So-called sexist air-conditioning – the tip of the iceberg in dress code discrimination!

Although there are claims in the media that women suffer from cold due to air-conditioning, the truth of the matter is that most dress codes still allow women much more freedom than men when it comes to dressing comfortably at work.

The simple fact is that men’s dress codes lag behind women’s in terms of flexibility and comfort.

A woman can always put on a jacket or cardigan if she is cold, but a man is still often forced into dress shirt and tie (and, of course, long trousers)


In today’s lopsided, politically correct world, we are used to hearing claims of sexism, always with the woman as victim, coming from every direction. The recent nonsense in the media about air-conditioning, though, defies all logic and flies in the face of any concept of fairness.

I first read about this in a blog in the UK Daily Telegraph. The female blogger made an astonishingly thoughtless comment, which (almost literally) made my blood boil.

“In summer it’s even worse. If you’re a woman in the middle of AC wars, you can’t just put on a summer dress sans tights like the lucky women who work in AC-less offices.”

I would like to welcome her to the world of men – and I hope she won’t expect a great deal of sympathy! Men have no choice but to wear long trousers. Many are still, shockingly in our supposedly gender-equal times, forced to wear ties no matter what the weather. They are usually obliged to wear heavy dress shoes, whereas it is perfectly acceptable for women to wear open sandals. Women should be grateful for the huge flexibility they have in workplace dress codes when compared to men. If they are cold, they should put on a jumper and pity the men who have to sweat in ties in “AC-less offices”.

1950s businessman

This recent so-called sexist air-conditioning nonsense is, however, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dress code unfairness. Over the last 40 or 50 years, both men’s and women’s fashions outside the workplace have moved on significantly. In our leisure time, we dress more casually and more flexibly than we did in the past. However, while acceptable workplace clothing for women has moved in parallel to the “outside world”, very many men still find themselves limited to the same hot, uncomfortable dress codes as their fathers, or even their grandfathers. The 1950s businessman pictured left is indistinguishable from very many of his sweating present-day counterparts.

There is sometimes a thin line between opposing sexism and aiming to support and extend female entitlement. This issue is on the wrong side of the line. Women are not entitled to wear as little as they want to at work, have the air-conditioning attuned to their skimpy frocks, and leave the men sweating due to the relative strictness of the male dress code. Any woman not convinced by this argument should, perhaps, be forced to wear a suit and tie (properly done up, of course) to work every day for a month in the middle of summer. Perhaps then she will appreciate her privileged position when it comes to choice of clothing.

Although women already have much greater choice of work clothing than men, anything that prevents them having complete freedom to wear what they please is branded as sexist. This is well illustrated by another case in the media recently concerning a female JP Penney employee, who was sent home for wearing shorts and is crying “sexism”. In fact, shorts are banned for both men and women and, unless male employees are allowed to “get away with” shorts, then there is not the slightest issue of sexism here. My personal view is that smart, tailored shorts should be allowed for both males and females in hot weather, but banning them for both is certainly not sexist. It would be interesting to see the entire dress code: I would be willing to bet that the men have no more flexibility in how they dress than the women – probably the reverse. There is an interesting trend on Twitter at the time of publishing this post, concerning wearing shorts at work: take a look at #freetheknee.

The real villain of the piece in all this is the ineffectiveness of equality laws when it comes to giving men and women the same freedom to choose how they dress in the workplace. Countries with so-called “equality at work” laws should simply ban gender-specific dress codes.

Sexism on the carpet: women forced to wear high heels, men wear whatever they like (provided it’s a dinner jacket and bow tie)

Women may prefer to be down-at-heel…

Here we go again! At a premier in Cannes a day or so ago, a number of women were refused entry via the red carpet because they were not wearing high heels. This, of course, has caused the expected howls of outrage around the theme of sexism and gender discrimination. I actually agree with the several commentators, and de-carpeted women, who tell us that high heels are uncomfortable, useless and potentially bad for the health (very bad, if you fall off them). I agree, too, that it is ridiculous to make them compulsory.

…but men always get it in the neck!

However, are women treated in an unfair or discriminatory manner compared to men? Not at all. Exactly the same rules that prevent a woman from flat-footed access to the red carpet, also force a man to use the side-door unless he is wearing the male uniform of a suit and tie. No-one can possibly complain about the sheer, bloody-minded uselessness of high heels without complaining equally loudly about the sheer, bloody-minded uselessness of the tie. High heels vie with the tie for the title of most useless, unnecessary and uncomfortable fashion accessory. The big difference, of course, is that it very unusual for a woman to be forced to wear high heels, most do it by choice. The opposite is true of ties: most men don’t wear them unless they are obliged to do so. It is a sad reflection on the efficacy of our so-called gender equality laws that very many men are still forced to wear them to work on a daily basis, whether they want to or not. Ties, for men only of course, remain the only obligatory item of clothing in many workplaces.

What it boils down to is that forcing a man to dress in a certain way is called “maintaining standards”, forcing a woman to dress in a certain way is called “sexism”.

