No Noose is Good News – say goodbye to the tie

I like ties: I really do! I have about 120 of them and I wear them voluntarily to work on average two or three days a week. I get up in the morning and make a decision on which shirt to wear and whether or not I want to wear a tie with it. I imagine that a woman goes through pretty much the same process when she decides whether to wear a skirt or trousers. I treat them like any other fashion accessory, which is their correct status. Unfortunately, there are those who still insist on trying to maintain for the tie an iconic status, forcing men to wear them in a way which would be widely considered unacceptable for any item of clothing for women.

This may have been acceptable in the dim, distant and gender discriminatory past, but should no longer be considered appropriate today.

Fifty years ago, my father would wear an open-necked shirt around the house, but would put on a tie to go shopping. It was part of everyday wear for men, and it was reasonable to expect men to wear a tie for work. My mother would wear slacks around the house (women didn’t wear trousers in those days), but would change into a dress or skirt before leaving the house.

Since then, two things have changed: you can verify this for yourself next time you go shopping in you local town centre. You will see virtually no men wearing ties except for those working in shops, banks etc and forced to do so by their employers. You will see that many women wear trousers, but that a very significant proportion still wear skirts or dresses. Despite the fact that ties have virtually disappeared outside the workplace, tribunals still often describe them as being conventional male dress. On the other hand, it is a brave employer today who insists on women wearing skirts, despite the fact that the skirt is just as “conventional” as the tie, and is still much more widely worn than the tie outside the workplace. As the photograph below shows, there is no objective reason why a woman should be said to look smart without a tie, but a man does not.

They both look equally smart, or not, but to say that one looks smart and the other does not says more about preconditioning and gender stereotyping in the eye of the viewer than it does about the actual appearance of the man and woman.

The tie, for men only of course, is the only item of clothing that is defended by the old guard as being a sine qua non for being smartly dressed. Everyone has an opinion on what “smart” means, but the tie is the only article that is still forced on millions of men, whether they want to wear it or not. It is true that there are still some employers who make women wear skirts, but they are few and far between. There are also a few courageous, but misguided, employers who insist on women wearing make-up. There are even some employers who still insist on men having short hair, whereas women can have it as long as they like and are allowed to tie it up if necessary.

The only answer is to change the law so that gender-specific dress codes are illegal. This won’t, despite the fears of the Colonel Fortescue-Smythes of this world, lead to a large number of men turning up to work in skirts! Why should it, when very few, if any, current dress codes actually insist on men wearing trousers? If one man did, so what, the world wouldn’t end. The  banning of gender-discriminatory dress codes would prevent employers insisting on make-up or skirts for women and on short hair or ties for men. The current law is vague and says that neither gender must be “disadvantaged”. This is too open to interpretation: how can a man forced to wear a tie on a hot summer’s day not be disadvantaged compared to the woman working next to him in a t-shirt?

The solution is simple: ban gender-specific dress codes. By choice, many men will still wear ties. By choice, many women will still wear skirts. The difference is that both genders will be treated equally and there will be another nail in the coffin of gender stereotyping.

Why are female politicians criticised for what they wear?

attribution:Presidenza della Repubblica [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

This comes up time and time again. Newspapers and other media are vilified by feminists for commenting on the way female politicians, newsreaders and others are dressed, whilst leaving the men in peace. Why is this? Is it an example of the “objectification” of women, as we are led to believe?

I would suggest that, if you take off the women-are-always-the-victims blinkers for a moment, the  reason is obvious. In terms of dress, the women are treated like adults and given great freedom in what they wear. If you have choice, you can expect to attract comment. The men in the photograph above, however, are forced, either by gender stereotyped dress codes, or by social pressure, to wear their school uniform. Look closely at the photograph and the uniform is evident: dark suit, light shirt, and, of course, tie. Even the most desperate of newspaper editors can’t criticise someone for wearing their school uniform.

Now let us look at another example. This is a photograph of the G8 Summit of 2013. Perhaps you can remember what the media had to say about the natty little number that Angela Merkel is wearing.

 

The answer, of course, is that she was completely ignored. The men, however, were vilified. Why? They were mauled by the press because this group of the most economically powerful men in the world got together the night before and said something along the lines of “it’s going to be hot tomorrow, lads, let’s not wear ties”!

This brings us to the point of this post. Male politicians escape being criticised for their dress only if they toe the line and stick scrupulously to the school uniform. The moment they stray, however slightly, from the stereotyped image of the uniform male, they are berated like children.

We saw the same thing more recently following the Greek election. On my way home from work, I heard four different radio news items, each of which started off with words to the effect of “the new Greek Prime Minister, who was not wearing a tie…” And again when the Greek Finance Minister met George Osborne, there was a photograph on the front page of at least one national broadsheet with a caption pointing out, not the subject of the meeting, but the fact that he was wearing a leather jacket and black boots. And, of course, no tie.

 

There are many other examples of cases where high-profile men have been criticised for simply not wearing a tie. The simple fact of the matter is that the different treatment of men and women by the media, at least as far as dress goes, arises not from sexism victimising women, but from the deep-rooted discrimination leading to the fact that “serious” men are given no freedom of choice and are expected to dress more formally and uniformly than women. This discrimination extends way beyond politicians and is still evident in many workplaces.

If female politicians all wore a dark suit and smart blouse, or men were allowed the freedom of choice given to women, there would, after a brief period of hysterical astonishment, be no issue.

Finally, it is worth remembering that women MPs can, and do, wear pretty much what they like in the House of Commons. My MP, a man, can be thrown out and prevented from representing me in parliament if he doesn’t wear a jacket and tie. So much for democracy and equality.