Dress codes forcing women to wear high heels or makeup are felt by most to be unacceptable, but why do we ignore sexist dress codes that force men to wear uncomfortable jackets and ties?
There has been a huge amount of discussion in the media on sexist dress codes. This has been almost entirely focused on issues considered to adversely effect women.s
Few people would deny that forcing women to wear high heels against their wishes is sexist and reprehensible. High heels are probably at the extreme end of uncomfortable dress codes, but the discussion extends beyond this item of clothing. There are those who say that it is sexist to force women to wear skirts or makeup. There are even those who say it is sexist to force women to wear any particular item of clothing or dictate a woman’s appearance in any way. Such dress codes, however, are relatively rare and are becoming less common every day. What is very rarely discussed, is the sexist nature of the much more common office dress code giving women much more flexibility than men to express themselves in relative comfort.
Am I comparing high heels to ties?
Not really. Although both are uncomfortable, high heels are potentially worse. Nevertheless, many men find ties very uncomfortable, especially in the summer, and there is absolutely no reason why they should be forced to wear them. My objection lies with the fact that all media attention focuses on women’s comfort, but men’s discomfort is ignored. Men are expected to “man up” and put up with their restrictive, uniform and uncomfortable dress codes. The most common office dress code runs something like this: “Men must wear smart shoes, trousers, jacket and tie. Women must dress appropriately”. A quick glance around pretty much any office environment will confirm that, for women, “dress appropriately” mean anything that is not indecent, blue denim or flip-flops. In other words, women are treated like adults and allowed to make their own decision about what is suitable, men are treated like children and told exactly what to wear.
What about makeup?
Forcing a woman to wear makeup is forcing her to comply with the sexist, gender-stereotyped image of how a smart, professional businesswoman should look. I fail to see how this differs from forcing a man to wear a tie, except that a tie is also uncomfortable! Forcing a man to wear a necktie serves absolutely no purpose other than making him conform to the sexist, conventional, gender-stereotyped image of how a smart, professional businessman should look. Is this so different to forcing a woman to wear makeup?
What about skirts?
Men and women both have conventional, sexist business uniforms. For men, it is a suit and a tie: for women it is a skirt suit and a smart blouse. Both are sexist and gender-stereotyped. The difference is that very few businesses actually force women to comply with the gender-stereotype, whereas very many employers still force men to do so. Skirts may be impractical, but I have yet to find a practical use for the leash around a man’s neck!
What should we do about it?
Simple. If “dress appropriately” is good enough for women’s dress codes, it should be good enough for men too.