Are My Arms Too Distracting?
COVID-19 relief, abortion rights, mass shootings, police brutality, healthcare prices—all issues that deserve discussion on the House floor. What Congresswomen decide to wear…not so much.
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On January 11th, at the start of a new legislative session, lawmakers from the Missouri House of Representatives met to discuss House rules and committee issues. The topics that were debated on the floor ranged from committee business, rules about public hearings and most importantly… a new dress code for female representatives.
Republican state representative Ann Kelley proposed an amendment that would require women to wear jackets in order to “maintain a formal and professional atmosphere.” Kelley defined these jackets as blazers and cardigans that would maintain “decorum” in the House. Many left-leaning women vocalized how absurd the amendment was and were quick to call out its irrelevance.
Most notably, Representative Raychel Proudie of the Democratic Party called the new dress code “ridiculous.” She questioned who would enforce these rules and made a remark about how the amendment appears to be yet another restriction on women’s rights. In her comment she made an implied reference to Missouri’s abortion ban.
“There are some very serious things that are in this rule package that I think we should be debating. But instead, we are fighting again for women’s right to choose something, and this time it’s whether she covers herself in the interpretation of someone who has no background in fashion.”
Ashley Aune was another Democratic representative who pushed back against the new proposed dress code.
“You know what it feels like to have a bunch of men in this room looking at your top trying to decide whether it’s appropriate or not?”
Dress codes have historically discriminated against women and how they decide to dress. I remember in high school being told to “cover up” after arriving to my first period class wearing a tank top. It was August in South Florida, and I had just finished walking the fifteen minute route to school in the sweltering sun. I wore what was most comfortable for me. Why were my arms too distracting?
I don’t ever recall a male classmate being pulled to the side and told he needed to “cover up.” Dress codes repeatedly target women and the recent proposal from the Missouri legislature is no exemption.
Women make up about 50% of the population, but only account for 27% of the seats in Congress. This is influenced by a number of factors, including higher barriers to entry for women into politics and lower degrees of self-efficacy expressed amongst women. Women who feel they are less qualified opt out of running for office as they view themselves as unfit for candidacy. Men, on the other hand, will proceed to see themselves as fit for election even if they report feeling less qualified to run. (Fox & Lawless)
Women in politics are also routinely under heightened surveillance. The gender gap between men and women in the political field is most apparent when considering how the media portrays female leaders versus male leaders. Female politicians are questioned about their home lives, particularly how to balance being a mother, wife, and leader. Meanwhile, male politicians are typically asked about their occupational history and policies they wish to enact.
For these reasons, politics for women can be viewed under the glass ceiling metaphor. This metaphor asserts that there is an invisible barrier that prevents women and other minority identities from rising beyond a certain level. The underrepresentation of women in politics suggests difficulties for women in overcoming these “invisible barriers.”
All this to say, it is not uncommon for female political leaders to face gender discrimination. Yes, there are more women entering politics and holding positions in office, but the glass ceiling still exists.
When women finally break into these positions of power and overcome the initial obstacles of running for election, they are still scrutinized when they attain their power—even down to the articles of clothing they decide to wear.
What is interesting about the dress code proposed in Missouri is that it was suggested by a female representative. I cannot speak for the motives of Ann Kelley when she called for this amendment, but I do wonder what her actions say about the larger role the patriarchy has played in how women view themselves.
Nonetheless, just as there are more pressing issues in schools that do not concern my tank top, there are certainly bigger issues that should be at the forefront of the House; whether a woman in the legislature should be showing her shoulders, is not one of them.
Tori Ragin(@torixragin) is a first year Political Science and Economics student at the University of Florida. She is constantly in a state of surprise when she checks the News, but is trying her best to push through. If she's not writing a paper about it, she's probably ranting to her dog about it.