The Tie Fetish

Updated 8th August 2017

Q: What makes otherwise sane, normal, caring people persist in trying to force men to spend the whole of their working lives with a noose around their neck?
A:  Fetish (Merriam-Webster): an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion.

Embed from Getty Images

When the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, allowed Tom Brake MP to speak in the Chamber without wearing a tie, it made news around the world. For a time, MPs forgot about Brexit and concentrated on Necks-it instead. Shortly afterwards, there was a similar move in the French Assemblée Nationale, as well as a minor rebellion in the House of Lords. The vast majority of men have stopped wearing ties in their private lives, except for special occasions when both men and women dress up: why should they be forced to wear one at work? Those who continue to deny that Necks-it is happening should learn to accept that men, like women, are entitled to make their own choices and should stop trying to inflict their own dress sense on others.

I have nothing against ties per se, but I have long thought that the blind insistence that they are the one and only means by which a man can look smart, is irrational and, frankly, somewhat odd. With the rather obvious exceptions of the wimple and the dog-collar, no other item of clothing today, for either men or women, is treated as an almost religious symbol of piety and virtue in quite the same way as the tie. The mere wearing of a badly tied and dubiously stained tie bestows on its wearer, in the eyes of many, an unassailable aura of probity and sartorial elegance, while its absence plunges the hapless, though comfortable, non-wearer into the abyss of lazy, incompetent ineptitude.

It seems that the tie almost rivals the wimple and dog-collar in the unassailable aura of probity and sanctity it confers on its wearer.

 

 

I have been closely following the arguments in the media on this subject and have come to the conclusion that, if we discount the theory that the tie is a substitute religious vestment, the insistence on others wearing one can only be regarded as fetishism. I looked up “fetish” on the Oxford and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries. Being of a charitable nature, I put the definitions involving sartorially-related sexual habits on the back burner for the moment, but, even if we discount these, the following two definitions seem to sum up quite well the irrational, illogical and objectively unjustifiable attitude of the “tie-or-die” brigade.

Fetish (Oxford): An excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to a particular thing.

Fetish (Merriam-Webster): an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion.

The arguments in favour of forcing men to wear ties are always subjective, usually pompous and opinionated, and often downright nonsensical. I have tried to summarise some of the comments I have come across in blogs on the subject, with my response:

“I just think they look nice”
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and, as in the case with Granny here, may succeed in charming others into giving in. That’s fine, but not all men like to be treated like children.

 

 

…and in a similar vein… “I think they are sooooo sexy…”

OK – perhaps even ties have their good points.

 

 

“Today, the tie is largely a workplace accessory, used to neatly demarcate work and leisure time”

Sorry, this is nonsense: if a man needs a tie to tell whether or not he is at work, he has bigger problems than his dress sense. I wonder what on earth the poor women are supposed to do, since they no longer have any compulsory items of work wear to help them decide if they are in the office or at home?

 

The argument that I find the most pathetic, though, is “wearing a tie shows respect for the other person“.
I find the idea that a man has to show respect by tying a leash about his neck almost feudal in its expectation of servility. Must a man also touch his forelock to show respect? Should we still expect women to curtsy and look down demurely at the floor as a token of respect? I am afraid that if your only way of recognising respect involves the other person wearing a tie, psychiatric help may be in order.

If we accept this argument, how on Earth do women manage to show respect? They rarely wear a suit, even more rarely a tie, and would certainly shout “sexism” at the top of their voices if they were forced to dress as uniformly as men.

By all means wear a tie if you want to, but don’t try to force others to do so using the false argument of “showing respect”.

To come back to my original thesis, there is absolutely no logical reason to insist on men wearing ties. Those who do insist are merely trying to inflict their own tastes and stereotypes on others. The three Wimbledon officials below are all dressed identically except, of course, for the man, who, contrary to all common sense, is obliged to wear a tie while trying to concentrate in the summer sun. There is absolutely no objective reason for this particular bit of sartorial nonsense.
Embed from Getty ImagesThe fact that some folk place so much value on such a meaningless piece of cloth, and judge themselves and others on that basis, is a clear example of a fetish: an excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to a particular thing.

So, by all means complain every time you see a male politician or news presenter in an open-necked shirt. Whine about the good old days of doublet and hose. Remember with nostalgia the days when men were men, and women made the coffee. Don’t think, though, that you have the moral high ground. At the end of the day, insisting that a man wears a tie is no different to insisting that a woman wears a skirt or make-up. Both serve no purpose other than to reinforce preconceived gender stereotypes.

