The London Olympics concluded today. For the first time, women were represented on every competing nation’s team, and the U.S. team had more women than men. Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison talked openly about being a survivor of sexual abuse, and American soccer player Megan Rappinoe publicly announced she is gay. But these Olympics also demonstrated that we are still struggling with how to react when the people achieving these feats are women:
· Officials considered requiring female boxers to wear skirts. Are you kidding me? I am sure these ladies could kick ass wearing skirts, high heels, or the queen’s hat if they had to, but just because (some) women wear skirts doesn’t mean women need to wear them boxing. You don’t see anyone making male boxers wear cummerbunds.
· US weightlifter Sarah Robles struggles to get a sponsor. The US top-ranked Sarah Robles had no sponsors and was living on $400 a month before the games, despite her athletic success and inspiring back story: she has Madelung’s deformity which means her ulna is shorter than normal and crooked, resulting in pain during every lift. She is now sponsored by Solve Media. Her lack of funding highlights the difficulties that athletes in more obscure sports face in finding sponsors, especially if the athlete doesn’t look like our typical ideal of beauty.
· Hurdler Lolo Jones gets ripped in NYTimes for having too easy a time getting a sponsor. God forbid a female athlete should actually be good looking, controversial, and use those traits to drum up publicity necessary to get sponsorships and avoid living on $400 a day, though. Lolo Jones was the subject of a highly critical NY Times article alleging that her fame was due to looks and public discussion of her choice to remain a virgin, rather than her athletic abilities. While it would be great to see more coverage of her teammates who medaled in the event, she placed fourth—it looks like she was pretty qualified to be at the Olympics. It’s obvious that getting sponsorships relies not only on athletic performance but also on charisma, but it seems that female athletes get disproportionate criticism when they play the game. Lolo’s idiosyncrasies give her an unfair advantage in the media circus—but Ryan Lochte’s grill gets a pass.
· Gymnast Gabby Douglas’s ponytail isn’t good enough. I sometimes don’t comb my hair in the morning. Gymnast Gabby Douglas, gold medalist in the women’s all-around, hits the floor to complete some of the most difficult physical maneuvers on the planet, and it’s a travesty that more thought, time and effort didn’t go into her hair. What, the U.S. gymnastics team didn’t want to hire Ronaldo to consult?
· Will beach volleyball keep the bikinis? In a number of sports, athletes compete in minimal attire for the sake of comfort and ease of movement. When beach volleyball, whose traditional attire is obviously beach wear, allowed women to compete in more covering uniforms, an inordinate amount of attention was paid to which women would keep their bikinis. What should have been a simple choice reflecting weather and personal preferences would inevitably be viewed as a statement on gender, voyeurism, and the image of the sport.
· IOC institutes policy of gender testing based on testosterone. The test would only be carried out if requested by the chief medical officer of a national Olympic committee or a member of the IOC’s medical commission. They have not published an acceptable level of testosterone, and the methodology has been criticized by some doctors, as some women simply produce high levels of testosterone. Some fear that gender testing will unfairly single out athletes who don't conform to tr Castor Semenya, a South Africa female runner whose gender was questioned three years ago and was subsequently cleared, competed and won the silver medal in the women’s 800 meter run.
About 10% of the cloths I brought to Ghana go unworn. There’s the long, patterned skirt that I thought would be perfect for a hot climate where women don’t show their legs, but whose synthetic fabric catches uncomfortably on sweaty skin. There is the cool-looking white blouse that turns see-throw when it gets wet in sudden rainstorms. There is the sharp, sexy pencil skirt that is physically impossible to ride on a motorcycle in.
Knowing what to bring, and when to wear it, can be a challenge in my work. You have to be prepared for everything from meetings with government officials to dusty trips to the field, in weather that ranges from swelteringly hot to cool and dumping buckets of water. In every case, you have to consider cultural norms that are not your own. For armies of interns about to pack their bags and head off to get their toes wet (and dirty, and sweaty, and mosquito bitten) in West Africa, here are my tips for dressing for development work:
DO focus on material for comfort. No matter what you are doing and where you are going, it will be hot. Look for very lightweight, natural materials (like linen or cotton) to stay comfortable. I favor light, knit shirts that fit neatly and have some embellishment that brings their formality up a notch.
DO focus on cut for appearance. Comfortable materials can be cut to look professional. Men should look for very light weight collared shirts and slacks. Light-weight khaki pants with a sharp cut can go from office meetings to the field.
DON’T bring stuff that can’t get wet. Between sweat and monsoons, it will.
DON’T bring stuff you love. Handwashing is rough on cloths. So is falling in sewers, being grabbed by random children, getting bitten by goats, and being lashed by wind and rain. If it will break your heart if it gets ruined, leave it at home.
DON’T bring white stuff. It will get dirty super fast. Khaki, brown, red, green, black or dark blue are much more field friendly.
DO bring jeans. They are an awful fit for the climate, but everyone wears them, and you probably will too.
DO wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
DON’T wear shorts while working. Shorts are rarely worn in Ghana, and never in the workplace. Very short shorts will always draw attention. Short sleeves are fine; nice sleeveless shirts are usually okay.
DO wear skirts, if you are a lady. Skirts are a great way to keep cool while looking nice; they are the loophole in the “no shorts” rule. Just keep them around knee level or below, and unless you are adept at riding side saddle, don’t wear tight skirts if you are planning to ride moto.
DON’T forget to bring fun clothes—outfits for working out, clubbing, dates, hanging around the house, or trips to the beach. And don’t forget a swimsuit!
DO wear nice sandals. If you are a man, look for nice local-made leather sandals that can be worn with your lightweight khaki trousers. Ladies can wear any nice looking sandal.
DON’T wear heels, except on carefully considered occasions, but DO bring a pair. The ground is very rough here, and you will walk, so find nice-looking shoes that are comfortable. Also, it is very hard to drive a motorcycle in heels. Some clubs require ladies to wear heels to get in, so come prepared for that.
DON’T wear “bathroom shoes”. Bathroom shoes are inexpensive flip-flops that Ghanaians wear to go to the bathroom. If you can’t tell the difference between bathroom shoes and potentially work-appropriate flip-flops, don’t wear flip-flops at all. IPA Ghana officially does not allow flip-flops in the Accra or Tamale offices.
DO get something made locally. The tailors in Ghana are talented and inexpensive.
DO ask a local friend or coworker if your clothing is appropriate. This is especially true if you are attending an unusual function, like a funeral, or if you are experimenting with local fashions.
DO consider the impact of your appearance. Ghanaians are often inappropriately forward with ex-pats in a way that they would not be with a fellow Ghanaian; this is especially true for women. Consider whether your appearance will encourage people to treat you as a professional; clothing that is too casual or sexy will encourage advances. It’s no fun to be shooing off suitors while walking into a partner meeting.
DO break at least one of these rules. Putting on that one dress you really love, or wearing shorts to the market, or (gasp!) wearing a pretty pair of flip flips to the office can be a fun, harmlessly subversive way to escape from the constant pressure of fitting in to another culture.
This video previews the Washingtonian's 18 most stylish people. They are not un-stylish, but now I see why I fit in fine in DC, yet always feel inadequately dressed in New York.
LOLfed (http://lolfed.com/page/2/)and FT Alphaville (http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2009/01/19/51321/ib-salary-data-point-of-the-day/) have disparaging things to say about New York’s Fashion Meets Finance, a social service that aims to match ibankers and people in the fashion industry.
I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.