So come on, writers, critics and commentators, let’s have some balance! If you are going to complain magna voce about this tiny number of elegant women forced to wear high heels for a special occasion, please spare at least a whisper for the much, much greater number of unwilling men forced to wear a tie on a daily basis.

Remember that gender discrimination is not only in the eyes of the beholder, but can also be around the neck of the victim.

The Head may have the final say, but gender stereotyping in schools starts at the neck!

OK, I know she’s not really a Bridlington schoolgirl – but you get the point

We have heard many times over the last few years, how important it is to remove the spectre of gender stereotyping from our schools. Usually this is in the context of encouraging girls to study subjects which have traditionally been of more interest to boys. Today, many more girls than before choose these subjects, and I doubt whether there is a single Key Stage 4 girl in the country today who feels she does not have just as must right as a boy to study Physics, Chemistry or Maths. Strangely, the fact that many more girls than boys choose to study A-level English and Modern Foreign Languages gets nowhere near the same media attention – but that is another story. Despite the emphasis on this “subject stereotyping”, it is neither the only nor the most widespread example of gender stereotyping in schools today.

As a case in point, we have an article in today’s Daily Telegraph and other newspapers, in which the Head Teacher at Bridlington School is vilified by parents for daring to ban girls from wearing skirts to school. This was the result of a male teacher telling a girl off for wearing her skirt too short and being told by the girl “You shouldn’t be looking at my legs”. The fact that the girl had the arrogance to say this, and that the teacher felt sufficiently threatened by the possibility of being the subject of unfounded allegations to report the matter to the Head, speaks volumes for both the way men are viewed in schools, and the way many schoolgirls think that rules concerning dress don’t apply to them. Thankfully the Head backed the teacher to the hilt and, after due process, changed the uniform rules. There have been other cases in the past where head  teachers have done this, for similar reasons, and been rewarded by shouts of outrage from parents.

There are two important issues involved here. The first is the right of male staff to be able to work free from embarrassment and spurious allegations. If boys in the school were behaving or dressing in a way that embarrassed women teachers, the Head, teachers, governors and parents would all come down on them like a ton of bricks. However, because this case challenges the female entitlement to push the rules and dress as they please, the male teacher’s discomfort takes second place in the eyes of many. It is shameful that a teacher should be made to feel embarrassed or threatened merely for doing his job and pointing out a uniform infringement.

The other issue is the disparity in treatment of boys and girls (and women and men, for that matter) when it comes to comfort and freedom of choice in what they wear. In similar cases to this one, several arguments have been used against the head teachers. Here are three of them. The first is that girls have a “right” to wear skirts; the second, used in the recent Bridlington argument, is that trousers are expensive; the third, used in a previous case, was that it was just so unfair to make girls wear uncomfortable trousers during the summer!

Let’s take these one by one:

1. Schoolgirls have a right to wear skirts

This comes down to the whole issue of school uniform. Personally, I am in favour of school uniform as it removes so much stress and hassle from the lives of students and parents alike. The whole rat race of designer clothes, fashion parades and keeping up with the Joneses is eradicated in one fell swoop. So, if we accept school uniform, how are boys and girls treated when it comes to freedom choice and comfort?

The obvious answer, of course, is that boys are almost universally short-changed. With the possible exception of some of the more extreme faith schools, I challenge readers to give me a verifiable example of a school with stricter dress requirements for girls than for boys. I even extend this dress-code challenge to male and female members of staff. Some schools, for instance, make both boys and girls wear ties: many more, though make only boys wear them. This is a major source of discomfort during the summer months. One school, Maiden Erlegh, near Reading, and I am sure others, takes this stereotyping a step further and allows the girls (weaker sex, little dears, bless…) to wear a more comfortable summer uniform, but makes the boys (tough little soldiers, stiff upper lip, company-directors-to-be) struggle with their ties until they start to fall off their chairs with heat stroke. This, of course, can only create ill-feeling among the boys, and does nothing at all to make them feel that the sexes are, or even should be, treated equally. In addition, and this is the nub of the case today, nearly all schools give girls the option of wearing skirts without giving boys the equivalent right to wear smart shorts. These advantages given to the girls are neither a “right” nor an “entitlement”, and if they are abused, they should be withdrawn.

With apologies to those mothers who claim that their daughters wear skirts of a reasonable length, I am afraid you have forgotten your own school days! Many girls will arrive at school in skirts the same length as when they left home, but many others do the old trick of rolling up the waistband on the way to school. Come on, Mum, don’t pretend you never did that.

2. Trousers are expensive

I don’t really know where to start on this one without stating the downright obvious. Parents of boys are obliged to buy trousers for their sons: what a strange sense of equality we have if we think girls should be able to wear a different school uniform to boys merely because it is cheaper.

3. It is so unfair to make girls wear uncomfortable, hot trousers during the summer (yes- a mother really did say this)

Touched on in item 1 above, this claim also beggars belief. Boys are always obliged to wear trousers all year round, regardless of the heat. Why do parents not complain to headteachers about their sons’ discomfort during the summer months? Why do we still think it acceptable to expect boys to tolerate a higher degree of discomfort and formality than girls? If you are going to campaign for skirts on these grounds, at least have the sense of fairness to campaign for the boys to be allowed to wear shorts.

