Sex-specific dress codes. They are traditional. They are oppressive. They are fading into the past. Good riddance.
Remember the days when being "decently dressed" meant wearing very stereotypical clothing? Girls had to wear skirts to school. Boys had to wear dress shirts, slacks, and shiny shoes. Men wore jackets and ties to work, women wore dresses, hose, and heels. Anything androgynous, like jeans and T-shirts, was for around the house, not to be seen in public.
Today, unisex clothing is the norm. Women wear clothing they bought in the mens department. Men can wear women's pants and tops and not even be noticed. A necktie, or high heels, is so rare that it draws attention.
But some occasions still have dress codes, written in stone. And a few bold youth are pushing back the boundaries of gender oppression. They are doing it politely, with permission, and they are succeeding!
Kristy King, of Albany, Ohio, is a young butch woman. She hasn't worn a dress since she was 2. Her high school requires all girls to wear a dress or skirt under their gown at graduation. She and her mother asked the school board to relax the rules. And guess what? The board agreed. Dress slacks are now OK for girls to wear under their graduation gowns. And boys benefitted too. They no longer have to wear ties if they don't want to.
Dale Stewart, of Arlington High School in Indiana, wanted to attend his senior prom wearing a dress. School administrators refused, saying it violated the school dress code. He took it to court. A federal court in Indianapolis ruled that wearing a dress to the prom is a protected form of speech. He wore his finest gown to the prom.
Sex-specific dress codes still abound. But they are becoming more and more reasonable. Dress codes that once specified heels and ties now say "black pants for boys, black pants or skirts for girls." Occasionally they simply read "black pants or skirts." After all, why not treat both sexes exactly the same? If pants are OK for boys, they should be OK for girls. If skirts are OK for girls, they should be OK for boys. Fair is fair.
Relaxed dress codes can work out for the better. A "no shorts" dress code can mean discomfort in a hot factory in the summer. Pants and skirts only. Women can wear skirts to stay cool. So can the men, and a few do. Fair is fair.
Even that icon of 19th century male chauvinism, Pat Robertson, has picked up on the transgender movement. His chief legal counsel, Jay Sekulow, railed on the radio about the "horror of men in dresses getting into your children's classrooms to teach." "These transvestities, now called transgender", said Sekulow, "are only the latest example of America's social decline". (Never mind that most people affected by transgender civil rights laws are transsexuals who are legally and surgically changing their sex.)
Jay, maybe you're on to something. Just think, if we let men wear dresses, the next thing you know, women will want to wear pants, hold jobs, and even vote! Can't have that, you know!
If the religious right movement really cares about anything more than fundraising, they should start by cleaning up their own house. I'm talking about that hotbed of immorality, the Catholic Church. I hear that all of their leaders (who, by the way, are required to be men) wear dresses. All the way up to the Pope himself. Shocking!
If God had wanted men to wear dresses, wouldn't he would have dressed his own son in one?
This page and all columns are copyright (c) 1998-1999 Mary Ann Horton. All rights reserved.