Belfast Telegraph

Kim Kardashian style waning: I'm flabbergasted at degree of crass sexism shown by Queen's University of Belfast

By Fionola Meredith

If it wasn't for the reference to Kim K you'd have thought Queen's had fallen into a time warp. "Think Grace Kelly, not Kim Kardashian" - that was one of the university's unsolicited "style tips" to female graduands.

"Short skirts and cleavage on show are totally out of the question," the Queen's website instructed, before thinking better of it and hastily withdrawing the guidance from public view.

Don't dress like Kim Kardashian: that's the key message to women students.

Keep your breasts under wraps, don't expose your derriere, and definitely no topless selfies outside the Whitla Hall.

Even in the 1950s, the Grace Kelly era, I think universities might have thought twice about telling women what to wear to their graduation ceremonies.

But in 2016, such crass, blatant sexism is, frankly, flabbergasting.

Most women do not turn up for their graduations in dresses slit to the navel.

But even if someone did, that would still be entirely her own affair.

Likewise if she arrived in a binbag with a belt round it. It is absolutely not the business of the institution to instruct women in approved standards of personal appearance.

It cannot dictate that certain ways of dressing are "totally out of the question", which it seems to have belatedly realised. But the fact that the advice was posted on the website in the first place is alarming.

Apparently, the university also issued some style tips for men.

I think it's fairly safe to say that they did not include any instructions about keeping parts of the male anatomy covered up.

Graduands - both female and male - attend these ceremonies to receive their academic degrees, which are based on intellectual effort and ability.

To issue "style advice" to them is not just embarrassingly inappropriate, it actually undermines the significance of the graduation ceremony itself, distracting from the value of the degrees being awarded.

This disgraceful episode reminds me of the recent row over a leaked list of grooming rules for prospective women staff at the Dorchester, one of London's swankiest hotels.

According to the leak, women were asked not to attend work with garish make-up or oily skin, and they were also encouraged to shave their legs, make sure their fingernails were manicured and to avoid body odour. In response, Sam Smether, chief executive of women's rights organisation The Fawcett Society, said: "It is completely unacceptable for any woman to be told what she should wear and how she should look.

"This is 2016 not 1970; we need to see an end to this kind of objectification of women."

Never mind 1970, Queen's is back in Victorian times.

Will it issue further guidance to female students recommending that they smell suitably fragrant as they walk across the Whitla Hall stage to receive their degrees?

Should their nails be neatly manicured, too?

This kind of nonsense saddens me because I love my beautiful alma mater.

I spent almost 10 years of my life at Queen's, both as an undergraduate and postgraduate, and my two children were born while I was studying there.

For the university to tell women graduands what to wear as they receive their degrees makes me cringe, in much the same way that I felt when Queen's started using that awful PR slogan 'We are exceptional'.

I wonder who took it upon themselves to issue this ill-considered sartorial advice on the university website.

Whoever it was, they not only need to brush up on basic notions of equality, they also need to update their popular culture references.

The students will know who Kim Kardashian is, but they might need a little help with identifying Grace Kelly.

Queen's needs to remember what century we're living in.

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