Barnard College’s “No Belly, No Butts, No Bras” Rule

Barnard policy

Two weeks ago, on their first day of orientation training, Barnard College resident advisors (RAs) were surprised to learn they had to sign a “Training Expectations” contract for their first week back, promising not to show any part of their bellies, butts, or bras.

The belly-butt-bra prohibition fell under the second of the training expectations: “Dress appropriately for training.”

According to the contract, which RAs report to Feministing was not discussed or negotiated before their signing, students who did not comply with the policy would be asked by their supervisors to “go home and change.”

“It was printed and we were made to sign a contract regarding expectations for training,” said one Barnard College RA, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job. “No one said anything, we weren’t asked. We read it aloud, but we didn’t consent to it.”

Another asserted that two RAs could likely be wearing the same thing, but because of physical differences, cutting along racial lines, only one would get in trouble. “I’d just like to highlight the racial aspects of it,” they said, “certain bodies are policed and deemed as not welcome.”

Such dress policing would seem to be a contradiction, given Barnard’s fiercely feminist branding. Nationally, dress code rules have been criticized for institutionalizing slut-shaming, demanding that female students not “distract” male students, rather than allowing them to dress the way they feel best.

The controversy comes off the heels of another last year at Barnard in which students lashed out at administrators for creating stringent sleep-over limitations, which allowed guests to stay over “for no more than three consecutive nights and no more than six nights total in any 30-day period.” Some students claimed these limitations codified slut-shaming and unfairly regulated students’ sex lives. The story, first reported by Youngist, quickly raised headlines in Cosmopolitan and The Daily Beast, prompting administrators to claim that the rule was only meant to be applied in cases of complaints.

But at an all-women’s college like Barnard, the RAs dress code controversy is slightly different; students argue such a dress code is less about slut-shaming in a co-ed atmosphere and more about making women conform to an ideal of corporate feminism.

The RA expectations contract spells this out pretty clearly. “While we want you to be comfortable, this is a work environment.” In other words, Barnard’s justification for this puritanical policy is professionalism. In order to fit the image of a “strong, bold, beautiful Barnard women,” students must conform to the physical template of ambitious pre-professionals.

“Its about control under the guise of protection, they’re grooming you,” said one RA. “This is under administrative policies that tend to maintain an ideal image of barnard women, what do you think when you think of our president Debora Spar? White corporate feminist.”

In demanding conformity to the rigid standards of the abstract “work environment,” Barnard implicitly identifies respectability with power — a disturbing trend in the growing corporate feminist movement.

Barnard College has not responded to requests for comment.

George Joseph, a guest contributor to Feministing, is a New York based education and labor reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @georgejoseph94.

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