With all the talk about Donald Trump and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, this little controversy pretty much went unnoticed.
I might have missed it, too, except there it was on Page 2 last week of my morning paper: “Dress code for female witnesses ridiculed.”
It was a short piece, just nine sentences, but enough to heat my neckline and apparently those of a lot of other women, especially those in Topeka, Kansas.
That’s where Sen. Mitch Holmes decided there needed to be an 11-point code of conduct for women testifying on bills before the state’s Ethics and Elections Committee. Specifically, the code prohibited women from wearing low-cut necklines and miniskirts.
“It’s one of those things that’s hard to define,” Holmes said. “Put it out there and let people know we’re really looking for you to be addressing the issue rather than trying to distract or bring eyes to yourself.”
There were no such restrictions for men because as Holmes put it, they didn’t need instructions on how to look professional.
If reading this you find yourself wondering why Dorothy ever clicked those ruby red slippers to find her way back to Kansas, you’re not alone.
“In a world where the media uses sex to sell everything from cars to cantaloupes, and where serious news anchorwomen dress in form-hugging miniskirts and 6-inch heels, it would be a very sheltered man indeed to be ‘distracted’ from his job by a low-cut top,” said Amanda Hallay, professor of fashion merchandising at LIM College.
To his credit, Holmes apologized a few days later, saying he meant no offense; that he should have included guidance for how men present themselves before the committee, too.
“My failure to clearly specify that all conferees, regardless of gender, should strive to present themselves professionally is unacceptable,” he said.
Well, of course, Holmes is right.
I mean what a cockamamie idea to begin with?
With everything wrong in the the world, the chairman of the Ethics and Elections Committee is concerned with necklines and skirts? Well, get this. He’s hardly alone. The boys in the Montana House Republican leadership issued a similar pronouncement in 2014. Their list also covers men’s attire but is a little longer and more detailed for female lawmakers. And by the way, here in Georgia, suit coats for men and “dignified dress” for women are expected.
Having said that, I do believe there is a place and time for every thing, including neck and hemlines. Did I mention yoga pants?
As a personal preference, I’d be happy to never see cleavage, but a couple of things to think about here.
One is Holmes isn’t alone in his thinking. His action is consistent with dress codes in educational institutions that create gender-based appearance policies that are almost entirely focused on young women, said Amie Hess, associate professor of sociology at Meredith College, an all-women’s institution in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“These kinds of dress codes that target women and enforce ‘modesty’ put the blame, burden, responsibility — however you want to frame it — on women to control or rein in the sexual impulses of men,” Hess said. “Controlling men’s ‘out of control’ (hetero)sexuality is made the responsibility of women. This happens in schools all the time. And now we have a man doing this to adult women.”
The second issue, Hess said, is this is part and parcel of a long-term trend of state-level policies designed to control women’s bodies that manifest themselves in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, chipping away at abortion rights via state legislative policies.
“In April of 2015, Gov. Brownback signed one such measure (SB 95) coming out of the Kansas Legislature,” Hess said. “But we also see this in restrictions on birth-control availability, the erosion of funding for family-planning centers and women’s health clinics, among other issues.
“What is surprising — but not surprising — is that the regulation of women and women’s bodies continues, largely unabated, in ways that often go unrecognized or unchecked.”
That has to stop. But come on, ladies, a little bit of class still goes a long way.
Gracie Bonds Staples writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
© 2016 Cox Newspapers