Woman banned from House for scandalous bare shoulders

It’s approximately 7,000 degrees in DC this week (with humidity at a comfy 99%), and for many of us this means wearing as little clothing as possible in a desperate attempt to avoid spontaneous combustion. 

But not everyone is on the same page – several days ago a female reporter was banned from entering the Speaker’s lobby (a room outside the House chamber where reporters often go to interview lawmakers) because her outfit was considered “inappropriate.” In this case, “inappropriate” means a sensible dress with no sleeves. Because, you know, lady-shoulders are Bad Things that Must Be Kept Hidden (blessed be the fruit).

As tempting as it is to blame this all on current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and his phobia of female anatomy, the Speaker’s lobby has had an unwritten dress code in place for a while, presumably intended to maintain the formality of the chamber. But what’s become evident this week is that “formality” is defined very differently for men and women. Male reporters have been barred from entry before when they weren’t wearing a tie or a jacket, but for women, entry is solely based on how much of their body is visible at any given time. You could be wearing a dress that costs more money than all of Paul Ryan’s ill-fitting suits put together, but if your toes or shoulders are visible, you’re being disrespectful.

A professional adult was barred from doing her job not because she wasn’t ambitious, or driven, but because she wasn’t wearing sleeves. We can Lean In™ until the cows come home but if we can’t actually get into the room where we do our work, men are of course going to be able to accomplish more.

It would be one thing if this were just happening in stuffy old government buildings, but even little girls are held responsible for how other people react to their clothes. In elementary schools, girls whose clothes are deemed inappropriate are regularly taken out of classes, told to change, and in some cases even suspended or banned from dances or graduation ceremonies. But, in schools as in the Speaker’s lobby, the rules governing female attire are often vague, unwritten, or inconsistent. The more stories of dress code violations you read, the more clear it becomes that “inappropriate” just means “distracting to boys.” And like any form of sexism, this problem is exacerbated when mixed with racism, sizeism and classicism.

For women and girls, the message comes across loud and clear: your body is inherently inappropriate. No matter how smart you are or how hard you work, all you’re ever going to be is a distraction to boys.

So, what are we supposed to do exactly? When it’s unspoken rules that hold us back, the only thing to do is speak up. The female reporter in question literally ripped pages from her notebook and stuffed them into the shoulders of her dress to create makeshift sleeves and when she still wasn’t allowed into the lobby, the feminist internet spoke up.

Here’s to making a fuss over every single bullshit dress code policy keeping women out of power.

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