I Still Refuse to Wear a Bra to Work, but …

“When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!'” – John 21:21-22

Earlier we noted an earlier a story from Germany about judicial weigh-in on workplace dress codes. A German court ruled that employers have a right to tell female employees to wear a bra, and keep hair and nails “neat” (but not ban fingernail polish colors).

One of the comments, from an old friend, pointed to a very interesting distinction between public policy and reasonable, moral, or just behavior.

In a democracy (or perchance even a republic), the government is the people. Rules and dictates of the government are rules and dictates of the people imposed upon their fellow citizens. This has rather broad-sweeping implications for a free society of equals.

So, where do I stand on the issue of workplace bras? I haven’t given the particular issue more than cursory thought. Is it affecting business? Hurting business? If not, then I doubt I would care much.

That said, the bra is hardly the issue of import.

If I start a widget-manufacturing-and-selling business, I do so at my own expense, my own risk. I borrow the money from the bank, invest in the necessary widget-tools, rent warehouse space for my widget-production facility, and set up a website for people all across the country to order widgets.

At some point in my widget enterprise, I come to the conclusion that the wearing of skinny jeans is detrimental to the overall widget production capacity of my facility as well as the individual widget quality. Skinny jeans, in the nether-regions of my widget-making mind, are bad for business. So, I ban them.

This policy naturally impacts female employees more than male (I hope), leading to an uproar about sexism and unfair work practices.

Now, the outside observer may rightly make a lot of legitimate claims and declarations here. “Your policy is nonsensical” – yeah, you’re probably right. “Your policy disproportionately affects women” – yeah, it probably does. “We’re going to boycott your widgets!” – well within your rights to freely associate. (As a matter of fact, this action in a free market is the proper response; any business threatened with significant loss of customers will change course quickly.) “There ought to be a law!” – woah, woah, woah, stop right there.

Just who do you think you are? You didn’t start this business. You didn’t put your life savings on the line. You didn’t work 70 hour weeks to get things going. You didn’t risk the financial livelihood of your family. “You didn’t put in on this – man” (Smokey, Friday). Why do you get to tell me how to run my business? Nobody is a slave here. Nobody is here under compulsion. All are free to go work for skinny-jeans-friendly manufacturing firms if they so choose. But if you’re going to work in my factory and draw a paycheck from my company, you’re going to do it my way.

This is the fundamental and often overlooked distinction between freedom-based policy and progressivism. While I, a defender of freedom, may well agree with the progressive on the fundamental morality questions of an issue, I disagree on the role of government in addressing them – precisely because government intervention is an intrusion on freedom; rarely for the purpose of defending anything like human rights.

Should needy people receive help? Should the elderly have care? Should businesses treat people fairly and with respect? We agree on all of these. Should the government mandate it? Now we have disagreement. The government is the people. By what authority can I mandate that my neighbor view the world as I do?

And to my left-wing or right-wing friends I will offer a simple word of caution. If you hold that a reasonable function of government is to mandate proper behaviors (whether helping the poor and needy, or upholding various moral codes), you cede any moral ground to complain about legislative overreach. The same government that you use to enforce behaviors you want can just as easily be used to enforce behaviors with which you disagree. All that is needed is for the other side to convince 51% of the voters that they’re right and it’s so long individual rights and liberties.

Either you believe in freedom, and that government must defend basic human rights and no more; or you are hoping to win the race to the top of the theocratic mountain and enforce your worldview before the other side(s) can enforce theirs. (Good luck with that – but these games have winners and losers; and we don’t want to hear complaints from the losers about how their rights have been trampled.)

This, of course, is a game I don’t care to be involved with. I prefer freedom for all.

So, as for German bras. No, I don’t think an employer should mandate that they be worn. Nor do I think the government should have any word to say about it if the employer does choose to make such a silly demand.

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2 Responses to I Still Refuse to Wear a Bra to Work, but …

  1. All that is needed is for the other side to convince 51% of the voters that they’re right…”

    This, to me, is the critical observation. The question is whether we trust a majority or not… and if we don’t, then on what authority that majority may be overridden. Suppose that not 51%, but to make the example extreme, 95% of the voting population thinks being forced to wear a bra is silly, and demands law enforcement protection of women’s ability to either wear a bra or not as they see fit in the workplace. That same voting population agrees to and asks for *law*, to which they willingly submit.

    But the remaining 5% of the population insists that government is not a social contract, but that instead the only acceptable laws are those derived from a very short list of divinely granted “fundamental” freedoms… and the freedom of opportunity to work in dress of choice is not on that short list.

    Now what? Does the possibly very-small-minority 5% view trump the so-called will of the people, because the 5% are Right (note the capital ‘R’)?

    I probably sound like a devil’s advocate without a specific opinion one way or the other. My opinion is that, as usual, the problem is messy. If there is *not* a fundamental short list of rules, then it is up to us, a collection of individual and often irrational agents, to come up with something that works well enough. The result is that that list is always changing, evolving, for example, from “you must wear a corset” to “corsets are stupid.”

    On the other hand, I also recognize that the will of the people can be a dangerous thing. Plato didn’t trust it, and Galileo didn’t either. To put it bluntly, the majority of people quite often get it wrong.

    • nomasir says:

      I couldn’t agree more. The 51% was presumably worst case, though truth be told there are any number of cases where a much smaller portion of the population can demand and get a policy preference mandated against the whole. My thoughts on the issue:

      First, we have a “law of the land” – and the founding documents of this nation are very near to a “this short list of unalienable rights is yours, nothing more, and the government will stay out of everything except ensuring those rights.” It’s not written exactly that way, but the founders were far more “libertarian” than any of the current political parties. (Note here that I mean libertarian from the “what should the government do” sense, not necessarily from the “who has what rights” sense – women, blacks, natives … all got left off the early implementation list.)

      As you note though, “government is not a social contract,” and our current operation is much more consistent with tyranny of the majority (hiding behind “fundamental rights” when it suits their cause, and flouting them otherwise). This points to my preferred systems-engineering solution.

      (1) I am a Christian – a pretty dang fundamental one. I believe that a strong, Biblical case can be made for non-intrusive governance based on rights granted by God (life, liberty, & such), and sincere operation of the Golden Rule in policies of a democracy. (If I wouldn’t want you to tell me how to live my life, then I have no place to tell you how to live yours.) Note that the first trumps the second – one cannot reasonably argue “hey, you wouldn’t want somebody else to tell you whether or not you should violate human rights …”

      (2) There are enough Christians in this country, that if I could only convince them of the Biblical basis for operating a government in such a way, then all that is needed for preserving liberty is to maintain consistent political behaviors amongst the Christians. No theocracies, left or right. Freedom for all, with strident defense of human rights.

      Take both, and you find yourself where I’d like to see the country. Much work yet remains though.

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