Dress Codes

A photo of what a protest member wore in response to the body policing of the Field House.

The other night the Scripps Tiernan Field House (the Scripps gym) had an Overnighter Party (which wasn’t actually a sleepover), and had a dress code of no ‘inappropriate pajamas: short, see-through, or revealing clothing’.  Some Claremont students found this dress code to be ‘body policing and slut shaming’.  In one protester’s words,

The tfh [Tiernan Field House, Scripps Gym] has employed body policing rhetoric in the past and hasn’t really owned up to it, cuz it’s been in the name of ~body positivity~ (fat-talk free zone still polices how you can talk about your body, but moreover it stigmatizes fatness as something bad/undesirable, when its totally fine and something someone can own and rock cuz bodies have a natural diversity. a more apt sign could be like “this is a body-positive zone”)…It’s along the lines of body-policing and slut-shaming to enforce modesty, and we thought it was especially hypocritical in a space that purports to be body-positive. The dress code would have it that we wear more to this pajama party than what we might wear to just work out at the gym. It seemed to us a really unnecessary restriction to add, since we’re all adults and have a pretty good sense of what should be generally appropriate in what space without being told like children what values to uphold with how we present our bodies.

She went with a group of friends to the party dressed in ‘slutty’ clothes (short shorts, lowcut tank tops, jackets zipped open), and a few of her radical queer Pomona friends came and joined in the protest.  They did in fact manage to attract attention, and were able to (at least try to) explain what they saw as hypocritical body policing by the field house.

First of all, I agree with her protest.  I think that a school such as Scripps that so obsessively pushes the idea of recognizing a patriarchal structure that tends to shame female bodies and make them ‘evil’ would never think to put a dress code on a party, especially one that’s supposed to be so explicitly about hanging out rather than drinking/hooking up.

Let’s logic it out for a second.

Why is there a dress code? Although they don’t explicitly say it, they want to keep ‘slutty’ clothes out.  ‘Short’, ‘see-through’, and ‘revealing’ essentially means don’t show skin.

But we also don’t want men to be wearing short, see-through, or revealing clothing! Stop. That comes from a completely different mindset, usually one of disgust (please comment below if you disagree).  Men don’t wear short, see-through, or revealing clothing because they are either called ‘gay’ or people think it’s disgusting to see a penis (ex. speedos), not because we are afraid that females looking upon that bare skin will suddenly become overridden with lust and try to jump them.  The day the dress code for males and females comes from the same social context is the day I will rethink my opinion of dress codes.

But I just wanted The Overnighter to be a fun party, not sexualized.  That’s why I think the dress code is a good idea.  Stop again.  Why are we automatically putting short shorts on the sex list?  Why are we automatically putting being able to see female flesh on the sex list?  With this argument you are automatically equating the female body with sex.  The more female body there is, the more sexualized it is.  It doesn’t matter if I see my body as a lump of flesh that gets me from one place to another, as long as I’m wearing short shorts and a lowcut shirt when I do it, I’m automatically a sex object.  Perhaps instead of making me change my clothes, why don’t you just stop automatically setting my flesh equal to sex?

Well, if we are letting people come wearing whatever they want, what’s going to stop them from just wearing lingerie or nothing at all? Really? Do you really think this is going to happen? If you actually do (I honestly don’t think it would happen), this is where I get a bit grey-area on the dress code.  As much as I don’t want people to be controlled in what they can wear, lingerie tends to be explicitly used for sex.  Yes, some people might wear it as normal underwear, or just because they enjoy it, but the fact that it was marked as lingerie at all leads me to believe it was explicitly meant to be used for arousal.  I think naked is a bad idea just because hygiene. Normal underwear?  I think you should be allowed to wear it if you are comfortable enough and really want to.  Lingerie/ballgags/bondage etc.?  This is where it gets into the area of  ‘are you making other people uncomfortable/grossed out with what you are wearing’ Although you might not be wearing it to be sexual, unless you explicitly inform ever individual that it is just for fun, they may be uncomfortable because you are showing your sexual preferences in public*. But if it is not an item sold explicitly for arousal, I don’t understand why I can’t wear it whenever I want, just because it might reveal a bit more thigh or breast.

So, Field House, here is a challenge.  Can we recognize that dress codes tend to be a product of shaming of the female body, and that my body isn’t necessarily a sex object just because I wear less clothing? I feel like this is a fairly commonly accepted idea at Scripps, so I found it especially interesting that the Field House, a gym funded by Scripps, was so willing to put a dress code on one of its parties.

* Which may be sex shaming, I’d have to do more research into how much disgust at fetishwear stems from societal shaming of sex, and how much is visceral discomfort from not sharing similar sexual preferences, please comment below if you have an opinion on this.


About A Lewis

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Posted on March 19, 2013, in Claremont, Gender/Sexuality, Growing Up, Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Interesting points!

    I definitely agree that the instructions are a bit condescending, and the hypocrisy of the gym (where we usually wear short-shorts/ sports bras) disallowing skimpy clothing is absurd.

