Since when are a woman’s shoulders or legs counted among her most private of parts?
But those making decisions at some of our public institutions — especially our schools and government — are reacting to women and girls in sleeveless sheaths and to-the-knee skirts as if they were men wearing Speedos in court.
Many have played the inappropriate card lately based on some archaic rules. Because really, I ask you, is there anything more shocking than a woman wearing a straight-laced uniform of navy sheath and neutral pumps with — gasp — her collarbone showing?
It’s hard to believe that women are having to fight for the same rights they did 10 to 20 years ago. They are having to fight for reproductive control of their bodies, and they’re fighting for health care that honors their specific needs. They also are fighting for equal pay and maternity leave so they can take care of those families their Republican leaders want so desperately for them to have.
So I guess it goes hand-in-hand that we still have to fight to choose appropriate school and work attire. If you don’t think this is so important, consider that we get dressed every day. It’s an expression of how we define ourselves. And many of us started in high school to refine our identity through clothes.
Maybe that’s part of the reason that high school dress codes have come under fire of late.
Of course, nipple-baring tops shouldn’t be worn in algebra class — that’s true for boys and girls. But the bulk of these dress codes are directed at young girls by school officials concerned that teenage boys cannot control themselves in the presence of a collarbone or thigh muscle. For that reason, countless numbers of schools have been enforcing ridiculously strict dress codes instead of teaching boys that it’s inappropriate to catcall, stare, or touch their classmates.
Thankfully, officials at Bishop Shanahan in Downingtown undid a new rule it tried to apply in June that would require girls to wear tights all year long. What the what? I went to Catholic school in the 1980s, and even then we had the option of wearing knee socks in the dead of winter.
The school’s principal, Michael J. McArdle, argued that tights created the best impression or the best look. (Of course, only for girls. I’m betting if a young man wanted to look his best, the school wouldn’t allow boys to don a pleated skirt and tights.)
Parents hip to the malarkey called the new policy what it was: an attempt to cover up female students’ lower legs because the young men were apt to ogle. They started an online petition and collected 1,363 signatures.
If only women who are journalists, lawmakers, and staff in the House of Representatives could get a similar sort of reprieve.
On Thursday, several women, many of whom were journalists, were banned from the Speaker of the House’s lobby after wearing sleeveless blouses or dresses. One woman attempted to remedy her cold shoulders by using newspaper to make capped sleeves.
In all fairness, this rule is not new for the House: Women must have their arms and shoulders covered. Close-toed shoes are a must. Men must wear jackets and ties.
But these rules weren’t really enforced. House Speaker Paul Ryan decided it it was high time to do just that last week. I can’t help but suspect that Ryan and his crew are so bent on eviscerating President Obama’s legacy that they are going after the cornerstone of Michelle Obama’s high-style cred: baring her sculpted, empowered arms.
There is no better way to control how a woman feels about herself, what she does, and how she behaves than to control what she can and cannot wear. It’s at the very root of women’s history.
“It’s not surprising that those who are trying to create a culture based on a society of conservative values would glorify a way of life we saw before feminism, or desegregation,” said Salamishah Tillet, a professor of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It’s a restriction of progress, and it makes it very difficult for massive progress to be made.”