Sam changes her mind about gyms and dress codes

​ Last week the student newspaper called me looking for a quote from an outraged feminist. The problem is, they didn’t want me. I wasn’t feeling particularly outraged about the issue in question which concerned the dress code of our student gym.

I posted the following to Facebook, “The student gym is apparently asking women to leave and change if they’re wearing crop tops. They have a no bare mid riffs policy. Men have to wear shirts. Student newspaper wants to know what I think. Can’t say I see a problem with this if it’s enforced for everyone. Am I missing something? They’re allowed to have a dress code. What’s wrong with this one?”

I guess I was missing something. Fifty comments later I realized the issue wss pretty controversial. After talking lots with friends, I changed my mind.

Luckily the student reporter called me back. You read the story here.

Here’s an excerpt:

The dress policy has sparked conversation amongst both students and professors on campus. Samantha Brennan, professor of women’s studies and feminist research and philosophy shared her thoughts on the dress policy.

“My original thought was [that] as long as it’s gender neutral and gender neutrally applied there isn’t a particularly feminist objection to having a dress code. Twenty-four hours later, after hearing all of my friends’ outrage at the idea of a dress code, I did begin to wonder what the point of a dress code is,” Brennan said.

“If it’s simply to make other people feel comfortable, I’m not sure we should have a dress code. I think probably people should just decide for themselves what they want to wear to the gym and if you don’t want to look you shouldn’t look.”

The one argument in favour of the dress code that I thought had some merit came from my daughter, Mallory. She worried that university gym isn’t like a commercial gym. All students are members and can’t choose to take their money and membership elsewhere. So she thinks a dress code might be okay at the university fitness centre as a compromise that makes the most number of people feel welcome.

Lots of skin covered but you can’t wear this to my university’s fitness centre

What are your thoughts on gym dress codes? What does your ideal dress code forbid, allow? What principles guide your choices? 

4 thoughts on “Sam changes her mind about gyms and dress codes

  1. I work in a gym that has a fairly standard dress code: Exposed arms and legs are cool, cover the rest. It’s really about maintaining a professional, comfortable atmosphere for all…not about restricting freedoms or imposing values. A gym is workout facility, not a pick up joint.

  2. It feels as if it’s simply moving the uncomfortable around. Person A is uncomfortable seeing skin so is willing to make person B physically uncomfortable by making them cover up what they think is the appropriate skin to fabric ratio. it’s some what ridiculous in my opinion. At one point person A has to learn to accept that other’s bodies are none of their concern. And they shouldn’t be running around draping material on other people to make it their version of “right”. i also find it interesting that showing skin is still equated with sexuality. I’m not wearing a sports bra and bike shorts to be “picked up”, I’m wearing because I don’t want to have sweaty cloth smothering me when I’m pushing my self in the gym.

  3. When I worked in Campus Recreation it was explained to me that the must wear shirts and no crop tops or not just exercising in a sports bra dress code was for health reasons. We had been combating MRSA and the idea was that less sweat/skin contact with the benches and other equipment that people may or may not wipe off after use could reduce the risk of transmission.

    See the third bullet point after Do Not Share Items That Come In Contact With Your Skin

  4. I go to McMaster and they have a strict dress code for all – no sleeveless shirts. They enforce it based on some research coming from McMasfer professors, essentially based on how performance is negatively influenced by people wearing less around you. I grapple with this as someone who thinks the shame of being removed for attire is more harmful than seeing a dude with a sleeveless shirt, but I appreciate that it’s based in research. I just think the shame factor is a big one to think about in terms of building body positivity capacity

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