Women have long been the victim of sexist dress codes in the workplace and schools. They are penalized for their bodies and have been forced to cater their appearance to the benefit of men.
Led by Republican representative Ann Kelley, the Republican-controlled Missouri State House of Representatives sought to strengthen the dress code only for female lawmakers, stressing the coverage of their arms and the use of jackets to conceal themselves.
According to The Washington Post, Kelley stated “it is essential to always maintain a formal and professional atmosphere,”.
The proposal was met with backlash from Missouri Democrats, who “are fighting -again – for a woman’s right to choose something. This time, it’s how she covers herself,” Representative Raychel Proudie said.
Proudie also noted that the dress code would be challenging for any pregnant officials to follow due to the limited availability of professional maternity clothing and income to pay for tailoring services.
There was no proposed change to the dress code for male legislators.
Missouri Democratic Representative Peter Merideth indicated the hypocrisy in a stricter dress code and the Republican uproar following the mask mandate in the State House during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Another Missouri Democratic Representative, Ashley Aune, described the “ridiculous” nature of the proposed change to the dress code and highlighted how the code would be difficult to enforce and who would actually be the one to determine if their outfits are appropriate. She stressed how uncomfortable she would be with the idea of having her appearance policed by the men around her.
This all begins in childhood. Young girls are often told by school officials to ensure their clothing does not distract their male classmates or the male faculty. These rules typically include the three-finger strap for tank tops, knee or fingertip-length shorts or skirts, no visible bra straps, no exposed shoulder, no exposed midriff and more.
These rules allow young women to believe that their bodies are shameful and they must always put the needs of surrounding men above their education, career and comfortability. These expectations follow women throughout their lives as displayed by the Missouri State House ruling, forcing adult female lawmakers to change how they regularly dress.
In my personal experience in high school, I had school faculty tell me to “leave something to the imagination” when wearing a cropped sweater and was penalized for wearing certain tops. However, what many schools and jobs do not take into consideration is the fact that clothing appears different on different bodies.
I often felt singled out for shirts I would wear that other girls would wear as well but because they fit differently on my body compared to theirs, I would be penalized.
This further perpetuates the idea that women are viewed only as sexual objects, not real human beings.
Women are simply bodies to be used at the disposal of men and must follow rules that have no justifiable standing or impact on the way women perform work. Rather than trusting women to dress how they see fit and trusting men to control themselves, women must always be the ones to suffer.
Not only do dress codes such as these act as another way to reinforce gender power imbalance, but they are also often discriminatory to women of different body types. As previously stated by Proudie, pregnant women can find a new ruling like this challenging to follow, similar to this, dress codes are often unfair to plus-sized bodies.
Plus-sized people are not awarded the same access to a wide variety of clothing as smaller-sized bodies. Many stores do not carry a plus-sized section let alone plus-sized business-professional apparel, leaving people to seek out often more expensive alternatives and methods.
The necessity to change the dress code by Missouri Republican officials emphasizes the fact that topics like dress codes are more important than actual social issues. Ultimately, the Missouri State House’s new dress code only further fuels the argument that women’s bodies must be controlled by others.