I needed to go shopping during the pandemic was a mask and gloves…They were wrong; everyone else at the store was wearing clothes.

  4. I don’t know how women generally dress in Utah, but here in the Florida panhandle I don’t think her outfit would get a second glance in most places. I’m not up on fashion and may be wrong, but the first thing that actually grabs my attention about that outfit is how badly mismatched the top and bottom are. It’s like a striped tie and plaid shirt. The second thing is that, in my opinion, this style outfit is not a good choice given her body habitus. But I don’t know if we should begin deciding what is appropriate or inappropriate for a woman to wear on the basis of her weight.

    From the standpoint of modesty, there is no side boob, under boob, or under butt, and almost no cleavage. The waistband of the pants appears to be at about her natural waistline; she is not showing her navel and while we can’t see the back I doubt that she is showing her natal cleft. That top may reveal pokies but it doesn’t appear sheer enough to actually reveal a nipple. I see far worse than this every time I go to Publix (given what is revealed by some of the women in leggings, Pubix might be a more appropriate name.) I don’t think this is an appropriate outfit to wear to a plasma donor center but on the other hand, I see many women dressed more inappropriately than this who come into a clinic where I work.

    Lastly, to address Alicia’s point, I think the situation she presents and the one encountered by Ortinez are substantially different. Alicia knew beforehand that she would be working with men who had very strong religious beliefs about how a woman should dress. Being aware of the situation, she made the ethical decision to take their feelings into consideration. Ortinez did not know beforehand who would be in the center. In any event, she was there on business between herself and the staff not between herself and other clients. There is no reason to expect her to dress to meet the expectations of people who might happen to be there. That would be like expecting Alicia to give up shorts and tank tops because she might happen to patronize a business where there happened to be an Orthodox Jewish customer. If Ortinez knew that there were going to be people present who would be offended by what she wore, then I believe it would be unethical for her not to make reasonable accommodation. But this raises the question of what is a reasonable accommodation. Alicia dressed frum, which means she dressed as an Orthodox Jewish woman would, to interact with the Orthodox Jewish men. What if her business was with fundamentalist Muslim men who would be offended if she were not in a burqa?

    I would like to see people dress with more formality when in public. I don’t know that we need to go as far as the ladies wearing gloves when they go out of the house although I would like it. I don’t believe we will ever be able to clearly define what is inappropriate in terms of dress, but like Justice Stewart “I know it when I see it.” I’m with Gamereg, if there is a dress code just post the damn thing.

    • My knee-jerk reaction was “It’s not THAT bad”, but I noticed she wasn’t wearing a bra underneath, which may be more obvious when you get within arms-length.

    • All of the above. Living in Alabama I see much more revealing clothing at my public library or Publix. If this was a first instance of a wardrobe “problem” than Bio-Life was way out of bounds. They seem overly concerned with policing her wardrobe. Young men are able to see women in bathing suits and not being paralyzed by lust.

  5. The more I think about it, the more I think a dress code would be particularly welcome in a blood/plasma donation center. At the very least it would make it easier on the people working the needles.

  6. Dress, like politics, is local. If this outfit was way outside the norm, then a mention may be fine but a denial seems odd and over reaching. But Jerk v. Jerk is a good analogy.

    As a (somewhat lapsed) plasma donor, I can say that it is routine for donors to receive warm blankets once on the bed due to the process. Being cold is a side effect of donating. It takes a couple of hours to give a reasonable quantity of plasma as the blood is removed, platelets are spun out and your blood and a replacement fluid is pumped back in. Far cry from the 10-15 mins for a blood donation. The amount of time the donor would have been visible in her chosen dress was likely to be quite short, overall.

    At least this was standard practice here in Canada at my Blood Services centre where donations are unpaid.

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