Nel's New Day

August 19, 2015

Lawmakers Learn Sexism in School

Republican lawmakers have a solution for legislators who can’t keep their hands off interns: just make the interns—female, of course!—follow an “intern dress code.” The idea, promoted by Republicans, came to a screeching halt after Democrats’ disgust, social media firestorms, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s ire, but it got a lot of publicity and made Missouri Republicans look even more misogynistic than they’ve appeared in the past.

McCaskill’s letters to the lawmakers promoting the idea pointed out its sexism, stating that it “reeks of a desire to avoid holding fully accountable those who would prey upon young women and men seeking to begin honorable careers in public service.” She knows whereof she speaks: McCaskill was harassed when she was a legislative intern decades ago.

The issue went viral after House Speaker John Diehl, a “family values” conservative, was forced to resign because his sexually suggestive texts with a 19-year-old House intern became public. That was two months before state Sen. Paul LeVota resigned because two interns accused him of sexual harassment.

A request for reviewing a proposed new “intern code” resulted in the answer, “intern dress code.” Another representative agreed, emailing his colleagues:

“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females. Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”

A third Republican, this one a woman, supported the idea by stating that dress codes are common in the workplace.

Sanity returned, however, when another representative asked, “We’re really not going to require interns to dress so we’re less distracted, are we?” He added, “All we need is a code of ethics and a penalty provision.” Another response got to the crux of the matter: “The finger is being pointed at the young, female interns. [The dress code should be] “the same as for everyone in the House.”

For the information of all those conservatives who think that female interns are at fault for all the infidelity, a handbook for interns already has a dress code:

“Those engaged in [lawmaking] must dress professionally and appropriately. Men are required to wear a jacket and necktie for admission to the side galleries of the House Chamber. Women should dress in appropriate business attire (such as dress, suit, dress slacks and jacket).”

As one representative said, the problem is “harassing interns,” not a dress code. He added, “If my plaid jacket or the sight of a woman’s bare knee distracts you from your legislative duties, I would look for other work.”

Dozens of women—including current and former interns, legislative aides, lobbyists and lawmakers—have told the Kansas City Star that sexual harassment in the Capitol is commonplace. One of them claimed that the prevalence of this harassment “has nothing to do with what a female wears. This is not the 1950s. Harassment in the workplace is illegal and a woman’s attire does not give anyone the right to harass, regardless if they feel distracted.”

Taylor Hirth and Alissa Hembree, the interns who blew the whistle on LeVota’s alleged sexual harassment, released a joint statement expressing disappointment in the newly proposed intern code:

“Suggestions requiring certain GPAs, increased supervision and mandatory dress codes suggest that the interns are lacking in quality, knowledge, or character and are in some way to blame for the harassment they experience. Additionally, it implies that those perpetuating this behavior are unable to control their own behaviors.”

In an opinion piece, Mary Sanchez took on the misogynists:

“Gentlemen of Jefferson City, please refrain from veering off track.

“There is one sure way to end the sexist, slovenly behavior of some male politicians toward female college interns and other women working in, or elected to, our state capital. Demand that men behave properly. Focus there….

“The proposal [for a new dress code] was a centuries-old patriarchal paradigm: Shift the guilt so that the woman is chastised and monitored, lest she lead the innocent man astray. As if the sight of a knee uncovered unleashes a torrent of hormones that men simply cannot control.

“The errant male politicians need to change. Not the women who have been forced to deal with the juvenile antics of some representatives, senators and lobbyists.

“And yet the idea to focus on the women’s behavior, via their dress, was among the fastest replies to sprout. It’s backward thinking. Worse, it comes from people who make laws for the rest of us. As much as I’m a stickler for appropriate business dress for both men and women, this misses the point.

“Men should have been offended too. The idea assumed that they are weak, unable to control themselves at the sight of an attractive woman. It implied that men will be men. And it’s up to the women to be on guard.

“The onus is on the elected officials to behave with respect for themselves, the intern, the political office that they hold. College interns are there to learn about good government, not to prop up some middle-aged man’s faltering ego….

“The most effective means to curb sexism in Jefferson City will likely occur informally. Sexual harassment at the capital will cease to be a problem when men hold other men accountable.”

Men learn the belief that women should be responsible for controlling the male libido early on. School dress codes are meant to protect males, both students and faculty, by keeping girls covered up. One example is Woodford County High School (Kentucky) where Stacie Dunn’s daughter Stephanie was sent home for showing her collarbone that “may distract their male class mates.” Dunn took a scarf for her daughter to cover up the offensive collarbone, but the principal sent her home anyway for giving him “an attitude.” Apparently, the scarf still didn’t cover enough.

stephanie

Superintendent Scott Hawkins tried to justify the dress code because it had been in effect for over 10 years. He said, “The whole idea behind the dress code is to make sure you have a safe learning environment and that’s what we’re trying to create.” In Kentucky, dress codes are set by school districts and not separate campuses.

Last March, student Maggie Sunseri made a documentary of interviews with female students and school principal, Rob Akers. In the 33-minute film, “Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Code,” the 33-minute film Girls said they felt embarrassed and ashamed after being “called out” for “revealing” outfits. They also talked about having trouble finding acceptable clothing and being forced to miss class. Rules weren’t uniformly enforced, according to the interviewees.

Akers justified the removal of distraction as the reason for dress codes because “guys would make inappropriate statements.” The girls, however, said it was unfair to limit their clothing instead of dealing with the boys who harassed them. “It sends the message to boys that it’s all girls’ fault, basically—any reaction or any action that they do is the girl’s fault,” one girl said in the film.

Sunseri said her film was about “the underlying message behind a code that tells young women to cover up and young boys that they can’t control themselves.” The 16-year-old high school junior said the dress code is sexist toward both girls and boys in that it “perpetuates the notion that a woman’s body is inherently more sexual than a man’s body, and that young boys’ natural tendencies are to harass or assault women.”

No wonder some male Missouri lawmakers cannot control their libido: they may never have seen a collarbone.

 

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1 Comment »

  1. LOL. And how should the male pages dress so they don’t distract the male senators who profess heterosexuality while longing for boy collarbones?

    Like

    Comment by Lee Lynch — August 20, 2015 @ 6:11 PM | Reply


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