Dress Codes in the Senate?

Mitch Holmes

Senator Mitch Holmes (R-Kansas)

By Josie Stern (‘19)

This month, Senator Mitch Holmes (R-Kansas) imposed a strict dress code on female legislators who testify in front of his committee. Holmes issued the dress code to deter women from distracting the committee by wearing clothing he deemed “revealing.” Holmes claims, “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.” Specifically, the Senator’s dress code for women prohibits those who are testifying on bills from wearing low-cut necklines and miniskirts. However, he did not specify what was considered a low-cut blouse or miniskirt. Reports indicate that Holmes considered issuing another dress code specific to male testifiers, but decided that men were able to dress themselves without guidance. Female senators, his own colleagues, were rightfully outraged at Holmes’ guidelines. Senator Carolyn McGinn (R-Kansas) claims, “I am more interested in what they have to say about the direction our state should go than what they’re wearing that day.” Subsequently, Holmes apologized for his demeaning language, saying, “My failure to clearly specify that all conferees, regardless of gender, should strive to present themselves professionally is unacceptable.” However, it is unacceptable on probably more levels than he had intended.

Today’s culture is caught up in the idea of what constitutes a “professional woman.” By proclaiming that a woman’s outfit is “too distracting,” Holmes, like much of society, is putting the blame on the women, rather than those who are supposedly “distracted.” That being “said,” dressing “professionally” in a workplace does influence the way a colleague views a co-worker. However, this dress code, like ones enforced at schools and workplaces, tells women to cover up in order to not be subject to male gaze, but refuses to hold men and boys accountable. The dress code supposes that women are not able to determine for themselves what acceptable, professional dress is. On another level, it is interesting how Holmes’ apology failed to acknowledge that women are often considered subordinate to men. Along these lines, in “Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams,” Laurie Ouellette problematizes this subordination when she claims, Helen Gurley Brown, Editor-in-Chief for Cosmopolitan from 1965-1997, “clearly understood women’s subordination in the office, but she did not directly challenge it because in an ideal world, we might move onward and upward by using only our brains and talent, but since this is an imperfect world, a certain amount of listening, giggling, wriggling, smiling, winking, flirting and fainting is required in our rise from the mailroom” (267). Perhaps the women who testified in “revealing” clothing felt that, like Brown, the world in which we exist does not allow for them to only use their brains and talent to be heard and taken seriously. Perhaps they thought that they must also use their sexuality to advance and have their thoughts and ideas heard.


Senator Carolyn McGinn (R-Kansas)

Dress codes allow for women to be objectified and not taken seriously, if they are not dressed in what men see as socially and professionally acceptable. Dress codes like this give women the idea that how they dress is how they are going to be perceived in the professional world. However, men do not have to deal with this type of control. There is a lack of consistency between the guidelines for men and women. As Jane Caputi points out in “The Pornography of Everyday Life,” “Patriarchal cultures such as our own also associate nakedness and sex with shame and sin, and identify women with the essence of sex” while men are seen as above this negative identification” (374). This double standard in our culture opens the door for a flurry of negative associations with regards to the choices women make in this case with regards to appearance. Women wearing short skirts and low-neckline blouses are automatically assumed to be purely sexual beings and not serious in their work. This assumption is further troubling, because it completely objectifies the wearer of “provocative” clothing.  In short, Caputi claims, “Men can be viewed as sexual but are seen as having other attributes as well, such as intelligence” (374).  Women, like objects, cannot possibly have other attributes, right? Not in my opinion.


What is Flibanserin?

SproutBy Willa Rentel (‘18)

Over the past few years, Sprout Pharmaceuticals has been working to have a drug called flibanserin approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Flibanserin is a female libido pill that was created in response to cases of dwindling sex drive in middle-aged females. The FDA has disapproved flibanserin on two occasions. Sandra Kweder, Deputy Director of the Office of New Drugs within the FDA, points to “the combination of […] not very robust effectiveness, and the fact that the safety profile has not really been characterized very well,” as reasons behind the disapproval.

Although the disapproval of this pill, according to the FDA is apolitical, women’s rights advocates, and the CEO of Sprout, Cindy Whitehead, disagree. The creation of this pill, Whitehead argues, is directly related to the need for female sexual liberation, autonomy, and control and the disapproval of this drug is a response to a sexist cultural norm surrounding female sexuality. “Men have a number of treatment options for sexual dysfunction,” Whitehead explains to NPR’s Rob Stein, “We haven’t yet gotten one for women’s dysfunction. Up until now, the treatment paradigm for women with sexual dysfunction has essentially been ‘let’s take a drug that works in men and see if it works in women.’” Whitehead’s points highlights a lack of female sexual autonomy and a failure to view women’s sexuality independently. This drug, she contends, will encourage women’s sexual agency and control, consequently shifting the narrative surrounding sexuality. Along these lines, Whitehead points out the fact that the lack of “sexual dysfunction” drugs designed specifically for women demonstrates female’s lack of sexual sovereignty. In Anne Koedt’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” she argues that “women have thus been defined sexually in terms of what pleases men; our own biology has not been properly analyzed” (196). The male-centric approach to female sexuality to which Koedt is referring is the very framework of Whitehead and many other women’s rights advocates arguments surrounding the implicit sexism the disapproval of flibanserin.

