A few weeks into an Arctic research mission, women on board a Russian icebreaker were directed to think about “hot pants.” The ship’s mission had a new dress code, one that prohibited tight or revealing clothing.
The ship, the Akademik Fedorov, set sail last fall as part of a larger — and still on-going — international project called MOSAiC that is researching the Arctic’s climate. People aboard the ship helped deploy buoys that could take critical measurements of sea ice, among other research.
One of the women who received the new rules was reporter Chelsea Harvey, who wrote about the surreal and infuriating experience in a story for E&E News. The new rules, the group was told, were partly to make sure that people were dressing respectfully. But only partly, according to Harvey.
The rules prohibiting tight clothing were a “safety issue.” Some of the men on board would be spending months at sea.
The implication seemed clear to the reporters. Women should dress modestly or risk being harassed — or worse — by men on the ship.
Men outnumbered women on the ship by a wide margin, a disparity made more acute by the seemingly lopsided dress code.
Expedition leaders denied the rules were meant to single out women. But many MOSAiC participants felt they perpetuated an insidious form of sexism: the idea that women’s bodies are a distraction in the workplace and that women are responsible for managing the behavior of men.
The dress code was just one of several factors that participants say contributed to an unwelcoming atmosphere for the women on board Akademik Fedorov.
Harvey goes on to report on harassment and other concerns with gender equity that cropped up in work assignments during the six-week mission.
The incidents on the Akademik Fedorov are too common for women who work in field research. Unfortunately, harassment, double standards, and glass ceilings are still a serious problem, even at the ends of the Earth.
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