It is not only the boys who suffer from this type of gender-stereotyping, male staff are often the victims too. The Times Education Supplement forums sometimes have threads about staff dress codes, and it is still often the case that the men are expected to wear a jacket and tie, while women, working under the same conditions, can wear a light summer skirt and a t-shirt. The women in the threads complain because they are not allowed to wear denim and flip-flops: all the men want is to be allowed to enjoy the comfort of an open-necked shirt. Incredibly in these days of equality, it seems it is still acceptable for a Head Teacher to tell men how to dress, but the moment they try to limit the woman’s right to choose, they are accused of being sexist. Thankfully it is slowly changing. It is often said that “if the pupils have to wear ties, the teachers should too”. This is a specious argument if ever there was one: there are two girls schools near where I live where the girls wear ties – the female members of staff do not!

To end on a positive note, full marks to the Haydon School in Pinner, which has a uniform policy that could be a model for other schools in  blowing away gender stereotyping and treating all pupils equally. Do the boys there wear skirts? I doubt it, but that is their choice. The only thing missing is the option of smart shorts in the summer, for both girls and boys.

So, a message to Head Teachers everywhere: if you want to remove gender-stereotyping from your school, look first at your uniform, starting at the neck and working upwards and downwards to make sure you are treating all pupils equally. Unequal requirements with respect to ties, hair length and any other items of uniform foster resentment and do nothing to instill in pupils a sense of fairness and equality. Subject your staff dress code to the same scrutiny. Don’t hide behind false arguments of “maintaining standards”. If those standards are discriminatory and unfair they should, indeed, be challenged. To do otherwise is to avoid the responsibility of all schools to do away with gender stereotyping.

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Are men finally shunning the noose? – another nail in the coffin of the tie

Have the media at last stopped worrying about what politicians wear?








This election has been one of the most amusing and close-fought for many years and, hopefully, we can expect a good turnout on Polling Day. I am not the most sartorially aware of men, but I have noticed a significant change in the media this year. So often in the past, the media has seemed to comment on the way politicians dress, rather than their policies. This year, perhaps because they have found an abundance of other subjects to talk about, dress has taken a back seat. I know that it is a common complaint from feminists that women politicians are unfairly targeted by the media when it comes to their appearance: I have made it clear in other posts that I believe this is due to the fact that they are allowed to to choose what they wear while the men are forced to wear their school uniform. It will come as no surprise, then, that the most significant aspect of this for me is that the men have not received a constant barrage of criticism for daring to appear in public without a tie. This contrasts greatly to the last election when the appearance of David Cameron or Gordon Brown in an open-necked shirt prompted a whole string of outraged invective in the media. Why the change?

Another nail in the coffin of the noose!

Since the last election, the relentless demise of the tie has continued apace, with more and more men coming to regard it as an optional fashion accessory rather than an obligatory discomfort to be endured until heat stroke is imminent. If you think this is an exaggeration, remember that the first thing you are taught on a first aid course is to remove a man’s tie so that he stands a chance of breathing freely!

High heels vie with ties as the most pointless items of clothing (Guess who is in these shoes)

Lets face it, the two most useless items of clothing in everyday use are the tie for men and high heels for women ( the difference being, of course, that high heels are always a choice, whereas ties are still often forced on men). It is a mystery why men have accepted the imposition of the tie for so long, when women have gradually been allowed so much more flexibility in what they wear. It is not only politicians leading the way in the struggle to show that men are quite capable, if they choose, of working successfully without the constraint of a leash!

BBC current affairs and news presenters are also more frequently seen sans corde on television than was the case in the past, the most notable, perhaps, being Evan Davis. Mr Davis treats the tie for what it is – a fashion accessory, to be worn when the mood dictates, rather than following a dictate of the producer. His predecessor, Jeremy Paxman, did not have Evan’s strength of character and bottled out after his foray into tielessness led to complaints to the BBC.

Perhaps one of the funniest political moments of the year was the absolute incredulity of the British and European political establishment when the newly elected Prime Minister of Greece dared to meet them without the benefit of his full uniform. When Mr Alexis Tsipras was inaugurated earlier this year, every radio news broadcast started with words along the lines of “Mr Alexis Tsipras, who was not wearing a tie…”

Senior European politicians were completely taken aback by the barefaced (or, perhaps, barenecked) cheek of a man who succeeded in being elected to high office despite refusing to follow their dress code. They clearly thought that the world as they know it was about to come to an end, trials and tribulations would beset the oligarchy of Brussels and Strasbourg, and the one island of stability in the ever-changing ocean of European politics, the ironically comfortable uniformity of the obligatory male tie, was about to sink beneath the waves for ever. One of them even publicly offered him a tie to wear, which Mr Tsipras accepted with good humour: no doubt it is now in the bin. There is still a long way to go until men have the freedom to dress as they please: a freedom enjoyed by women for decades. Nevertheless, good luck to all those high profile men, who don’t see why they should be trussed up like turkeys for the whole of their working lives.