Bishop Luffa School Shorts Hypocrisy

Bishop Luffa school – short in equality, long in hypocrisy

Bishop Luffa School
Before you read on, compare the shorts for which the boys were excluded with those worn by the girl in the rear centre, to which the school apparently turns a blind eye! It is the duty of a school to break down gender stereotypes, not reinforce them. (Photo-still from news footage, credit to BBC South Today)

I know I have bit of a thing about the unfairness to men and boys of dress codes: a brief look at the menu on this site will give ample evidence of this. Seldom, though, have I heard a sexist and gender-stereotyped position defended in such an unconvincing and deeply hypocritical way by a figure in authority. This is disturbing, as one of the roles of schools today is to model gender equality and do away with old-fashioned prejudice and gender-stereotyping.

The issue arose on Friday, 3rd July, when a number of Sixth Form boys were refused entry to Bishop Luffa School in Chichester for daring to wear shorts in the middle of a heat wave. This was reported on the BBC, as well as on local radio and in local newspapers.

The boys’ actions were provoked by the fact that the girls are allowed to wear skirts and shorts, which are intrinsically much more comfortable in hot weather than the long trousers imposed on the boys. The school dress code for the Sixth Form does, indeed, have a blanket ban on shorts for both boys and girls, but the Head Teacher, Nick Taunt, is apparently unable or unwilling to enforce the ban on the girls, who are allowed on site in shorts, which, from the videos and photos linked above, are sometimes very short indeed.

Why is this sexist?

I think that this is fairly self-explanatory. Nobody, not even Mr Taunt, claims that it is not sexist. Those in favour of keeping the ban for boys (both Mr Taunt and a tiny minority of forum comments), merely give a series of dubious reasons why the fact that it is sexist does not matter. Anyone with a clear sense of fairness, open-mindedness and natural justice surely cannot argue that it is fair to allow girls significantly more comfort than boys. Here is a transcript of part of an interview with Mr Taunt on the Chichester Observer website (my comments in bold).

“There are some boys, some members of Sixth Form, who feel it is rather hot today and would like to wear shorts. We don’t allow shorts (comment: this is apparently untrue. Although shorts are theoretically banned for all, girls are, in fact, allowed to wear them) We have a Sixth Form dress code. We don’t have a uniform, as some Sixth Form’s have, but we do have a dress code… ….  but it has to be something that’s appropriate for the school environment and to prepare them for later life in the workplace (comment: women are rarely allowed to wear shorts in the workplace, yet he allows the girls to wear them in school)…We have said, for boys and girls, that shorts are not allowed in school (comment: again, if the words of the students, and the images in the videos and photographs are to be believed, girls are allowed to wear shorts to school, so this statement is again untrue)… They said that they (the boys) felt hot and uncomfortable and I said that, well, as a boy so do I (comment: so it’s ok to make boys, but not girls, feel hot and uncomfortable – if that’s not blatantly sexist, I don’t know what is!)“”

“In our society, girls wear dresses and boys wear trousers” (comment: but he allows the girls to wear skirts and trousers and shorts)

If you agree with the students, please sign the petition at change.org 

 

In another part of the interview, Mr Taunt says that he wants to avoid “nitpicking” with the boys over the length of their shorts. What, I wonder, does he do when a girl wears her skirt, or her theoretically-banned-shorts too short? Does he “nitpick” with her, does he exclude her, or does he simply allow her to get away with it in staunch support of the woman’s right to choose? Why on Earth should he be willing to pick the girls’ nits but not the boys’?

Much is made in schools and the media today about issues associated with body image, particularly with respect to girls. Why should anyone feel that we can persist in this attitude that there is something unpleasant, or unacceptable, about boys showing their legs, while it is ok for girls to do so?

Incidentally, Mr Taunt has apparently warned the boys (comment in a forum), that they will also be turned away if they wear skirts, although the dress code does not specify that skirts are for girls only.

In a related story a couple of months ago, when a Bridlington Head Teacher banned skirts for girls, one of the arguments raised against her by parents was that it was unfair to make the girls wear hot trousers in the summer: no-one mentioned the unfairness to the boys. At least the Bridlington Head can’t be accused of sexism: boys and girls both wear long trousers now. At around the same time as the Luffa protest. another UK school, Trentham High School, banned girls from wearing skirts because they persistently ignored rules on skirt length. Again, this is simply equality for all, although, personally, I would prefer to see the boys allowed to wear shorts, and the girls stick to reasonable rules on skirt length. It is interesting that both of these schools have female Head Teachers: a male Head would never have the courage to do this as, by enforcing equality, he would be scared of being branded as sexist. What a strange world we live in when it comes to concepts of equality!

