Dress code: How is this still a thing?

Dress codes and sexism

Men should wear suits and women are not allowed to wear miniskirts, halter tops and trousers.

A few months ago, the Nakuru and Nyandarua governors issued similar orders on dress codes with stricter adherence expected from the more detailed rules for women.

It doesn’t end there. Uganda’s Ministry of Public Service in July sent a circular to all government employees where women were directed not to wear skirts that were shorter than knee length along with guidelines not to wear sleeveless tops and how to wear hair, make up and accessories.

It is the year of our Lord, 2017. How is dress code still a thing?

One would be forgiven for thinking that in 2017, Africans would be enlightened enough to know that what a woman wears has no bearing on how she conducts herself. Or the quality of her work. You can expect her to be smart sure, dressed as a proper company representative but still...

I fail to understand why Africans are so keen on ensuring this unequivocal devotion to colonial based codes of dress- which are ways to control women masquerading as decency campaigns.

The laughable belief that women should dress “decently” to avoid tempting men is another one that rankles. In 2017, a man has to be “protected from the tempting ways of a woman’s body”. This perpetual promotion of rape culture where sexual assault and harassment is blamed on the woman is ridiculous and needs to stop. In addition to that, the idea that women get attacked due to how they dress is just false. When a man rapes a woman, he is being violent. Rape is violence. A physical attack. Rape is NOT sex. As a wise woman once said, “When you hit someone with a shovel, you don’t call that gardening.”

The “moral” obligations that dictate how women should ensure their necks, backs, knees and navels are covered are plainly comical.

Why should women be the ones to ensure they don’t get undue attention? Why can’t there be a code of conduct for men? Don’t look at a woman’s breasts. Don’t look at a woman’s legs. Don’t stare at her ass. Just don’t do these things. But no. There will never be such laws in an employee’s handbook. Because one would have you believe that women are encroachers and interlopers in the workforce and they need to be toned down.

This is patriarchal, hereto-normative, gender assigned nonsense that stems from colonialism. Our ancestors were fully able to operate without such unnecessary guidelines. But before the advent of the white man, the African didn’t sexualize the female form and insist that breasts be covered lest he be tempted.

It’s ridiculous that such sexist ideals still exist when they shouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with having a dress code. But all that is necessary is saying the code is casual or formal or semi-formal. That is enough. If there is a uniform, the uniform by itself is enough. But going as far as deciding what women can or can’t wear is just plain wrong.

Please stop with the extra specific dress codes for women. Actually just stop with the dress codes altogether. Engineers and field workers need functional clothes not suits. Women don’t need to be told what business wear is. If a woman does indeed wear a skirt that’s short to work, that should be none of your business really. The male MCAs saying that they can’t concentrate because their female compatriot is wearing a short skirt is just silly. Stop sexualizing the female body. And stop trying to control it.


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