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Does My Femininity Offend You?
By Bernita Carmichael, Managing Director at SAFEPAC
Published: 07/28/2014

Femininity January 28, 2002 is very significant to me; significant like remembering the day you first met your significant other, birthed your first child, or buried a love one. This "date" was my first day of training for corrections. The training lasted for about six weeks or more and I thought initially it was going to be a breeze but here comes the hurdle; pressure point control tactics (PPCT). Our trainers were amazing from the catchy cadence (Look Sharp, Feel Sharp, You Are Sharp), to the "war stories” and roll playing but on the day of PPCT; "physically" I wasn't prepared and I'm not subliminally pointing to out of shape. Our female instructor for PPCT reminded you of G.I Jane and resembled Cleo the character Queen Latifah played in the movie "Set It Off". Who knew on this day I was going to be called upon not to demonstrate but to be demonstrated on first? Again, "physically" I was not ready for any percent of a Brachial Stun technique and I knew I wasn't going to get out of it so my instructors response to my "No" was off to the Wardens office. In her mind she was setting an example and in my mind I didn't want an embarrassing situation where I would be labeled for the rest of my career as “Bloody Mary”. I opened this article with my testimony because it appears fighting for an equal right has formed a loop hole for women to lose much of their femininity and voice in corrections.

What do I mean by femininity? Your inner ladies, womanliness, womanhood, the overall feeling of self as you look in the mirror making sure your uniform or business attire “lays right”, wink when you double check your makeup, or exit in a fresh pair of heels. It’s not a bad thing, not a sign of weakness, and women shouldn’t have to adjust their being to be taken seriously. Some Corrections uniform policy for an officer has language overly written and biased; targeting the femininity of women. Does our femininity offend you? It wouldn't be a first so I hope you enjoy a good read. For example, your nail polish must be clear, no designs on your nails, or Ox blood red. Ox blood red is a fall color typically worn as jeans and very matte. Five days out of a seven day work week; freedom for women to express themselves by way of natural femininity has been taken away. Where's the reasoning? Would you agree it contributes to being institutionalized? Imagine how traumatic this could be for ten or more years. How costly it could be to any woman (single or married) preparing for a special occassion, spends $50 for a mani/pedi that last up to two weeks, and two days later she's taking it off for work. I've heard there's even a certain length for eye lashes (not kidding) and don’t overly apply makeup all for the sake of your safety. As a former licensed cosmetologist I've heard of "Don't overly apply your clients makeup and have them look like a clown". The million dollar question to this is, "How does a woman’s femininity deter a detainee from sexually assaulting them"? Does it also discourage a Supervisor from sexually harassing a female employee? In reality, it doesn’t because it’s human nature to be attracted to someone and whether you’re behind the walls or outside amongst society women and people in general face being targeted.

Corrections have programs such as Prison Rape Elimination Acts for the detainee’s because although they may wear an orange jump suit or two-piece uniform it doesn’t discourage a predator from sexually targeting them. Since women must not overly apply our makeup let’s not overlook today’s lobbyist for “Marriage Equality”. Have you noticed the increase of Transgenders at various workplaces lately? I applaud our Mayor in Washington, DC for employing many of the LGBTQ community seen agency-wide inluding at the Historic John A. Wilson Building. Are you ready Corrections? Men have a simple blurb in policy about being “well groomed”; no facial hair and that about sums it up; immaculate. For many years it was already complicated clearing a metal detector. Some purchased sports bra’s or braziers as my Grandmother would say without underwire. It can get quite expensive for a Woman in Corrections constantly adjusting (5 days a week) to only receive a voucher for uniforms and others nothing at all. Even bringing in sanitary napkins appears a bit of a hassle when the policy only allows clear bags. Even a bit more respect and privacy for women nursing is warranted. Should Corrections consult with Airport Authorities such as TSA? Airports provide the public a bit more privacy and guess what? They’re attempting to prevent contraband and improvised explosive devices on the homeland. Again, who’s the critical decision makers comprised of? Corrections may need a "Good Judy"as well.

