The Book Exchange, a local bookstore in Missoula, MT is being investigated for allegations of inappropriate conduct towards several female employees over the last two years by the owner’s husband. These allegations came to a head on June 5th when an employee posted a picture on social media of a note left by the owner in their employee notebook that is typically used for day to day updates for the staff. The employees claim that the note was a result of their complaints being voiced to the owner about her husband’s inappropriate behavior towards them while at work. The note was titled “Appropriate Business Attire” and went on to say “In recent years clothing has become more and more revealing. While this may be the “fashion” let’s face it, most (of) the population is neither supermodel slender nor able to carry off these “fashions” attractively. With warm weather this becomes even more problematic”. The note then goes on to describe what appropriate business attire should like, the final description being, “Skin tight leggings, lycra, and other tight-fitting attire invite stares, so if customers and others are staring (this includes me) we ARE, but NOT in admiration! … This year I’m going to start commenting on your “fashion” when I find it inappropriate.”
It is common to have a dress code in a place of business, but when presented in a manner that implies women should not wear certain clothing because of their body types, and then further implying that they are inviting unwanted attention and harassment if they choose to where those types of clothing is a rhetoric which is outdated and on the forefront of the #MeToo movement. Employees should feel safe in their place of business, and should be able to report work place harassment, or unwanted sexual advances and obscene remarks without fear of retaliation or aggressive responses that shame them for their body types or personal style. Victim blaming is a devaluing act where the perpetrator or others hold the victim partially responsible for the wrong conduct committed against them. The aggressors in instances involving sexual assault or harassment will often attempt to shame the victims in an attempt to keep them silent.
In response to these allegations, the managers of the store have hired a private investigator to look into the allegations against the owner’s husband, and have removed the note from the staff notebook. They have assured staff that any and all misconduct will be dealt with appropriately.