Many, such as Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), think the FDA’s disapproval of flibanserin is a subconscious discomfort with female sexual autonomy and a result of culturally embedded ideas surrounding sexuality:

We live in a culture that has historically discounted the importance of sexual pleasure and sexual desire for women and I fear that it’s that cultural attitude: that men’s sexual health is extremely important but women’s sexual health is not so important, that’s the cultural attitude that I want to be sure that the FDA has not unconsciously imported into its deliberative process.

O’Neill, like others, is wary of the FDA’s gender bias and wonders if the disapproval of flibanserin is the result of our tendency as a culture to regard men’s sexual experience as the sexual experience, as universal, and applicable to women. Similarly, Carole S. Vance highlights the danger of subduing female sexuality in “Pleasure and Danger: Toward Politics of Sexuality.”  She writes, “If sexual desire is coded as male, women being to wonder if they are really ever sexual” (336). The need to study and understand female sexuality independent of male sexuality is also theme that is prevalent in Carol Gilligan’s “In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development.” She writes, “The representation of the boy’s development as the single line of adolescent growth for both sexes creates a continual problem when it comes to interpreting the development of the girl” (325). Along these lines, Whitehead contends that “the FDA is holding flibanserin to a higher standard than it uses to evaluate drugs for men.” If true, it is frightening what this means in terms of a cultural fear of female sexual independence and expression and how the fear of female sexual liberation relates to gender oppression in general.

PETITION: Diversify the Curriculum at Colorado College

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By Amairani Alamillo (‘16) & Han Sayles (‘15)

Dear President Tiefenthaler, Dean Wong & Faculty,

In recent years, Colorado College has made strides in becoming a more inclusive and diverse institution. There has been an increase in diverse course offerings; an increase in tenure-track lines for the Feminist and Gender Studies, Race and Ethnic Studies, and Southwest Studies programs; a restructuring of academic programs, such as the Bridge Scholars program; the establishment of The Butler Center; and, finally, a substantial increase in the percentage of students of color admitted to CC each year. The aforementioned accomplishments are all evidence of the current administration’s and faculty’s commitment to having an inclusive campus. We want to propel these efforts forward, as we believe there is still much work that needs to be done to transform CC into a truly diverse educational environment.

We, the students of Colorado College, believe that every student who graduates from CC should have a basic grasp of issues concerning responsible citizenship in a globalized world. In an increasingly hostile racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic national and global environment, we want the skills to peacefully confront the hurdles that we are facing today, which we will undoubtedly grapple with throughout our lives. That means our curriculum should facilitate a critical historical engagement with the pertinent issues affecting ourselves and our local, national, and international communities. This petition is a formal statement of our dedication to engaging with subjects of (but not limited to) class, race, gender, and sexuality everyday—subjects we want to see reflected in our classrooms and in syllabi across campus. We want to embrace Colorado College’s core values: “value all persons and seek to learn from their diverse experiences and perspectives,” “seek excellence, constantly assessing our policies and programs,” and, “honor the life of the mind as the central focus of our common endeavor.”

Many members of the staff and faculty at Colorado College have been advocating for this initiative, privately and publicly, for decades, and students have been by their side, but there has not yet been a collective effort on behalf of the students at the College to communicate clearly to faculty and administration exactly what we want from our education. Here and now is the time and place for Colorado College to become a national leader. The following are the points that we believe the faculty and administration at Colorado College need to enact in order for our education to be utilitarian, relevant, and ethical.

  1. The College needs a diverse curriculum; a commitment marginalized and/or outsider perspectives needs to be reflected in the syllabi of every single department or program on campus.
  2. The College needs to reassess the current all-college course requirements in place to ensure that students are taking courses that are rigorous for an introduction to issues of global and social inequality.
  3. Faculty development is the core of a diverse curriculum and pedagogy, which means the College needs to focus on committing to the development of the current faculty so that they are well-equipped to handle these issues in their classes, as relevant to specific disciplines.
  4. The forthcoming proposal to make Race, Ethnic Studies, and Migrations a major should be fully-funded and supported by Colorado College. As the proposal made on behalf of the Core Faculty of Race and Ethnic Studies points out: “RES continues to consciously bridge the spaces between theory and practice, the classroom and the communities outside it, the individual and the individual as citizen.” Besides being a well-established, productive field of academia, having a Race, Ethnic Studies, and Migration major would enable students to develop important practical professional skills in cross-cultural competency and a basic social understanding of the world we live in.”

In closing, as Stephen Quaye and Shuan Harper report about the effects of diversity on 15,600 undergraduate students after four years, all students, not just students of color, report that they are most satisfied with “faculty who employed methodologies that respected and were inclusive of cultural differences; constructed welcoming environments for sharing cultural perspectives; and required writing assignments that challenged students to think critically about diversity and equity issues.” We believe a diverse curriculum for the students of Colorado College is not only valuable but essential to our success as educated people in the 21st century. Thank you for your time and commitment to our continued success.

CC STUDENTS, please click here to access and sign the petition.


The Solo Exception: The Implications of Categorization of Female Athletes in the Media

Hope SoloThis video, written and produced by Soren Mortvedt, Baheya Malaty, Gianluca Paterson, and Mary “Hollis” Schmidt during Block 5 2015, explores the various categorizations in which female athletes are pigeonholed based on gender norms.