Some airlines in Malaysia are facing scrutiny from members of Parliament — but not because of poor customer service or safety concerns. According to Business Insider, some Malaysian government officials said in a parliamentary meeting that the flight attendants' uniforms on airlines AirAsia and FireFly “can arouse passengers.” Insert eye roll here.
On Dec. 18, Senator Datuk Abdullah Mat Yasim said that the flight attendants' uniforms are "eye-catching outfits" and that they “can arouse passengers, especially young people.” Senator Datuk Megat Zulkarnain Omardin also offered his opinion, saying, “My wife is worried whenever I fly alone on Malindo [another airline] or AirAsia. This is a real hassle for me." Senator Yasim noted that while the Malindo uniform is form-fitting, it was still more acceptable than the AirAsia and FireFly uniforms because it covered “sensitive areas.”
You may be wondering exactly what these uniforms reveal that members of Parliament would spend time discussing them. The AirAsia red uniforms, which were described as "iconic" by the New Straits Times, which originally reported the story, consist of a blazer and a skirt that falls above the knee. The sleeves of the blazer stop before the elbow. Underneath the blazer is a crisp, white, button-down shirt, and the uniform also includes black, sheer tights and kitten heels. Malindo Air’s flight attendants’ uniform consists of a pencil skirt and white dress shirt.
Senator Yasim believes what these flight attendants wear is an important issue “the Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) must really look into.” On Dec. 11, Senator Datuk Hanafi Mamat said that flight attendants’ uniforms should reflect “Malaysia’s image as a Muslim country.” (Around three-fifths of the population of Malaysia identify as Muslim, and Islam is the official state religion, though the country is officially a secular state.) In a report, he wrote: “We are proud that Malaysia is an Islamic country with its own cultural identity, but when our flight stewardesses dress up sexily and disrespectfully, this will give tourists who use the services of our national carriers the wrong impression.” He continued, “The time has come for the government to provide new uniform guidelines which will portray Malaysia as a Muslim country with strong Eastern values.”
Malaysia is facing its own issues with increased scrutiny towards flight attendants, but sexist attitudes towards flight attendants exist across the globe. As Travel + Leisure reported, the travel website Trippy.com ranked airlines by how attractive their flight attendants are earlier this year by reportedly taking a composite of the female flight attendants' LinkedIn pictures. In a now-deleted post quoted in Travel + Leisure, Trippy.com explained that flight attendants "usually find a way to make air travel a bit more tolerable — and maybe even easy on the eyes.”
Other airlines have grappled with how crew members should dress when traveling to majority-Muslim countries. In 2016, Air France received backlash when it sent a memo to employees asking them to wear head coverings and loose fitting clothing when flying to Iran, where modest dressing is compulsory for all women in public spaces. "This obligation, which therefore does not apply during the flight, is respected by all international airlines serving the Republic of Iran," read a statement from the airline to the French newspaper Le Monde, translated into English by the New York Times. The airline eventually made the uniform policy optional.
The policing of women’s bodies and clothing, in the workplace and other public spaces, is a global issue. It is never a woman's responsibility to make sure that other people don't respond inappropriately to what they're wearing, whether it's part of a uniform or an outfit they choose to wear. If the flight attendants succeed in keeping their passengers safe on their flights, that is where the political debate should end.