Why is the Head’s argument hypocritical?

On the school website, we see the following statement: ”

“We recognise our duty under the Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act has simplified and strengthened the discrimination laws which protect people from unfair treatment.”

Mr Taunt does not argue that the shorts rule is fair, but rather that boys should accept the unfair treatment because they are…well…boys…

The transcript of the interview above also points out the sheer, unadulterated hypocrisy of saying that shorts are banned in order to prepare the students for the workplace. He allows the girls to wear shorts, but there is scarcely an employer in the UK that allows adult women to wear shorts to work: those who do probably allow men to wear them too. In any case, the vast majority of Bishop Luffa Sixth Form students go to university, where several years as a student will make an absolute nonsense of the claim that the purpose of the shorts ban is to prepare the boys for work!

In my view, the simple fact of the matter is that the Head wants to inflict his outdated, discriminatory sense of male dress obligations on the boys, and is determined to do so despite the lack of all logical argument and all sense of fair play. It is simply perpetuating the idea that women have the right to choose what they wear, men have to expect to toe the line.

The lower school summer uniform is also a little lacking in the equality department, as all pupils are allowed to remove blazers and pullovers, but the boys alone are expected to still wear their ties: so much for equal treatment.

Why do I care?

I believe very strongly in true gender equality and fair treatment for boys and girls, men and women. It is true that there are other, perhaps more serious, issues of gender inequality throughout the world, but there are none as widespread among schoolchildren in the UK as the disparity in uniform and dress codes between boys and girls.

With the possible exception of some faith schools, I defy anyone to give me an example of a school in which the boys have more choice, more flexibility and more comfort than the girls. There are thousands where the opposite is true. Girls nearly always have the choice of a skirt, and very often don’t have to wear ties. Many schools have a more comfortable summer uniform for girls but not for boys (or, as in Bishop Luffa, less favourable for the boys).  This does nothing at all to encourage a sense of real gender equality among the boys, but rather seems to support the increasingly popular view that the search for gender equality is a one-way street. Full credit to those girls who demonstrated their genuine belief in equality by supporting the boys.  It is very sad that school managers can put so much effort into the concept of equality, yet let themselves down so badly by persisting with retrograde, sexist attitudes such as this.

I am sure that Mr Taunt is an excellent Head Teacher in many respects, but he is mistaken in his inflexible and poorly thought-out response to this situation. It is the duty of the Head to instill a sense of equality and justice in his pupils, and both he and the school governors should do everything possible to make sure that the uniform code is fair to all. It is the duty of a school to break down gender stereotypes, not reinforce them, and it should not be acceptable in 2015 to say that boys should be expected to put up with unnecessary discomfort just because they are boys.

(I believe the facts are correct based on interviews and news reports. If there are any factual errors, please let me know and I will correct them)

Is Sexism Endemic at the BBC?

When will the BBC start taking male politicians seriously based on what they say rather than what they wear?

In Andrew Marr’s weekly current affairs television programme last Sunday, he interviewed Yanis Varoufakis to discuss the impending disaster of Greece defaulting on its debt repayments to the European Union. In his preamble to the interview, Mr Marr introduced this senior Greek politician as “Greece’s leather-jacketed Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis”, in defiance of the fact Mr Varoufakis was not actually wearing his leather jacket at the time. Is it not shameful that the BBC should pay so much attention to the sartorial habits of male politicians? After all, men do have brains too, and often have important contributions to make to the political life of a nation. They are not just eye-candy existing solely to decorate our television screens, and deserve to be treated with the same respect as female politicians.










One cannot help but wonder what the reaction would have been if he had introduced “the leopard-shod Home Secretary, Theresa May”, “the trouser-wearing Acting Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman”, or the “short-skirted Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper”. I am sure Ms Cooper would not wear a short skirt on television, or at least I couldn’t find a photograph, but I am sure you get my point!

So come on, BBC, you wouldn’t dare criticise the way a female politician was dressed, even if she defied convention by wearing trousers at such a traditional occasion as the State Opening of Parliament: what makes you think it’s appropriate to comment on the dress of a foreign Finance Minister? I shudder to think what the reaction of your commentator would have been if David Cameron had been equally “liberated” and had walked beside Ms Harman wearing an open-necked shirt.

Is sexism endemic at the BBC? Perhaps it is.

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.

Related articles across the web

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.

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.