A couple of years ago Sam had a change of heart about gym dress codes at the University gym. In “Sam changes her mind about gyms and dress codes,” she explained how she initially thought that if the dress code is gender neutral and gender neutrally applied (e.g. everyone has to wear proper footwear or everyone has to wear a shirt), then there was no problem. But that led to a huge outcry from readers, who basically objected to any dress code in a gym, particularly when the reason is to make others feel more comfortable.
The gym dress code issue came up again when a student at the University of Prince Edward Island wore a short top (I wouldn’t even call it a crop top) that didn’t quite reach the top of her leggings, thus exposing a little bit of midriff. The staff at the gym told her it violated the code — no sports bras or crop tops. When she drilled down about the reasons for the code, it came down to this: they are too distracting because they show abs and cleavage. The staff said they were trying to “find a happy medium where girls can still work out with men” (don’t get me started on referring to the women as “girls” and the men as “men”).
If this is the rationale, then we can file it in the same folder as all the other advice we give women to protect themselves from assault and harassment — cover up, don’t walk alone after dark, don’t go in the elevator alone with a man/men, take your drink with you when you use the bathroom at a club or bar…
Why can the women not “still work out with the men” if wearing crop tops? It has zero to do with the women. They’re just there doing their thing with body confidence, wearing a thing that’s designed for working out. So it’s a terrible reason. And if that’s the reason for a dress code, then definitely there should be no dress code.
I think there may be some legitimate reasons for some restrictions — shoes, for example. And I can even think of some gender neutral reasons for wanting everyone to wear a shirt — sweat on the equipment, for example. What I doubt, however, is that those reasons will be gender neutrally applied. Lingering in the background is this idea that women’s bodies should be covered because if they’re not, straight men will be distracted and unable not to sexualize them.
This assumption does both men and women a disservice. My best example of a fitness community where many people wear as little as possible and in my experience no one sexualizes the others in the room (or if they do, they keep it totally to themselves) is hot yoga. Women wear tiny shorts and crop tops. Men wear shorts and frequently go topless. And it’s just fine.
Do you think it’s out of line for gyms etc. to have dress codes?