Norwegian Air Reveals Sexist Employee Dress Code

The flight industry has demonstrated, once again, that it’s still a long way from gender equality. A 22-page document on the dress code for Norwegian Air employees was sent out to staff in early April. It has since been widely circulated and criticised in the media due to its old-fashioned and sexist content.

Female employees are required to wear make-up and heels that are at least 2 centimetres high. Male flight attendants cannot wear make-up or have long hair.

It’s a shocking example of how far the industry still has to go to catch up with the rest of society.

It is well-known that aviation has been limited by traditional gender roles in the past. Flight attendants have been female while pilots have been male. In recent decades, the industry has begun to diversify, although female pilots are still a small minority.

Most airline carriers have relaxed their dress codes, and now apply the same rules for men and women. Norwegian Air, however, still impose outdated gender stereotypes on their employees.

The document includes a thorough description of the required make-up – as well as how to apply it. There’s a “minimum” requirement of light foundation and eye makeup. It also specifies that make-up should “compliment the uniform and the skin tone”. Men, on the other hand, can only wear make-up to cover bruises or acne.

Perhaps worst of all, if women don’t want to wear heels to work they need to carry a doctor’s note.

Scandinavian companies are usually praised for being gender equal. Norwegian Air used to be known for being innovative and disruptive. Yet, it seems to be decades behind the rest of the society when it comes to dress codes.

Ingrid Hodnebo is a spokesperson for the Norwegian Socialist Left Party. She told Norwegian newspaper VG that “it is almost comical that we face these issues in 2019.”

“While the rest of society has moved on, Norwegian is stuck in a Mad Men universe from the 1950s and 60s.”

A spokesperson for Norwegian Air noted that it is common for other airlines to impose different dress codes on men and women. “We are a global airline which carries passengers from around the world with different cultures and religions on board. It is vital that our crew’s appearance does not offend or provoke.”

Most comically, perhaps, is the justification that women are asked to wear heels mainly for “health reasons.” SAS, another Scandinavian airline, also requires female employees to wear heels due to “ergonomic reasons”. This seems rather odd to me, given that male employees are not asked to wear heels, and heels are known for being damaging for the back and feet.

The reality is that these dress codes are imposed on sexist and old-fashioned grounds.

Does a flight attendant wearing make-up make the flight safer? No! Will an attendant in heels provide better service? No! In my opinion, the job of a flight attendant is to ensure everyone has a safe flight and to provide in-flight services. These can both be done without enforcing harmful gender stereotypes in the process.

Of course, just as in any industry, airline employees should be expected to dress professionally. As far as I’m concerned, this can be done perfectly well without heels or make-up.

It is disheartening to see this multi-million industry so far from gender equality. I am still waiting for the day when I hear a female pilot over airplane speakers. I did think, however, that companies now knew better than to impose strict and sexist dress codes on their employees.

The airline industry needs to wake up. They must take responsibility for employee diversity and actively work for a more equal workplace.

I call on Norwegian Air to take back and rewrite their framework, and for the industry as a whole to work proactively towards equality. In the world we live in, customers expect companies to act responsibly. The airline industry should be no exception to that.

Mental Health Treatment & Gender Equality in Uganda

Conflict, poverty and instances of social injustice can provide the context within which a person develops mental health issues. And yet, while studying to become a creative/psychomotor therapist, I learned very little about this.

I didn’t question it at the time, because mental health is a personal issue, right? My time in a counselling centre in Uganda last summer showed me that the answer to this question is, in fact, a clear no.

I volunteered as a psychomotor therapist in the Bishop Asili Counselling, Rehabilitation and Community Centre in Ngetta, northern Uganda. The local population living here suffered badly during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency.

More than a decade after the end of the war, I came to Uganda with a stack of books on trauma and post-traumatic stress, ready to do creative therapeutic interventions that might help women cope with their war-time experiences.

Very quickly, it became clear to me that the conditions these women lived in asked for something different. Something more.

Sister Florence, an Ugandan psychologist who founded and runs the counselling centre, reminded me that next to their history of war, “there are so many [other] sources of trauma, so many, so many, so many”.

