Distracted by Mini-Skirts, Kansas Legislator Proposes Dress Code for Female Witnesses

Distracted by Mini-Skirts, Kansas Legislator Proposes Dress Code for Female Witnesses

Keep it classy, ladies: Not quite the proviso issued by Kansas Sen. Mitch Holmes on Thursday, but close. 

As the Topeka Capital-Journal reported, Holmes introduced a code of conduct for witnesses testifying before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, which he chairs. The second of the legislator's proposed rules of respectability seems like a prime example of fashion used as a vehicle for sexism: "For ladies, low-cut necklines and mini-skirts are inappropriate," Holmes said. 

At what depth does the plunge of a neckline or the length of a skirt become distracting?

"It's one of those things that's hard to define," Holmes said, according to the Capital-Journal. "Put it out there and let people know we're really looking for you to be addressing the issue rather than trying to distract or bring eyes to yourself."

Sen. Mitch Holmes consults with Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, maintains both focus and eye contact.
Source: 
John Hanna/AP

So, it's a subjective ruling, one that seems likely to be tied to how attractive Holmes and the easily-distracted members of the EEC find the woman in question. In accordance with the typical trends of workplace sexism, men were deemed capable of dressing themselves professionally, without instruction, and escaped Holmes's vigilant eye. Naturally, the senator's female colleagues on both sides of the aisles had a few questions about the new conduct code.

"Oh, for crying out loud, what century is this?" Sen. Laura Kelly asked, as reported by the Capitol Journal. Another Topeka senator, Vicki Schmidt wondered who was going to police these nebulous garment measurements, and whether or not Holmes expected women in the senate to adhere to his guidelines, or just witnesses. And Carolyn McGinn said that the committee should place more value on witness testimony than on witness wardrobes.

"I am more interested in what they have to say about the direction our state should go than what they're wearing that day," she said, according to the Capitol Journal. Which is to say, more interested in doing her job than in ogling people who show up to do their civic duty.

Anthony Hensley, the Kansas Senate Minority Leader, made a similar statement to the Associated Press. The EEC "should be more concerned about violations of campus finance law than what women wear," he said, adding that he thinks "it's important that women are supported in the choices that they make for themselves."

Is there a leggy lady witness up there, just out of frame?
Source: 
John Hanna/AP

The proposed code of conduct shares some parallels with the dress code debate that's recently taken hold in schools nationwide. Regulating girls' attire is about making boys feel more comfortable, opponents have said, obligating female students to cover up nearly every inch of their exposed skin so that they don't distract their male peers. Dress codes smack of unfairness to those who wonder why the boys aren't simply held to a higher standard and expected not to alienate their female, transgender and gender non-conforming counterparts on the basis of attire. 

It was this brand of "subtle, institutionalized misogyny" that, in June 2014, prompted a group of middle-school girls from South Orange, New Jersey to launch the #iammorethanadistraction social media campaign. Their argument was aimed at dress codes in schools, but it holds for dress codes in state senates, too. 

As one Twitter user told the Kansas legislature, "If there's an issue w/ women's attire, it's yours."

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Claire Lampen

Claire is a staff writer at Mic who covers women's issues and reproductive rights. She is based in New York and can be reached at claire@mic.com.

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