    The “fat-talk” issue is perhaps a little unrelated, as there is no evidence that the field house apparel instructions were for the purpose of shaming/ hiding “fat” bodies…. Nevertheless, that slogan has always struck me as odd and is also worth addressing.

  2. I can see how the ‘fat-talk’ section could seem a bit nonsequitar, but I personally just saw it as another example of the Field House trying to be progressive, but falling a bit short. If it still flows well, maybe I’ll edit it out.

  3. The fact is, there are people who are going to be uncomfortable if a lot of revealing clothing, male or female, is worn – and, from my experience, those people are generally other women or pro-feminist men. And while it’s not anyone’s place to police another’s clothing because of their own personal standards, I don’t think it’s especially bad for an organization to try and foster an environment for one specific event where everyone can reasonably expect to be comfortable.

    You can argue that such discomfort with exposed skin and bodies is itself a manifestation of misogyny or body-hate, but I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. I don’t really have a problem with nudity or revealing clothes, and I’m attracted to both genders, but I can see how it could just generally make someone uncomfortable. There’s a difference between saying, “Hey, no slutty clothes!” which would be shitty, and “Please be considerate of what others may be comfortable with.” The instructions definitely could have been worded better, but I think their intention is not anti-woman.

    • I’m glad you commented on this, because this is exactly the opposing opinion that I think is equally valid, and I was waiting for someone to point out. I think it really just depends on if you see the discomfort with revealing clothing to be a socially constructed device due to the patriarchal structure already in place, or if it’s a reaction inherent in some people regardless of how they were brought up. I personally think the majority of dress codes stem from the sexualization of the female body (such as no spaghetti straps on young girls, no short skirts, etc.), but I can see how if you don’t personally subscribe to this belief, perhaps it’s just discomfort that drives them. Again, thanks for commenting!

      • If we’re going to discuss whether or not dress codes are based on the oversexualization of women, we also have to discuss whether or not the clothes themselves also contribute to the same shitty view of female body as sexual. I don’t think a woman intentionally sexualizes herself at all when she wears a short skirt or spaghetti straps or whatever, but we as feminists can’t be naive enough to assume that those items of clothing aren’t developed and marketed largely by men for the express purpose of highlighting a woman’s sexuality for the visual pleasure of men. The approach that blames women for dressing any way, no matter how “revealing,” is shitty and patriarchal, but there is room, I think, for heightened awareness regarding exactly how society encourages women to act in ways that are against their best interests, including in the realm of personal presentation. Fighting against the sexualization of women definitely involves granting more freedom to the female body, but it also requires acknowledging that many items of clothing or ways of presentation are not particularly “female-friendly” but instead exist FOR men, BY men – and that the categories of clothing that we want to give women the freedom to wear and the clothing that men want to foist on women are often dangerously close, if not the same, in many cases.

      • My only issue with that argument is that how do we then decide what we actually want to wear, and what men have brainwashed us into wearing? If we are willing to say ‘short skirts and spaghetti straps were made by men in order to make us eyecandy’, does that mean we will always have to stop and think ‘do I actually want to wear this, or am I simply wearing it because marketing told me to’? Also, you say those types of clothing are ‘against our best interests’ Does this then mean our best interests in clothing mean nothing that highlights anything considered sexual on our bodies, and things that do highlight parts that are considered sexually attractive to be ‘not female friendly’? I’m actually just trying to clarify your point on this, I don’t know the answer.

      • I think that mindfully examining your actions and their motivations are definitely important on a personal level, and that perhaps a lot of feminists have (understandably) been far quicker to advocate more freedom without advocating equal levels of introspection so that such freedom can be put to the most constructive use for the best of women everywhere. It’s no one’s place, especially not men’s, to make a blanket decision on what is and isn’t in either category; that’s a choice that women need to make on a personal level. But we also can’t risk not acknowledging that many women who identify as feminists do act in ways that are playing directly into the hands of misogynists and creeps.

        I guess the question we should ask is, “If patriarchy didn’t exist, would these modes of presentation or dress or action or whatever have the necessary appeal solely to females in order to support themselves?” Women can and should highlight their sexuality however they want, and that includes clothing. But disentangling what anyone wants, male or female, from the larger social environment they develop in a really tough thing to do. I’m not suggesting that women are somehow unable to think for themselves; I’m just suggesting that many of the social institutions and concepts that women are fighting for entry into are, in my eyes, as a man, inherently anti-woman, and would better be abandoned rather than co-opted. I totally support a woman’s right to wear a short skirt or have multiple sexual partners or produce pornography or whatever without any male harassment or aggression – I just think that we should also examine whether or not traditionally sexualized clothing, the hookup culture, and the porn industry are inherently expression of the same misogyny that underlies that harassment and aggression. Does that make sense?

