Another day, another opportunity to criticize a woman for what she wears while simply trying to do her job. This time, the subject of online criticism is Patrice Brown, an Atlanta elementary school teacher. Photos of Brown went viral, and now people are shaming the teacher for wearing “sexy” clothes to work. (Of course, “sexy” is a subjective term, and it’s not clear that there is anything inherently inappropriate about Brown’s clothing.)
This is far from the first time that a woman has had to bear public scrutiny for her work attire. We’ve seen woman after woman (after woman after woman) come under fire for wearing clothes that are deemed too revealing or too tight, or for simply having the temerity to be a female with a female body (and sometimes even a pregnant one!) out in the world. And it all brings me back to one question: Why can’t we just let people do their jobs?
Patrice Brown goes by “Paris Monroe” on her Instagram (which has been set to private since this whole thing blew up), where she sometimes posts images of her work outfits. Photos of her in her classroom show her in a variety of garments, including dresses that go from the collarbone to the knee, a knee-length cardigan, and a T-shirt and jeans combo — nothing that actually shows any skin.
And yet, critics have chimed in on social media to say that her clothing is inappropriate. (You can find most of this debate under the hashtag #teacherbae.)
Others have pointed out that the criticism of Brown’s work wear actually has more to do with her body than the clothing itself. Her dresses — and certainly her T-shirt and jeans — don’t actually expose any part of her body that could be deemed remotely objectionable in a school setting. She’s covered up. What people seem to be objecting to, rather, is that her clothing doesn’t hide the fact that she’s a curvy woman.
As a number of Twitter users have pointed out, this is part of a broader cultural problem in which women with naturally voluptuous bodies are automatically sexualized, regardless of what setting they're in or what they are wearing. In this case, naysayers seem to be suggesting that Brown’s body is inherently unprofessional, and that perception is given precedence over more important qualities like her job performance and dedication to her students. There is a double standard at play here — it’s hard to imagine that a woman with a less curvaceous figure wearing the same clothes would face any of this criticism at all.
Brown’s defenders have also argued that there is a subtle racial component to this controversy, saying that disapproval surrounding her clothing — the perception that it’s overtly sexual — ties into the widespread sexualization of black female bodies.
A few people have taken to Twitter to post images of Brown that truly are important: photos of her working with students and winning an award for Educator of the Month. For her part, Brown also wants to focus on her work, rather than her attire. She told the Daily Dot, “I just wish they would respect me and focus on the positive and what truly matters—which is educating the children of the future generations and providing and caring for them.”
Being a teacher is hard, often thankless, work, and Brown seems to be good at it. Can’t we just leave her be?