KANSAS STATE SENATOR MITCH HOLMES made waves when his dress code for testifiers surfaced online. Republican Holmes wrote his 11-point guide for individuals who testify before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, of which he is a member. Four of the senator’s female colleagues — two Republicans and two Democrats — took issue with the guide, which unfairly targets women who take the floor.
According to The Topeka-Capital Journal, “Holmes said he considered stipulating men had to wear suit and tie when addressing his Senate committee, but decided males didn’t need supplemental instruction on how to look professional.” The newspaper also notes that women “are less likely [than men] to delve into casual attire” while they have the floor.
Holmes’ dress code states that, “[f]or ladies, low-cut necklines and mini-skirts are inappropriate.” The guide leaves the “appropriate” depth and length of these garments to the senator’s discretion. Elaborating, Holmes said: “It’s one of those things that’s hard to define. Put it out there and let people know we’re really looking for you to be addressing the issue rather than trying to distract or bring eyes to yourself.”
This isn’t just sexist, but downright classist, as Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn observed: “I am more interested in what they have to say about the direction our state should go than what they’re wearing that day.” According to its website, the Kansas Legislature “has an open legislative process,” which “[t]he public is invited to attend.” Members of the public may also testify regarding proposed legislation by contacting the relevant committee in advance.
Not every member of the public at large has the means to afford professional attire. Although Kansas has lower poverty and unemployment rates than the U.S. as a whole, it’s pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to financial matters. As such, it’s reasonable to expect that there are people with valuable testimony to present before the Kansas Legislature who may not have an outfit that meets Holmes’ standards. To think that anyone who does not have dress clothes has nothing to say is classist nonsense.
Sen. Holmes is a 53-year-old man who believes that the women who come before his committee need his guidance on how to dress in order “to be effective in their presentation.” Of course, in Holmes’ book, “effective” means “less of a distraction,” and that’s the core of the problem.
In the 21st century, we should hold male politicians — and all men, really — to a higher standard, one that asks them to stop objectifying women. Holmes’ requirements are no less a part of rape culture than the absurd high school dress codes one reads about every week.
He tells The Topeka-Capital Journal that he “added [the rule mentioned above] out of respect for… the wives of the men in the room, including my own wife.” If this sounds as if the politician has shouldered some of the burden of his inability to avoid the “distraction” of cleavage or thigh, make no mistake: he holds women responsible for his wandering eyes. Yes, in Holmes’ book, ogling is disrespectful to a man’s wife, but it isn’t really his fault, because the boobies were right there and how could he possibly focus on what the woman before him was saying if she wasn’t dressed like his grandmother? It’s not like she has eyes he could look at, or words he could listen to, amirite?
Look, it’s simple. Sen. Mitch Holmes doesn’t deserve to be an elected official. He, and any of his colleagues who support him, have betrayed their constituents’ trust. Kansans cast ballots for these men to become lawmakers. There is no caveat to Holmes’ job description that allows him to slack off or steal time — and taxpayer dollars — because he chooses to ogle women.
By his own admission, Holmes is easily distracted, which makes him unfit to hold office. We would not allow a construction worker to use attractive women as an excuse for assembling a dangerously faulty building, so why would we let a legislator, who readily admits that seeing the tops of women’s breasts and their legs distracts him from doing his job, use that as an excuse, not only to bully and control the women around him, but to slough his guilt off onto them?
Holmes gives basic levels of respect only to those women who play his impossible game of gender judo and meet financial requirements. The only disrespect that occurred in the Kansas Legislature was Sen. Holmes’ blatant disregard for anything a constituent who did not fit his sexist, classist frame had to say. Eyeballing is not a slight against Holmes’ wife, the wives of his colleagues, or even the women he targeted, although it is an insult to all of us. Instead, it’s a slight against the men themselves, a critical testimony against their character.