      • Yep. I can totally see your perspective, and will need to muse further on it in order to see how it changes my own. Thank you for being so helpful and logical in explaining your points, I always enjoying hearing a different point of view. I love when people are like ‘your blog is awesome!’ but it’s so nice when people have opposing opinions because then I am able to either learn more about my own opinion by defending it, or grow by incorporating new ideas into how I think. I thank you for the wonderful discussion 🙂

    • This is kinda off-topic now, so I’ll make it my last statement (unless you want to reply), but I think this whole debate gets to the heart of whether or not feminism should be about equal access to institutions that men currently enjoy, or the destruction of all institutions that men currently enjoy. In today’s society, our understanding of sexuality is essentially completely male, and completely patriarchal, and, at least to me, far too many feminists are interested in getting the right to ape that sexuality instead of spending their time trying to destroy it so that an authentic female sexuality can grow in its place. I’m not saying in any way that I know what that would be, mind you – I just tend to think that a lot of what “sex-positive feminism” fights for is still so totally in that male sexual mold, and that we can do better than that. I’m uncomfortable with any feminism that gives men erections instead of sending them into a panic, you know?

      • Whoa, totally did not see this when I was writing up my previous reply. I’m so okay with you getting off topic, I honestly write this blogs hoping to start discussion rather than simply trying to make a point.

        Anyway, to actually address what you said, I can see your point that we are trying to reclaim what we see as rights taken by the patriarchy, but you think the patriarchy should be dismantled completely in order to allow how they would like rather than trying to gain equal footing in the current structure. I don’t know nearly enough about feminism and female sexuality to make any kind of educated statement on this (I’d need to research to form a decent opinion), but just by gut feeling I think that putting sex-positive feminism as playing into the patriarchy makes sex inherently male. (also, I’d like to acknowledge again that we are being extremely heteronormative here, which for the argument of patriarchy sort of works, but is problematic).

        I think it’s possible to co-exist in terms of ‘I enjoy my short skirts’ and a byproduct can in fact be males being turned on. I think you are labeling male arousal as the issue, when in my opinion it’s when males use the argument of male arousal and the male being unable to control himself in order to enforce their domination over females. People have all kinds of kinks, and as long as you do not bother me with the fact that you find me attractive, you can find me attractive all you want. Feel free to counter this, I feel like there is flaws in this point I might just be missing.

        Also, I somewhat take issue with the fact that you think feminism should send them into a panic versus give them erections. I think by that definition you are labeling the male response as the deciding factor in what females are allowed to do, when in reality we should be able to do what we want. In this way it seems like the male is still the one in control, and we as females need to factor in the male response before we do certain things (also the fact that you think feminism should be threatening, which seems a bit detrimental to the cause?) I may be misunderstanding you, and as always, since I’m not the best interpreter, I’d love you to clarify.

      • Please be clear that when I say “sex-positive feminism,” I am referring to the specific school of feminist thought labeled as such, not ANY feminism that has a positive attitude towards sex. Certainly it is not inherently patriarchal to be positive about female sexuality!

        And either way, I’m not saying that sex-positive feminism plays into the patriarchy, but merely that there are a lot of horrible, misogynistic men who would high-five each other over a lot of the things that sex-positive feminism encourages, and that in itself is deeply problematic. I’m not asking that women factor into their decisions about self-expression the reaction of assholes, but instead that I am skeptical that women-hating men could really be turned on by something that is truly GOOD for women. Does that make sense? It’s less that male opinion is the deciding factor (in fact, it’s not that at all) but more that it’s the barometer; I think, like Andrea Dworkin argued, that we can determine how good an action is for a woman largely by whether or not it is sanctioned by those who wish against their empowerment.

        I don’t believe (and I think this position is a lot clearer when you are a man and you see FROM THE INSIDE the shitty ways that men conceptualize and frame female behavior) that an act cannot be both empowering for women and non-problematic in the view of misogynists. An act that is good for women is one that emphasizes and proliferates notions of their independence and positive self-agency, and an act that gives erections to misogynists is one that highlights the powerlessness and sexual complicity of a woman. When so many men (I’m comfortable even saying the majority) are aroused or otherwise interested by domination, humiliation, and the expression of contempt towards women, I am simply arguing that the response of the larger male culture should be, again not a deciding factor, but in fact an important NEGATIVE indication of the value of the act in terms of a larger feminist framework.

      • This conversation moved to facebook because we wanted a faster response rate.

      • fuuuck fuck fuck that first sentence of the last paragraph should be “that an act CAN be both empowering for women and non-problematic in the view of misogynists.”

  4. Good point about the silliness of the fat talk sign though, that’s ridiculous.

  5. The social context is patriarchy so the dress “codes” for all of us do come from the same context; it seems different because of the uneven balance of power on either side of the sex&gender binary patriarchy has constructed to perpetuate itself. Patriarchy makes a woman’s body an object to all while deemphasizing this quality in mens bodies. Revealing clothing on men is perceived as ‘disgusting’ or ‘gay’ in irder to protect the differences between men’s and women’s bodies and subsequently men and women themselves, namely, a binary of conscious agent vs passive object. Any part of their own bodies that men cannot actively control becomes a source of fear and anxiety about this distinction between action and passivity that must be suppressed -the most notorious and obvious example is penis envy, which is the real reason men’s clothing rarely shows this.

  6. I really like this article, I am currently doing an argumentative podcast project at school about dress codes and this is super helpfull!

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