Barnard's New Dress Code for RAs Says "No Bellies, Butts, or Bras." What?

Timur Emek/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, resident advisors at Barnard College in New York were asked to sign a contract promising not to show any part of their bellies, butts, or bras in order to "get as much out of your training as possible." The RAs told Feministing that the issue wasn't discussed and there was no option to consent, and if RAs didn't comply with the rules they would be asked to go home and change. Their rationale behind the rule was that the women must hide these parts of their bodies for the sake of "professionalism" because ladies, there's nothing more professional than conforming to the body image standards of white, corporate America!

The dress code issue, of course, isn't limited to college RAs and staff. It's a gender-specific issue that starts from a very young age when girls are told they shouldn't show too much skin because they don't want to appear "unladylike," "slutty," or "easy," which are ways of shaming not only what a young woman wears but also the very body she puts the clothes on. There are two reasons this issue is gender-specific; the first, girls and women are the only ones being asked to hide their bodies — it's rare for there to be a similar dress code enforced for men. The second reason is oftentimes the rationale used to explain the dress code policy to young girls is that men will get distracted and in order to keep their attention spans on more pressing matters, it is the woman's responsibility to avoid doing things that might distract men, as though it is our duty to ensure our male classmates stay on track with their lives at the expense of our autonomy.

In the same way it's inappropriate to teach a young girl to feel ashamed of her body, it's inappropriate to impose regulations on the body of an adult without explicit consent. I am almost entirely certain that a little cleavage from a v-neck or midriff from a crop top will not prevent resident assistants or their residents from becoming strong, beautiful, Barnard women; if anything, those things should enhance their freedom of expression and cultural diversity.