Without being taken out of context keep in mind some parts of the grooming policy or dress code have merit. For example, wearing studded earrings instead of hoop earrings is for your safety. The length of your nails (gender-neutral) is for your safety to prevent hand injuries. However non-uniform staff, administrators, and some executives are not held to the mandate. Are we not leading by example? It's understood the professional image model is being used but by whose standard and what time period? For instance, when reading language on hair or hair color it appears racially biased instead of accepting the diversity of cultures. What does the majority of women have in common with hair? They love to cut, perm, shape, relax, add weave, braid, style, and color it. Haven't you heard "Blondes have more fun and you can spot a Red Head anywhere"? All part of a woman's femininity but truth be told all cultures of women hair is either fine, coarse, straight, or curly bottom line. Now don't take these tips and walk into work with blue, green, or purple hair; make sure it's clean and neat!

Remember these are employee’s (gender-neutral) not detainee’s so it’s recommended to develop policies that represent employee’s as a whole and gender-neutral. Punishing many for the acts of others or targeting a single gender doesn’t provide a solution; it creates a division. Employee's are more receptive when they know you have their back and defensive when they feel under attack. Try using an opposite action in your approach and you'll see results. Would you agree all building occupants in an institution are at risk? So let’s take some of the personal opinions out of the policies, rely on our investigators, consult with a firm independent from your internal team, and outside of corrections because our stakeholder’s don’t deserve lengthy litigation for overstepping boundaries. Keep in mind “Best Practices” aren’t always the best at keeping up with the times.

A Woman’s voice can be as fiery as Beyoncé’s “Who Runs the World”, empowering like the late Dr. Maya Angelou, full of personality like Ellen Degeneres, filled with pearls of wisdom like Oprah Winfrey, and action filled like Hillary Rodham Clinton. How many areas in your workplace do women lead where critical decisions must be made? Let’s look at what it would be like to take away a woman’s voice in the workplace. Male driven and a testosterone filled environment with grounds for group thinking to develop. What’s Group thinking? Group thinking can cause an environment of dysfunctional decision making because groups aren’t receptive of independent thinkers. Independent thinkers at the table would be constructively weeded out and back to the drawing board searching for work. Workplace violence would possibly be at an all-time high because men can get worked up enough to “duke it out”. Who remembers the movie "Wolf of Wall Street" or "Fight Club”? Pretty bloody and full of dysfunction! Knowing this; there should be room for all genders to play in the sandbox together and not dancing around outside of it waiting to get tagged in.

Remember women are naturally fiery, empowering, full of personality, filled with pearls of wisdom, and action oriented. Having a well-balanced team is just as fulfilling as having a well-balanced meal. Let’s be honest; some men don’t want the advice of a woman and will ask another male colleague first. In the movie “Johnson’s Family Vacation” the Father; Nate Johnson played by Cedric the Entertainer stated in the movie, “Just what I need another woman telling me what to do”! It’s not about telling you what to do it’s about being receptive of women bringing something to the table. Have you ever noticed women are constructively placed in positions that may appear to be submissive or domesticating such as Command Center Officer, Master Control, Chapel Officer, Human Resource Manager, Executive Assistant, Case Manager, Administrative Assistant, or Assistant Warden of Programs? How many men do you see in these positions? Then if you’re a male in these positions some question their sexuality instead of seeing it as a well-balanced team. Rule of thumb; question your own business behind closed doors before you judge another’s. The equality just might be there but by rank and file it appears it’s really not but again my opinions are my own and I could be wrong.

You’ll notice the difference when you position yourself for greater and the climb turns into a Roman battle in the Arena; only the strong will survive! Then maybe you’ll get the invitation for golf but for now you’ll be stuck at an invitation for libations. Today, other industry stakeholders have risen above an all-male administration and are using various models to create a well-balanced gender neutral environment. Especially, with the facts that there’s a surge of women leading in other industries. So I say to the “Phenomenal Women of Corrections” continue to make great strides without compromise and keep your “Eyes on the Prize”! When you Look Sharp, you Feel Sharp, you are Sharp! SALUTE!

Corrections.com author Bernita Carmichael began her 12-year long career in corrections with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Central Treatment Facility (CTF) in Washington, D.C. For the last six years she has been a ProBoard Registered Fire Protection Specialist and Registered OSHA Instructor for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections where she built a fire and safety program from the ground up. She has also contributed to the delivering of Department of Homeland Security Grants into Emergency Management/Interoperability Communications. She also sits as the Secretary on the District of Columbia Homeland Security Interoperability Communications Committee spearheaded by the DC Statewide Interoperability Coordinator Jeffrey Wobbleton and governed by the Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Paul Quander. Her passion to serve has birthed her newest creation as Managing Director of SAFEPAC which she states, "Is a seed in progress" for the many seeds her supporters have planted in her.

Other articles by Bernita



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