A Reply: Covering and Badging

David Shcraub asks a question (emphasis mine):

Mark has posted a response to my badgery post, but a very perplexing one. I say so because it rather persistently refuses to engage with the actual points under contention, instead continually reasserting that “people badge” and that this is often a good thing. Given that I don’t disagree that many, if not most or all, people badge, and that this is perfectly fine (when, in Mark’s own words, they do it “willingly and eagerly”), there’s very little point in rehashing that badging can be OK.

What still seems to be under contention, and the original point that prompted the debate, is when a covering demand is not okay. So, in writing this post, I want to pin down a simple position which I think is being elided thus far. Does Mark think covering requirements can ever have negative effects on those its demanded of? If so, does he think those effects are ever bad enough so we can legitimately say “this is an unjust requirement”, and speak out against the requiring party and argue they have a moral obligation to change it? And finally, do you think there are covering requirements that can be legally proscribed, by, say, anti-discrimination law (as I argue the “women and only women must wear make-up” position by Harrah’s should be?).

First a brief succinct reply to the direct questions and then a longer discussion below the fold.

  • The statement “that many, if not most or all, people badge, and that this is perfectly fine” is too weak in my opinion. I would state that everybody badges in more than one way. Badging is universal.
  • Yes I think covering requirements can be negative. I thought I made that clear. I’m admitting that there are negative aspects, but Yoshino (and Mr Schraub) seem to neglect the prevalence of badging. That is the point I’m making and I think failing to address it is a serious problem with the book or argument.
  • Every instance of covering, however, is voluntary. It is a perception that the badge and its cost is worth the gain that the badge and association does (or might) grant.
  • While I think that there probably are unjust requirements that we should speak out against, that these cases are rarer than He posits, because all badging (be it covering or not) is a tradeoff.
  • Finally, at one level I encourage legal prescription/prohibition of all sorts of badging but only at the local level.
  • And furthermore I don’t see the Harrah’s case as a valid plaint and I agree with the verdict.
  • It might come as a shocking surprise but I don’t think women’s cosmetics and couture as inherently misogynistic.

One objection Mr Schraub keys on is Ms Jesperson.

Make-up, incidentally, is a tough case to call, because while it is “tagged” as accenting femininity in our society, it (quite literally) covers a woman’s face, masking her identity. This is why I think it is properly analogized as a cousin to a veil or burqa, and like with both, where women are forced into covering their face, that’s something we should protest against (incidentally, I wasn’t accusing Mark of misogyny as much as Harrah’s–that they’re position is morally analogous to the Taliban requiring woman to cover their face [albeit with a different cover]. If Mark believes that we can protest the Taliban’s policy, but doesn’t similarly protest Harrah’s, then he’s simply being hypocritical. And if Mark thinks the Taliban could escape condemnation simply by agreeing that woman can leave the country whenever they want to, he’s consistent but delusional).

I’m neither hypocritical or delusional, in my view. If Harrah’s felt that they could make more money with a “Islamic desert theme” robing as sheik and women in burqa that would be fine. Harrah’s is but one company in a large market. It would only universalize if it was universally profitable, which it would not be. The Taliban’s policy can be protested because it is not local, but federal or on large global scale. When I first suggested my notions of localization of policy, blog neighbor asked if a village or ward/precinct might require burqa and I assented, but that also means the neighboring one could likewise forbid it. Personally, however, I also think that both locales will discover by being forced to participate and enage their enfranchisement that some level of compromise is more desirable.

Mr Schraub is right, I did ignore his point on differential requirements of covering. Or in his words:

The final issue which I’m going to continue to press until Mark deigns to give a satisfactory answer is the issue of covering/badging as differentially imposed burdens. While Mark rather patronizingly dismisses Ms. Jespersen’s case (hint: while in some circumstances its flattering to call a woman a “young lady”, when its in the context of dismissing the complaint of someone whose been fired from her job of 20 years, it’s really just insulting), he doesn’t actually grapple with the circumstances the case presented–indeed, he labors long and hard to obfuscate them in his summary of it. Hence, a 20-year employee becomes a “young lady”, a uniform and absolute requirement to wear make-up becomes “dress regulations,” her continued and undisputed exemplary service was dropped entirely, as was the critical fact that Harrah’s literally made it more expensive to be a woman and work at their casino. All Mark has to offer against my conclusion is that Harrah’s motivation wasn’t internal misogyny, rather, it was a response to its perception of how its clientèle wished to see the women. How Mark thinks this helps his case eludes me–all it does is shift where the misogyny is coming from. Instead of being endemic to Harrah’s, now its something the entire market demands. I don’t think Harrah’s can be excused for reifying societal sexism, and worse, for Mark’s case, it just strengthens the “taste for discrimination” point I made above–which indicates that no matter where Ms. Jespersen goes, she’ll always be dogged by the requirement to veil herself in make-up because “the market” demands its women to be covered. This makes it more critical that anti-discrimination law intervene, not less.

By the by, the term I preferred was that the lipstick (and likely dress) was a theatrical requirement, to create image. Lots of companies require uniforms. It depends on the industry, corporate management, and job market whether the uniforms are provided or purchased out of pocket. Maintenance of the uniform likewise can be provided or not. This requirement of lipstick is no different. Lipstick, my wife and daughters inform me comes at quite a low cost ($10 per tube for about 90 days was the estimate), so the financial objection is somewhat spurious. Ms Jesperson’s objection was not price (which would be silly), but that she felt “dolled up” and could not connect with her clients. And in my experience women in their 40s rarely disavow or dislike being called young. My brother and his wife play oboe and viola respectively in the Jacksonville Symphony. For members of orchestras at performances, men wear tails, women formal dresses. It seems likely that there might be a disparity in price in obtaining and maintaining such attire, and quite possibly more expensive for the men, e.g., there is much more variation possible in dresses and I’d imagine one might find one that could be normally laundering while tails require dry cleaning. Likewise, look at modern performers in other arts, say popular music. Costumes required by women and men very likely cost far different amounts for performers (as well as cosmetic requirements). Does the music industry, the performing venues or anyone else imaginable morally required to change this “inequity”? To quote Mr Schraub, that notion “rings less hollow than it rings ridiculous”.

The notion that Harrah’s response is to market strengthens my argument because companies exist to make money not right (mis)perceptions of social wrong. Some time ago, I proposed the notion that liberals (progressives?) primary notion of the purpose of government is to promote equality, conservatives virtue, and libertarians personal freedoms. It seems that some progressives are the opinion that their sainted notions of misogyny are things that should also be fixed by private companies.

The point is, I’m unconcerned about the fact that we are all different. That there are differential costs of entry for each of us is true, but this is not something that needs/begs correction. Some people are more talented than others and require less training costs to do their job, or even worse, perform at levels unattainable by others. Sexual differences are numbered among our differences. No matter what may come, I will never bear children for example. Might I rage against the injustice of it all? Some people live further than others from their place of employment, entailing higher costs. The number of inequalities and differences between us, as the poet might remark, are numbered as the sands. This is good. Division is not. Validation of the notion that every small difference is equivalent to division is divisive … not the reverse. Mr Schraub has it backwards, his insistince that every difference is divisive is divisive..

In Yoshino’s book, to my recollection, the “unkinking of hair” of a Black woman (unlike the case of Ms Jesperson cited above) is not an explicit job requirement, but a voluntary act of “covering” done because the person perceives that by doing so, increased chances of promotion might be attained. Mr Schraub insists this decision is “forced” on a person, when in fact that is not the case. There are choices, the hair is unkinked because there is a personal decision that this covering will grant greater future reward (monetary and status) than not doing so. This may or may not be true. This makes the legal problem much more difficult for Mr Schraub, for the custom driving covering, as is most often the case, is not explicit but by social convention. Changing this then, is not a simple matter of legal maneuvering for the covering is prompted by by voluntary badging, akin to peer pressure.

This still feels incomplete, but I’m out of time for tonight.