Women in Ngetta face many challenges. The patriarchal context leaves women with few, to zero, rights.

They have no right to land or any kind of ownership, and the moment a woman marries, her new husband acquires rights over her sexuality and reproductive ability.

Ellen, one of the women I worked with in the counselling centre, described the patriarchal culture: “I was now in the hands of my husband and I was now under authority of my husband. I need to respect him and do everything he tells me.”

Her words reflect the complex power dynamics and hegemonic masculinity that undermine women’s social status and power. On top of this, many women struggle to feed their families every day, while often their husbands drink away the little money there is. Other women have lived through (often multiple) more recent traumatic events, such as emotional and physical abuse by a husband or brother.

It made me wonder how much help my therapeutic interventions focused on (individual) war-trauma could be.

Recognizing the unequal social position of women, I needed to have a clear feminist ideology underlying my therapy. This meant focusing on women’s social position and equality.

Our sessions were related to resilience, visibility and communication, grounding techniques, personal boundaries, and more. Work related to the strive for equality for women was essential. However, paying attention to – and ultimately challenging – violent and unjust structures is not often included in mental health interventions in the Global South.

The importance of women’s mental health for general health is widely recognized. Mental health in international contexts is slowly becoming more of an acknowledged topic within the field of international development. This is really good news, especially considering the fact that only a small minority of the 450 million people suffering from mental or behavioural disorders worldwide receive treatment.

In 2013, the World Health Organization published their Mental Health Action Plan: 2013-2020. It is an ambitious action plan that understands ‘the essential role of mental health in achieving health for all people’. Global Mental Health (GMH) is thus an emergent topic in which more and more people are currently working. However, with this renewed focus on mental health, many critiques have emerged, some of them accusing GMH of being a colonial practice.

GMH is accused of globally enforcing biomedical systems, which are characteristic of the Global North’s approach to health. The biomedical framework locates illness, including mental illness, within a person. Though psychological and social principles are sometimes taken into account, biological variables are the most central.

Issues of social injustice and structural violence (such as poverty, conflict, sexism, racism) are not taken into account, despite their significant impact on women’s mental health.

Very important work is being done in the field of GMH. Organizations like SOS Children’s Villages or Action for Child Trauma International are great examples of a rights-based approach to trauma.

We must be careful to avoid new forms of imperialism in which the Global North enforces its biomedical approach to health on all cultures. We should work towards locally-informed care which approaches mental health not as an individual issue, but as something to be addressed on personal, community, national and global levels.

Mental health should be seen as a social issue.

This would allow us to challenge discriminating structures, both globally and nationally, while also focusing on community and personal struggles.

In order to achieve mental health for all, there is an essential role for work towards an equal world, and this work is should be integrated in the field of Global Mental Health.

Redefining the Gym as a Feminist Space

If you walk into a gym, anywhere in the world, I think you’ll notice a similar pattern.

There will be women frenzied at cardio machines, and there will be men grunting as they lift weights. Whether in Mumbai or Amsterdam, the pattern persists; women and men seem to use the gym differently.

While this might seem like a harmless statement, in fact, it reinforces gender norms. It is loaded with expectations of what an ideal body type is. And it restricts use and access of certain facilities.

Gyms as Gendered Spaces

I first noticed this difference when I began spending more time at the gym. I realized that while I would comfortably lift weights at home, it felt a far less inviting activity at the gym. Men tend to dominate the weight-lifting sections and, in some instances, are guilty of ogling or staring at women.

In fact, there have been a handful of times when I felt ready to go over to the ‘men’s side’ to access the weights. But each time I went, it took me extra energy to feel comfortable and claim my space. I relate to this piece on Ravishly, where the writer describes finding herself apologising to men as she used ‘their equipment’.

The same narrative applies whether women are occupying space on the streets or occupying space in the gym. Gyms are primarily considered male spaces, and men seem to inhabit them with comfortable entitlement.

So is it their fault? Perhaps in part. But it’s not that simple.

Harmful Body Image

In gyms I’ve been to, I usually see women either running or following what look like Instragram-style workouts which require minimal equipment. While these workouts have made working out very accessible, particularly for women, they can propagate a restrictive ‘ideal’ body type.

