It’s early July, and a reporter is in the Speaker’s lobby, a room outside the House chamber. Like all reporters there, she is hoping to grab a lawmaker for a brief interview on the day’s proceedings. But today, she would have to stuff paper into her sleeves in hopes of being allowed to stay.
This woman was told by the guards that she would not be allowed to stay in the lobby due to her dress not having sleeves. The rules about appropriate attire in Congress have always been somewhat confusing. There are no signs indicating any rules, and each congressional leadership has enforced them differently. In response to media criticism of this incident, Speaker Paul Ryan explained that “Members should wear appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House, however brief their appearance on the floor may be.” Haley Byrd, a congressional reporter for the Independent Journal Review, also admitted to facing similar circumstances. She explains that she was told they could try to find her a sweater, and she even says she feels as though they are cracking down on the open-toed shoes.
There are a couple of questions this has led people to ask; One of which is the hypocrisy that many see in the Michelle Obama and Ivanka Trump both having worn sleeveless dresses in the chamber before. Do these rules only apply if you aren’t part of the white house family? If so, why do we over regulate the dress codes of less powerful women? Some speculation comes from the fact that now that the Republicans control the White house and congress, these rules are being forced more heavily to align with some of their values. Some of these values may be modesty, the controlling of women’s bodies, and classism. Whether you see these as good or bad qualities, there are some troubling implications of rules like these.
Sleeveless dresses are common in today’s society and are often marketed as office wear. Actually, in most offices, is it perfectly acceptable to wear both sleeveless dresses and open toed shoes. Monster.com cites these both as “do” for office attire. It is widely accepted that sleeveless dresses on women are still considered respectful, professional, and un-distracting. This may be only a small example of how congress is out of touch with the modern, American woman, but it is still an example. With the leadership being made up of mostly white, older men, it is unlikely that we will see a change in this policy.
This story may not seem like a big deal to some, but it is an indicator of things to come for others. The constant conversations about shutting down Planned Parenthood, the anti-choice rhetoric, and the tone-deaf reaction to women in the chambers has led a lot of women to feel underrepresented by this government. To a lot of women, this is another event in a long line of incidents of these Republican lawmakers making attempts to govern the bodies and lives of women.
Photo: (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)