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  1. I think this post elucidates the critical impasse we have, which is a different conception of the scope and role of anti-discrimination law (insofar as you believe there even should be broad-based anti-discrimination laws, which isn’t clear). You think a company could require all its women to wear burqas, I think such a policy should be proscribed. Presumably, the same split exists along other covering cases: a company which requires blacks to unkink their hair, or Jews to undergo genital reconstructive surgery. You assume that such requirements only would be localized, but you can’t guarantee it, and don’t have a remedy if the market as a whole wants a certain type of covering–a significant risk for Jews in an anti-Semitic polity, Blacks in a racist one, or women in a misogynist one.

    Similarly, with the market you say that a company’s goal is solely to make a profit. I concur, but I believe sometimes the blind pursuit of profit leads to horrifying and intolerable social results, which is why the government steps in. You think utilizing anti-discrimination law is bad because it interferes with the profit-pursuing goals of a corporation, I think it’s necessary because of the profit-pursuing goals of a corporation, which, in the case of Harrah’s, make it more profitable to be misogynist (require that women cover themselves) than to be egalitarian.

    So, ultimately, while I think you’re severely underestimating the threat your regime poses to badging (contrary to your assertions, I think Yoshino are significantly more cognizant and protective of the benefits of voluntarily, “willing and eager” badging), the big difference is that you don’t think “differential costs of entry [and participation]” is a problem that we should try to solve, and we think it is. That gap won’t be bridged any time soon.

  2. Mark says:

    However, your description has some problems, that is, I still think you fail to understand my point of view.

    First off, I think there are two competing rights one of which you ignore. I think that companies should be free to set their own policy. I also think local government (not States or Federal entities) are free to set their own regulations. If town “X” allows gambling but not restrictions on lipstick application then Harrah’s can pay a fine, move or comply. If the town does not have such restrictions, then the employee can move on or comply.

    And the local nature of this authority does in fact insure that such policy will not be universalized by the nature of it being local. You have to realize that there is about the same chance of widespread anti-Maori policies in the US as anti-Semitic ones. There just aren’t enough Jews around to have anti-Semitism in any real measure. Likewise the Black (and female) populations are large enough to provide their own democratically obtained protections.

    As far as unkinking, or more weird, genital reconstruction for a significant portion of American males, it might be more useful if your examples had a thread of realism to them. You must be aware that most American males are circumcised while not being Jewish.

    You believe

    but I believe sometimes the blind pursuit of profit leads to horrifying and intolerable social results, which is why the government steps in.

    That may well be, but lipstick ain’t it. It’s not intolerable nor horrifying. Calling it so is divisive and an social (horrifying?) evil in itself, a case where the cure is worse than the crime.

    I think you’re severely underestimating the threat of Federalization of policy.

    As I noted above, you want equality ahead of liberty or virtue. My ordering would be virtue, liberty, equality. I think the direct consequence of your actions is a diminishing of individual virtue.

    Furthermore while I don’t worry about ““differential costs of entry [and participation]” is a problem that we should try to solve, and we think it is.” I’d like to pose the following challenge. I’d claim pretty categorically, than every law or statute has differential costs of entry and participation. Please provide an example or two that do not.

    Your point of view is the hypocritical one, in that you support and ignore differential costs for the majority in favor of any particular minority interest. I don’t understand the rational for that point of view, i.e., using the very thing you decry to rectify a perceived problem.

    Finally on lipstick and burqa regarded as equivalent covering, which you evidently do. The purpose behind lipstick and burqa are antithetical, completely opposite. Do you also think demagoguery is always evil? That Hitler and MLK Jr were equally reprehensible? For that is equivalent to the claim you make.

  3. Mark says:

    One other thing, you make a distinction between involuntary covering and voluntary badging. I don’t think any of the covering was involuntary.

    There is always a choice. For any badging there is a cost and benefit. The choice to badge is acceptance that the benefit is greater than the cost.

    Your view is that in many cases the costs are unnecessary. On that we agree. However, we disagree on the solution, in that you want a global “top-down” fix, via Federal mandated fiat, and I want a bottom up cure, via localization and individual empowerment.

  4. […] Cultural symobls are important in distinguising cultural meaning. Symbols donned (see this post) might tie to the badging/covering discussion. Part of symbol are those symbols we don to signify […]