These types of workouts are not a recent phenomenon, but date back to the 80’s, when Jane Fonda popularized the at-home workout. To some extent, she was successful in getting more women to be active. However, a constant influx of images of a singular body type is toxic, not just for girls but for women of all ages.

I have often had friends tell me that they don’t want to get ‘too bulky’ or that they need to amp up their cardio because they ate a chocolate brownie.

This is not to say that I have a perfect, healthy relationship with my body.  I am complicit in perpetuating this behavior as I strive to meet standards that I do not think I actively chose for myself, but which society has handed down to me.

Not only do traditional gyms reproduce unequal ways of accessing space for women and men, they also reproduces a certain body type ideal.

Moving Forward

So how can we all – women and men – make the gym (and exercise) a more liberating and equal space?

Occupy:

Women: Push the boundaries. Take up space at the gym wherever and whenever you want – unapologetically. It might help to take a female friend along with you at first.

Men: Make space for women. Ensuring others can make use of the same space as you requires an active mindset.

Support:

Women: We need to support one another. Compliment other women, help one another out and don’t be so quick to judge. (And on a side note, lifting weights can make you feel invincible!)

Men: Any fitness advice? Given that you have had quite a head start in the gym, I’m sure you’ve learned some things along the way! (But avoid being patronizing or using this as a chance to hit on a woman.)

Love:

For us all, let’s look at the gym and exercise as a means of self-care and a way to look after ourselves.

Our quest should be more for happy hormones and a healthy lifestyle, and less for a specific waistline. Enough research has shown that lifting weights for women has many benefits, so if you have been hesitating so far, I encourage you to take that extra step.

Yes, it can feel unfair that we have to fight for our space. But if enough of us do it, whether it is at the gym or on the street, we make more space feel available to others.

Women Who Do Too Much

The exhausted woman is a cultural trope.

It’s a scene repeated in books, movies, our own lives: she arrives, apologetic, to a lunch appointment or meeting, straight after her last appointment or meeting.

Somehow, between mouthfuls of food, she remembers what’s been going on in your life, updates you on how she’s been juggling her career and her personal life and her family responsibilities, periodically checking her phone to answer an urgent text, share that contact you needed, forward that interesting article, and then rushes to leave on time for another appointment or meeting or to pick up the kids.

Even looking at the mythological modern woman is exhausting. Being her is next to impossible. A whole industry has been spun around the herculean task that is living up the feat that is being a successful modern woman.

Artist Emma Clit, who followed up her viral comic You Should Have Asked with The Consequences, used both to brilliantly highlight the multitudinous invisible burdens women carry with them every day. The psychological wear and tear is hard to see, but significant.

Women of all ages – from as young as adolescents – may recognize the heavy psychological effects that stem from the expectation that they can be everything to everyone.

So, what can we do about it? Recognize this in yourself? Want to know what to do next?

Don’t Feel Guilty

If you’ve taken pride in being there for the people around you, taking time for yourself – even when you desperately need it – can feel like self-absorption or failure. A helpful trick is to think of ourselves as our best friends: if they came to us, worn out and frazzled, we’d insist that they turn off their phone and think about taking care of themselves for at least an afternoon.

Running or Swimming or Yoga (or Something Else)

We’ve heard this ad nauseum, but it really does help. Any kind of exercise helps lower stress levels and does wonders for our health. We don’t have to run marathons or join dance classes (unless we want to!) Free youtube tutorials teaching you how to stretch or moonwalk or kickbox or anything that gets you breaking a sweat are just as good.

Schedule You Time

The way we’ve been told we need to make time for our jobs, our partners, our friends, is the same way we need to make time for ourselves. It is okay to say no to the party and stay in to rest if you need to (it really is). It is okay to tell your significant other you need some space to recharge.

Be Your Own Advocate

(Warning label: This can be the hardest one to do.) Learning to insist on helping and breaking patterns is a difficult thing to do, even when they’re patterns we don’t particularly enjoy, but it’s crucial to maintaining our mental health and the health of our relationships.

Further Reading on Girls’ Globe