A recent moot court judge drew the fury of the woke when she told an advocate to watch her “resting bitch face.” Maybe it was the word “bitch,” now that words are violence to the unduly sensitive. It’s hardly unusual to tell students that there is some aspect of their appearance that could use improvement, is distracting or problematic, when judging moot court. That’s one of the purposes of the exercise, to prepare them to succeed in the real world.
So what would happen if a student stood to argue their moot court cause in their underwear?
“This topic transcends all of our social identities and taps right into the heart of who we are,” Chai, a fourth-year student, said to a room of nearly 50 people while presenting her thesis paper on May 5, as seen in a livestream of the event.
Chai began undressing as she held back tears, first removing her shoes, then her pants and, lastly, her shirt.
“I am more than Asian. I am more than a woman. I am more than Letitia Chai. I am a human being,” she said while undressing. “And I ask you to take this leap of faith, to take this next step, or rather this next strip, in our movement and to join me in revealing to each other and to seeing each other for who we truly are — members of the human race.”
Had the underlying purpose been to protest lookism, or dressism, or some other -ism I’ve yet to learn, it would have been effective. There is a stance to be taken against the tyranny of “appropriate” attire. Who says the clothes make the man? Who says it’s appearance over substance?
Granted, this wasn’t a moot court argument, but a Cornell senior presenting her thesis. In a practice round, Chai was told by her prof that she should be more cognizant of her clothing choice.
The protest came just days after Chai was presenting a trial run of her thesis in her class “Acting in Public: Performance in Everyday Life” on May 2. When Chai went to give her trial run presentation, professor Rebekah Maggor questioned the student’s outfit choice.
“Is that really what you would wear?” Maggor asked Chai, according to a Facebook post the student wrote later that day.
Chai, who was wearing a long-sleeve button-down shirt and jean cutoff shorts, said she was “shook” by Maggor’s alleged comments.
The prof apologized for her pedagogical insolence of offering advice to a student.
“The professor proceeded to tell me, in front of my whole class, that I was inviting the male gaze away from the content of my presentation and onto my body,” she wrote on Facebook, noting that her professor is a white woman. “She said I was making a statement by wearing my outfit. I told her that I sure as hell wouldn’t change my statement to make her or anyone else feel more comfortable.”
The advice was pedestrian, having been given to students over and over. Dress appropriately for the situation. Thankfully, the prof was female, even if it was given in front of the whole class, as there would be social justice storm troopers descending on the quad if it had been a male prof offering such a banality.
Is it wrong to suggest that a student wear clothing that doesn’t distract the viewer from the substance of the presentation? Some anarchist-types will argue that one thing has nothing to do with the other. What difference does it make what a woman wears? Why should she have to choose her clothing for the sake of other people’s “comfort”?
But this completely misses the point. She doesn’t. She can wear cutoff jean shorts or her underwear, if that’s her choice. But then, she can’t complain that her choice has consequences, including not being taken seriously or people staring at her belly button. They can’t control her, but she can’t control them either.
It’s not that clothes are the equivalent of substance, but we do what we can to enhance our purpose. If she wanted people to pay attention to her thesis talk, then making it about her body was a dubious distraction. Denying reality doesn’t make one’s fantasy come true.
In this case, the stakes were low. The worst that could come of Chai’s decision was that she would be graded poorly on her thesis, though that wasn’t likely to be the outcome given that she became a martyr to the cause* and the prof would have been burned at the stake for anything less than beatification.
“This is for every Asian woman who was told to speak up lest others think she’s submissive,” she wrote. “This is for every POC man who was told to pull his pants to be taken seriously, and every POC woman who was asked to straighten her hair to seem intelligent. This is for every gay friend who was told to dress more ‘straight’ so that others didn’t feel weird around him/her/them. This is for us.”
But had someone else’s life been at stake, as is the case for an appellate advocate, this boldly infantile disregard for doing whatever she could to be taken seriously would have come at the price of another person’s life. If your purpose is to prevail, you do everything you can to enhance the likelihood of that outcome. Including avoiding resting bitch face. Or resting bastard face, for that matter.
*Chai put this in terms of her being an Asian woman and the prof being a white woman, as if her being Asian had anything whatsoever to do with the advice.