“Appropriate” Dress | Vol. 4 / No. 37.1

Even Ivanka would be breaking the new rules | Photo: Michael Vadon, CC BY 2.0

So I was going to write about a new Arkansas abortion bill that could, among other consequences, mean that a sexual assault survivor would have to get permission from her rapist in order to get an abortion. But that topic made me so angry I literally could not word. Which hasn’t happened since the GamerGate fiasco a few years ago, so… well done Arkansas, I guess. Instead you’ll get a shorter, slightly less angry bit about the House dress code. And I’ll try to tackle that other thing next week.

Recently it came to the attention of the general populace that the US House was enforcing a rather strict dress code for female reporters and Representatives: no sleeveless dresses. One reporter, who is my new hero, ripped pages out of her notebook and stuffed them into the shoulders of her dress to make sleeves so that she could be allowed to, you know, do her damn job. But she still wasn’t allowed in. Which is weird, because sleeveless dresses have totally been allowed in the past.

But the House dress code is a funny thing, in that it is super fricking vague and also mostly left up to the whims of the House Speaker. Who, you may be forlorn to remember, is currently Paul Ryan. (You’d think that someone who must spend so much of his time wanking off to hearing his own voice while attractive women wearing short dresses discuss him would be more forgiving of sleeveless dresses.) Apparently Ryan’s version of “appropriate dress,” is sexist towards women and also weirdly desirous of men to die of heat stroke:

CBS reported that the “appropriate business attire” Ryan mentions means nothing short of suit jackets and ties for men, and no sleeveless tops, sleeveless dresses, open-toed shoes or sneakers for women.

Now to be fair, I don’t really want to be a guy under Ryan’s Dress Code Regime, either. But at least the guys aren’t forbidden from wearing what is basically 90% of JC Penney’s “career” section in their catalog.  Also to be fair, the rules have apparently been there for a while, but they haven’t been enforced. And that enforcement is the difference between passively and actively being a dick. It is technically still illegal in Wyoming to take a picture of a rabbit between the months of January and April without an official permit. But no one enforces that. Having a sexist dress code on the books is bad enough, but enforcing it is way worse.

Because (as he has shown multiple times before) Ryan has the moral and principled integrity of a sea anemone, after about a week of controversy, Ryan has announced that he is willing to “modernize” the dress code so that it accepts “contemporary business attire.” So depending on what he means by that, we’ll be seeing a less sexist dress code in the future.

I’ve written before about how dress codes are often sexist towards women, and involve in principle, if not explicitly, the idea that women can “distract” men simply by existing and showing their shoulders. Institutionalized sexism exists at all levels of society, and obviously even at our highest political offices. The idea that a female Representative will “distract” her male colleagues with a sleeveless dress or a peep-toe pump honestly says more about her colleagues than it does about her. Mostly negative, snickering things.


Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not yelling “Oh come on!” at the news, she studies gender in popular culture.


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