The New Puritanism: Policing Women’s Wardrobes in 2016


Okay, have a look at the above outfit. Sure, it’s a bit…um… extreme. Yes, it is probably what I would call “questionable taste”. But in this, the supposed modern era, Americans are always droning on and on about “freedoms”, yet they seem more willing than ever to yank them away from women who choose to express themselves via the way they dress. Doubly so if there is even a hint of a body part showing.

This photograph is of a woman named Maggie McMuffin (I’m guessing that’s not her real name). Maggie is a burlesque dancer, and just this week, she attempted to fly from Massachusetts to Washington DC on a JetBlue flight. Except when she got to the gate, the flight crew put their heads together and collectively decided (along with the pilot(!?) who would have had very little contact with her) that her shorts were too short to fly on their airline.

Now, I think that Ms McMuffin’s shorts are the stuff that 1970s acid trips from hell are probably made from, but I draw the line at preventing a woman from flying simply because she has poor taste in shorts, or tops, or socks, or any other kind of clothing. Apparently shortly before boarding the flight, McMuffin was approached by the flight crew; here is how the story went down per Ms. McMuffin, as per Forbes and In Style Magazines. 

She [the flight crew] told me that she was really sorry for bringing this up but just what I was wearing was not appropriate and the flight crew had discussed it and the pilot had decided that I needed to put something else on or I would not be allowed to board the flight

As we all know, flight crews can deny boarding to any passenger so long as it’s not discriminatory, this is not news,  although I think we all know that recent stories will prove that airline crews aren’t getting the “non-discriminatory” part right either. Remember the math professor yanked off that American flight for…doing math? And having the audacity to be Middle Eastern? However, in McMuffin’s case, she did as was asked and changed into something else (that she had to purchase in the airport), but as so often happens with these things, the more she thought about it, the more angry she became. Here is Jet Blue’s account of what happened as per Forbes.

The gate and onboard crew discussed the customer’s clothing and determined that the burlesque shorts may offend other families on the flight. The customer agreed and continued on the flight without interruption

McMuffin’s later grumbling on both social and conventional media included calling the airline “misogynistic.” JetBlue has offered to reimburse her for the replacement pants she purchased in at the airport and with a coupon for a future flight. Still, McMuffin does not seem ready to let go of her hostility.

McMuffin is pressing her point because she’s absolutely right to press her point. While the crew were busy clutching their pearls and worrying about the length of her “burlesque” shorts (which they aren’t necessarily…that moniker was added no doubt by JetBlue’s PR machine in an attempt to reference Ms McMuffins profession and discredit her), while they were all worrying about her shorts, there were probably about sixteen sweaty overweight passengers that did’t fit into their assigned seats wearing stained sweatsuits huffing and puffing their way on board with oversize luggage, and another fourteen with uncontrollable children that would spend the flight running up and down the aisles. These are normal occurrences on airlines, and at least as  far more “inappropriate” on an airline than a pair of roller derby shorts (a more accurate description). These are things that affect passenger safety and comfort, and while you can argue all you like that “being offended” affects one’s “comfort”, that is a subjective state, and to my knowledge you do not get a blood clot in your leg from “being offended” the way you might from being crammed into only half of your seat because the person next to you was not made to pay for the two that they obviously need to accommodate them. After all, it’s far easier to point a finger at a woman’s shorts and claim the moral high ground than it is to point at the growing girth of an entire nation or the parenting skills of an over-tired single mother.

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While it should be noted that JetBlue refunded McMuffin for the cost of whatever she bought in the airport to change into and has offered her a coupon for a free flight as a matter of an apology (#eggontheirfaces), this is by no means an isolated incident. We all remember the recent debacle of Liberte Chan, the Los Angeles weather presenter who was handed a cardigan live on the air while she was halfway through her weather presentation because (according to the BBC news) the station was receiving “lots of emails.”


I hasten to add here, policing a woman’s wardrobe is not something that is limited to the USA. There is also the recent story from the UK of 27 year-old actress Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from her temp job as a receptionist at a law firm for wearing flat shoes, which were against the company’s (obviously paeolithic era) dress code. Thorp was told that she would be sent home without pay unless she went to a shop on her (unpaid) lunch break and purchased a pair of four inch heels. Four inches! 

When Thorp looked into the matter, she learned that the company had not done anything illegal by enforcing the dress code, as sexist as it was (they even gave “recommended shades” of makeup to the women who worked there, can you imagine!?).  Thorp has since started a petition to change the law regarding enforcing the wearing of heels as a matter of enforceable workplace dress code. At the time of this writing, thorp has 141,668 signatures; exactly 44,000 more than she needed to bring the matter to Parliament. She is currently awaiting a Parliament date.