Are knee-length dresses too short for the courtroom? (Photo: Getty Images)
An Ottawa, Ontario, reporter got quite a shock on Thursday when she was removed from a courtroom — all because someone didn’t like her outfit. According to CFRA News Talk radio, Annie Bergeron-Oliver says she was assigned to cover a manslaughter case for CTV Ottawa when suddenly she was told by a police officer that she needed to leave the courtroom.
Bergeron-Oliver was initially bewildered as to why she was asked to leave, but she soon learned that it was her knee-length sleeveless dress that was causing the offense. Apparently, the bailiffs didn’t think she was dressed “respectfully,” as the dress code for court requires, and decided that she was exposing too much skin. “I’m sorry. Your skirt is too short,” the officer allegedly said. Except there’s one problem: Technically, Bergeron-Oliver wasn’t doing anything wrong. The skirt length (and covered shoulders) requirements was “not an actually written rule.”
This incident is another in a long tradition of policing women’s attire in one way or another. In Kansas, the Senate committee chairman, Republican Mitch Holmes, dreamed up a dress code, making sure to add what he thought was appropriate for women to wear to work. The rules included a ban on low-cut necklines and miniskirts during testimony to the Senate committee, though the rules failed to define what would be considered low-cut or too short for a skirt. In 2014, Republicans in the Montana Legislature crafted a floor-session dress code that implored women to “be sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines.” The code also listed inappropriate footwear in the section describing “business formal” attire for women, adding that open-toe sandals, tennis shoes, and flip-flops would not be allowed — despite the fact that these shoe styles are also available to men.
Bergeron-Oliver posted an image of her outfit, which doesn’t seem to be remotely offensive or particularly revealing — it’s a perfect example of why some of these rules seem so silly, if not sexist. It’s clear her outfit wasn’t stopping her from doing her job to the best of her ability. What did stop her was the police officer’s notions of propriety, which were personal as opposed to being an actual rule.
We can all understand the importance of looking professional, but as long as someone is doing her job well, why bother to be so nitpicky? The danger with instances like these is sometimes propriety is left up to arbitrary interpretation and can ultimately take the focus away from the job — or keep you from doing it in the first place.