Last week, lawmakers in the Missouri House of Representatives voted to approve a new rule package that would require women to cover their shoulders (while keeping the men’s dress code unchanged). The previous dress code for women stated that “a dress or skirt or slacks should be paired with a blazer or sweater and appropriate dress shoes or boots.” Many noticed the implicit sexism of this addition.
“You know what it’s like to be in this room with a bunch of men looking at your top, trying to make sure it fits?” Democratic state Rep. Ashley Aune asked her Republican colleagues, In fact, the effect of this increase on female legislators feels like totally the kind of thing that old, grumpy Republican white males would simply ignore. Inexplicably, however, Republican state Rep. Ann Kelly proposed this addition as an always welcome reminder that women are fully capable of being active participants in their own systemic disempowerment.
Political life often requires a strict dress code, such as this 2018 Racked article Outlines the rules (explicit and unspoken) governing appearances on Capitol Hill. Still, imposing a selective dress code that punishes Missouri’s female legislators for showing their arms without imposing new requirements on men who far outnumber them is incomprehensible. (Women are in the minority in the Missouri House of Representatives, making up just one-third of Rep. Ives.) However, this is not surprising: After all, the Republican Party is the party that clearly helped inform the world last June that women are not considered Deserving stewards of their own reproductive freedom. Is it really so shocking that they began to control how their colleagues behaved at work?
Missouri’s restrictions are also disappointing when juxtaposed with bills like the CROWN Act, which was passed in March to try to ban race-based hair discrimination in employment. Missouri’s code, by contrast, feels like a continuation of the aggressive regulation of gender expression suggested by the wave of anti-trans legislation in the U.S. Ultimately, gendered dress codes and how people, especially women, people of color and LGBTQ+ people ) must present itself to reinforce the notion that those in power have a “wrong” way of seeing.
Women’s struggle in politics has been well-documented, and are reflected in the persistent outnumbering of women in elected and other positions of power. The focus should be on women in Missouri House overcoming Achievements in these obstacles, not in what they wear.