NASA Letter About Pantsuits From 1970 Shows Just How Far We've Come — And How Far We Haven't
If you thought that the way we talk about how women dress today is bonkers — well, you'd be right, but things used to be so much worse. Just check out this 1970 letter from NASA about women's pantsuits. There are definitely sexist double standards in the way we criticize women's appearances today, and that sucks — but at least we don't have to deal with this level of open sexism anymore.
The letter was apparently circulated at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in the year 1970 in response to women who wanted to wear pantsuits to work. It is listed as coming from the Office of the Director; signed by Alberta C. Moran (who seems to have been the Director's administrative assistant), it's addressed to "All Goddard Gals," and it cautions women in the office to take what they wear in a tone that even coming from a woman is enough to set your teeth on edge. And that's assuming, of course, that it was Moran's idea to pen such a thing to begin with.
"There are many factors that should be considered by you gals in how you dress," the letter cautions before reminding the women that their appearance reflects on both their bosses and the Goddard Center as a whole. The letter reminds the employees that some foreign visitors might be scandalized by seeing either women in pants or women in skirts — or presumably women in the office at all, none of which ought to be these women's problem. And the letter also makes sure to remind the "gals" that plus size or mature women shouldn't try wearing certain styles, anyway.
"Very often I wonder, when following a 'mature' woman in a mini, if she has ever looked at her rear view in the mirror," the letter remarks.
The whole thing is ridiculous from top to bottom, which of course is only made more so by the fact that this is at NASA. Shouldn't the people busy figuring out how to send people into orbit and design space shuttles and doing all the other amazing work going on at NASA during the 1960s and '70s be able to recognize that what women wear is not something that requires an office letter? Wouldn't you think that the people busy creating the future would be a little less interested in holding onto old, outdated ideas about women? Well, apparently not.
Of course, it's also worth pointing out that not all that much has changed in the 45 years since this letter was written. True, no one comes out and says it directly anymore that what women wear is a matter of grave concern, and that women deserve to be judged on their attire. But the idea is still there, from the red carpet to political coverage and from sexist workplaces to high school dress codes.
And consider this: While the letter's final quip that "if someone forgets to treat you like a lady — it was your idea to wear the 'pants'" might sound snide and unnecessary, considering no one now considers pantsuits to be anything but respectable, we still tell women who show skin that they shouldn't be surprised or upset about, say, street harassment. Why? Because "Well, what do you expect in that outfit?", of course.
Still, even though the underlying attitudes are still there (having only shifted to a new set of clothes), it's a relief that people at least try to be more tactful about it. Because if I had to deal with this attitude so blatantly all the time, I think I'd scream.
Check out the full letter here:
Image: Giphy; Imgur