Kansas State Senator Mitch Holmes recently imposed an 11-point dress code for anyone wishing to testify on a bill, all of which, unsurprisingly, apply only to women’s attire. When prompted, he explained that no restrictions on men were included because men needed no instruction on how to look professional, reported The Topeka Capital-Journal.
This kind of unilateral paternal instruction is abhorrent yet not uncommon, as girls are ridiculed and sent home from school on a regular basis across the country and women are disproportionally targeted in the workplace for “inappropriate” clothing.
Republican Senator Vicki Schmidt brings up a good point by asking, “Who’s going to define low-cut?” This points to the incredible subjectivity involved in what actually constitutes “inappropriate,” so to speak. But, of course, appropriateness is subject to change with time, as the scandalousness of ankles and wrists finally found their way into modernity. Yet this didn’t mark the end of obscure fashion policing, and more importantly, the double standards involved with these cases.
While women are perpetually objectified, sanitized, and fetishized for aspects of their bodies, the same parts are then publicly shamed when not sexualized for the consumption of men. In particular, the controversy of the double standard with regards to breast exposure has gained traction, as the Free the Nipple campaign points out censorship and scrutiny for displays of breastfeeding yet a familiar complacency in the sexualization of female breasts.
The fact of the matter is that Senator Holmes’ remarks are hardly surprising. Instead, they’re all expected in this climate of one-sided ridicule and shaming, as the all too familiar rhetoric pours out of old men legislating women’s bodies. And to add insult to injury, Holmes pins the responsibility not on the individuals who perpetuate this culture, namely the men in charge who are legislating and demanding action, but rather on women, expecting them to change their behavior.
This train of logic is extremely important to follow closely, even if it is inevitably headed back in time. The responsibility has been shifted from the men to the women, as Senator Holmes claims that “…we’re really looking for you to be addressing the issue rather than trying to distract or bring eyes to yourself.” This response perfectly captures the depiction of women’s choice of clothing as being the instigator of the tension, as opposed to the immature minds and generally sexist ways in which the responsibility of men to behave better falls entirely upon women.
Even after receiving bipartisan criticism from female senators, Holmes and his coterie do not appear to be interested in changing their prescription of discriminatory senatorial modesty. And despite being the chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, it appears as though the senator has entirely failed to fully understand that telling women to compromise their decisions and expression for the poor behavior of men doesn’t solve anything. Instead, it only propagates archaic and nonsensical decrees against women while the legislating men fail to even acknowledge their own wrongdoing, never mind actually taking steps to rectify it and begin crafting a society that represents the progressive and egalitarian values expected from a supposedly just and enabling country.