Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > News

Let’s Talk About The Internalized Misogyny Behind The Missouri House Dress Code

On Jan. 16, the Missouri House of Representatives kicked off their legislative session by tightening the dress code for female lawmakers. Under House Resolution 11, women can no longer show their shoulders or upper arms while in the state House. They must wear a jacket (blazer or cardigan) over their dress, skirt, or slacks.

No changes were made to the men’s dress code.  

The anti-abortion government hasn’t been known for engaging in progressive, feminist discussions, and certainly isn’t going to change that now. The debate on the floor, which lasted about 30 minutes, proved this. 

Rep. Ann Kelley (R), the amendment’s backer, claimed her proposal was for the sake of “decorum.” She said she wanted to see the women’s dress code mirror the men’s dress code that requires them to wear suit jackets. 

So many women who think it’s reasonable to tell other women what to wear suffer from internalized misogyny. Women who experience internalized misogyny express it through minimizing the value of women, mistrusting women, and holding a conscious or unconscious gender bias in favor of men. 

Women make up over half of Missouri’s population and hold less than a third of the seats in Missouri’s House. Women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to their voices being heard on the House floor — that inequality is only heightened when the women who do get in the room use their voice to shame or silence other women. Her Campus reached out to Kelley for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.

“We are fighting again for a woman’s right to choose something,” Democratic state Rep. Raychel Proudie (D) said during the debate.

Proudie’s colleagues, a super-majority of men, were remarkably silent. The main combatants were women. 

“I’ve seen a lot of lack of decorum in this room in my two years here, and not once has that lack of decorum spurred from someone’s blazer or lack thereof,” Rep. Ashley Aune (D) said to the House floor.

Aune made an excellent point, which was brushed past much too quickly. If the Missouri legislature is concerned with appearances and professionalism, then the dress code should be the least of their concern. 

How people behave is more important than how they dress. Let’s go over the highlights from two former Missouri representatives that had “decorum” by dress code standards.

Todd Akin, who served as the U.S. representative for Missouri’s second congressional district from 2001 to 2013, is perhaps best known for his “legitimate rape” comment made in 2012: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” The comment, which implied that every woman who becomes pregnant after an assault secretly enjoyed the experience, even caused Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, the candidates on the Republican presidential ticket at the time, to distance themselves from Akin and disavow his remarks.

At least he did it dressed in a suit. Decorum. (In his book, published in July 2014, Akin defended his original comments and said he regretted having apologized for them.)

Or take Eric Greitens, the second-youngest governor to ever hold office at 43. Greitens admitted in 2018 to having cheated on his wife with another married woman, whom he allegedly photographed without her consent while she was blindfolded and tied up. He admitted to the infidelity and resigned, but denied the blackmail with non-consensual porn.

Greitens’ wife, Sheena, forgave him on social media with a public statement later that summer. Then, in 2022, she alleged he was abusive toward her as well as their children. He has largely remained silent about the situation, but released a statement denying the allegations, according to CNN. If you think that’s no big deal, then Greitens agrees with you. He ran for office again in 2022 amidst his court case. His campaign leaflets show him smiling in a buttoned-up shirt and suit jacket. Decorum.

Back to the matter at hand. Kelley’s reasoning for proposing Missouri tighten the dress code for women — professionalism, decorum, whatever you want to say to justify controlling a woman’s body — doesn’t sound legitimate. If the government was concerned with “decorum,” as Kelley claims she is, then why does behavior like Akin’s and Greitens’ go unpunished? Akin became a successful author before his death in 2021; Greitens still hasn’t given up on holding office. 

Before women point fingers at each other, consider why some people think women’s clothing poses a problem in the first place. Do we, as a country, believe a woman’s blazer can influence our Congress’ decision-making? I hope not. 

There are more important topics to discuss in politics and it’s insulting that the politicians chosen to represent the people chose to waste time on this. Almost as insulting as it is frustrating that the charge against femininity is led by other women.

Emma Lingo is the senior editor at Her Campus’s University of Missouri chapter. She oversees the entertainment and culture verticals on the site, including television, movies, and book coverage. Beyond Her Campus, Emma works as a freelance writer. Her bylines have appeared in The List, The Missourian, Vox Magazine, Shifter Magazine and more. She will graduate with a major in journalism in Summer 2023 with an emphasis on reporting and writing. In her free time, Emma enjoys reading, journaling, and hanging out with her cat Tuna. She’s a certified Swiftie who has a major bone to pick with John Mayer and is always down to go from a drive and blast music.