Overview:

As the Handmaid's Tale moves from speculative fiction toward fact, Missouri has passed a rule stipulating the dress code of female lawmakers.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

With the regression in laws that seem to have overwhelmingly affected women over the last few years, Americans may be forgiven for thinking that The Handmaid’s Tale on TV is a documentary. There are some who say that author Margaret Atwood was something of a futurist.

With stricter regulation of women’s reproductive health, we are now seeing similar regressive attitudes concerning women’s dress codes. In Missouri, last week, lawmakers took on a new set of rules that requires female representatives to cover their shoulders by wearing a jacket such as a blazer, cardigan, or knit blazer. Initially, the ruling didn’t include cardigans until Democrats argued that jackets would inhibit pregnant women.

It is no surprise that, in 2019, Missouri passed an abortion ban that came into effect after the recent controversial Dobbs decision.

The State House comprises 116 men and 43 women and is controlled by the GOP, with the vote to ratify the regulation passing 105-51.

Unsurprisingly, this was the brainchild of the Republican Rep. Ann Kelley, and has been met with some pushback from Democrats. Business Insider reported on the heated debate on the floor:

You know what it feels like in this room to have a bunch of men in this room looking at your top to decide whether it’s appropriate or not?” said state Rep. Ashley Aune, a Democrat, adding that the entire debate was “ridiculous.”

At this point, Kelley appeared to have grown frustrated. She then retorted that it was indeed “ridiculous” that her colleagues were engaging in such a heated debate over her proposed changes.

“Lady, you’re right, it is ridiculous,” Kelley said. “It is absolutely ridiculous that we have to talk about it on the House floor in the House chamber. Why should we even talk about something like this?”

Aune responded by pointing out that it was Kelley’s proposal that started the debate.

“You brought this to the floor, lady. You tell me,” she said.

Kelley wasn’t done. She added, “You think all you would have to do is say dress professionally and women could handle it.”

As critics have pointed out, there is nothing similar that applies to men. Having said that, men don’t have the occasion to show their shoulders in such contexts, as advocates claim.

Kelley presented some of her reasoning when speaking on the day, saying the move “cleans up some of the language … by mirroring the language in the gentleman’s dress code.” She continued, “Men are required to wear a jacket, a shirt and a tie, correct? And if they walked in here without a tie, they would get gaveled down in a heartbeat. If they walked in without a jacket, they would get gaveled down in a heartbeat. So, we are so interested in being equal.”

Democratic state Rep. Peter Merideth took a measured approach in refusing to cast his vote. “I don’t think I’m qualified to say what’s appropriate or not appropriate for women and I think that is a really dangerous road for us all to go down,” he said.

He also pointed out how Republicans had remonstrated about how the state had required them to wear masks, and this was for public health and the potential health dangers to constituents. It seems that this is rich hypocrisy to demand a dress code in the name of social mores rather than public safety.

This new Missouri code works in the opposite direction to a previous slackening of the rules when female lawmakers complained in 2017, arguing they had a “right to bare arms.”

One can’t help but wonder: Is a red dress and cloak worn with a white bonnet an acceptable uniform for Missouri lawmakers?

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...