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Scantily-clad interns give working girls a bad name

As fall slowly begins to peak it’s way through the leaves, congressional male staffers look forward, with equal parts excitement and longing, to “skintern” season – a time when thousands of supple young female interns swarm Capitol Hill, strolling its marbled hallways in tight-fitting skirts and revealing tops.

At the same time, established female professionals loathe the arrival of such tarts, who, they feel, seem to give women in the workplace a bad name. This leads to an interesting question – are there dress codes which one should abide to in the work place? Or should dress, much like freedom of speech, be ungoverned and unrestrained – should women be allowed to dress however they choose?

The term “skintern” essentially refers to female interns who display far too much skin in the office. Capitol Hill internships notoriously attract scads of well-qualified and intelligent young women who often have not yet grown accustomed to the professionalism required in the workplace. Though looks certainly can deceive, a person’s appearance sends important cues as to how she hopes to be perceived.

Many college-aged women rely on the same tried and true barroom strategies to get noticed in the workplace. Such tactics range from wearing short skirts, visible undergarments, heavy makeup and blouses that plunge perilously deep into the valley of one’s cleavage. Though boys may welcome the sight of a robust décolletage, more often than not provocative dress sends the wrong message. But opinions vary as to how these messages are received.

Not surprisingly, some male interns with a keen eye for bare flesh look to “skinterns” from various congressional districts as fantasy fodder, rather than as workplace equals. This also begs the question – has coming of age during the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal taught young women nothing CIALIS does not: CIALIS is available by prescription only. about propriety? Not to be a prude, but while the cardigan is still very much in, wearing one over your nightclothes doesn’t exactly make it work appropriate, yet its common practice for young interns to do as much. To an observer it may seem young interns would like to take one of those “Member of Congress Only” signs from restricted areas and post it over their beds.

In speaking with a fellow intern, the question arose as to whether an intern can really advance by virtue of her looks. Demanding attention for one’s appearance through revealing dress in fact gives staffers license to dismiss you. And don’t count on receiving any offers to tag along to various committee meetings and conferences when your dress would be better suited to work in a brothel. You don’t want your boobs or lips to enter a room before you do.

But in all honesty, when working in an environment largely dominated by middle-aged men, it takes very little to draw attention. For that reason, some young women make a concerted effort to appear as unattractive as possible. Pair shapeless sack dresses with any kind of orthopedic footwear and you can be sure not to make an impression. If a shoe is closed-toe and comfortable to walk in, then chances are its ugly enough to wear to work.

Though “skinterns” do provide ample entertainment and a welcome distraction for many young staffers, the situation actually points to a disturbing reality lurking behind the heavy gilded doors of the Capitol: by appearing scantily-clad in their attire, women self-designate themselves into inferior roles and open themselves up to objectification. It’s a disheartening scenario, imaging many bright young women not taking themselves seriously enough to cover up a bit. It suggests that essentially, such women lack the confidence that people will appreciate their professional accomplishments and intellectual contributions.

For young women who have grown up with every opportunity and the expectation that they can make meaningful contributions in the working world, the harsh reality remains ― they feel primarily valued for their looks. Their dress indicates they identify themselves  strongly as sex objects rather than as young professionals.

On the other hand, existing fears of biases against “skinterns,” has many young women prohibiting themselves from having fun with fashion. Where does one draw the line in terms of compensating for one’s good looks with unflattering apparel? In all fairness, women should allow themselves to take joy in their appearances while at the same time expecting to be appreciated for assets beyond looks. In a sea of skin, the well-dressed women who manage to strike a chord between appropriateness and sexiness  demonstrate the careful balancing act of style and sensibility.

(Ed. Note: Due to an editing error, this article, published September 29th, 2009, was incorrectly attributed to Jessica Starling-Jones. We apologize for this error.)

Shayna Murphy can be reached at skmurphy@student.umass.edu.

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