Tag Archives: anti-trans legislation

The Threat Posed by Women’s Bare Arms

Michelle Obama in front of an American flag, in a simple black dress with bare arms

Debbie says:

Like every progressive in this country, and most in the world, I’m getting hard to shock. The Missouri legislature has shocked me, however, by adopting a dress code (introduced by a Republican woman legislator) that forbids women (including elected women) to appear on the legislative floor with bare arms.

You think immediately of Margaret Atwood’s Gilead, or of Victorian fashions and dress codes, but it turns out that this isn’t a fictional or ancient issue; it’s been around for much of the current century. One of the focal points appears to be that dread symbol of women’s strength and confidence, our former first Lady, Michelle Obama. I don’t remember following this at the time, but Mrs. Obama appeared at formal events with bare arms, and that caused a minor news flurry. Here’s a CBS piece from 2009, President Obama’s first year in office:

Never before, surely, has a set of bare arms launched so much discussion than in the weeks since Mrs. Obama appeared sleeveless at her husband’s speech to Congress in chilly February. Certainly not in equally chilly January 1963, when Jacqueline Kennedy wore one of her many sleeveless outfits to her own husband’s State of the Union address.

Noveck goes into various fashion analyses of Mrs. Obama’s arms, including the theory that talking about them distracts from the work she was actually doing as first lady. Of course, one of the reasons that her arms got attention and Jackie Kennedy’s didn’t is that, unlike Mrs. Kennedy, Mrs. Obama is Black and thus subject to vastly more scrutiny and criticism. It’s also true that Jackie Kennedy was first lady before the 1970s feminist wave, and fewer people were nervous, scared, or hypercritical–emotions which always arise when women proclaim strength.

The problem arose again in Canada, in very similar terms to today’s issue in Missouri, in 2019. According to Tina Lovgren at CBC News, the British Columbia legislature enforced what they called a “conservative contemporary dress code” forbidding bare arms, and also chastizing women who weren’t wearing slips so you could see that they had two legs (!) under their dresses.

The Obama controversy seems to have been mostly short-lived, though it reared up again now and then through the 8 years of the Obama presidency. The British Columbia dress code appears to still be in force today. The Missouri code, however, is perhaps more likely to get longer-lasting attention, in part because it is one of dozens of examples of Republican over-reach. While they scream about governments having “no right” to control the use of natural gas (which causes very significant health effects), they delight in using government to control bodies: Black and brown people’s bodies, pregnant people’s bodies, trans people’s bodies, and now female legislators’ bodies. Forbidding bare arms may be one of the least life-threatening forms of bodily control … and it’s also emblematic of what they believe they have the right to do.

Throughout Western history, women’s fashion has been a battleground in culture wars, a tool to control women’s power, and a marker for moral panics. Dress codes are a way of tracking how these movements progress–and Missouri has just issued another giant red flag, which must not go unnoticed.


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Transgender Day of Remembrance: 2021

Debbie says:

This year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance is particularly disturbing. According to Tori Cooper at Human RIghts Campaign, this year has included the largest number of trans and gender nonconforming people’s deaths by violence since statistics were first collected in 2013. Forty-six people that we know of lost their lives so far this year, and the real number is almost certainly much higher.

An equally shocking and shameful statistic to contemplate is that more anti-trans, gender suppressive bills were passed in 2021 than in any previous year.  Those laws don’t just limit what trans and NB people can do in their day-to-day lives, they also encourage and support violence against the trans community.

The only things we can do as individuals of any gender are first, to continue to support trans and NB people at risk — who, of course, are predominantly Black, Brown, and poor; and second to fight these laws everywhere, and particularly in our own states. Laws that have been passed can be repealed. People who are vulnerable can be protected.

This year, I picked my one person off the list to call out, because I thought her name was beautiful, and I can imagine her being excited to choose it and have it represent her–Zoella (Zoey) Rose Martinez.

Zoella “Zoey” Rose Martinez

Her family says:

Zoey loved hanging out with friends and spending time with her dogs. Zoey mastered makeup that accentuated her loving and caring personality. Zoey was the caretaker of her mother after her mother survived COVID but was in recovery. Zoey loved helping out around the family farm. Zoey had a beautiful spirit, she always had a smile and had only kind words to say about others. Zoey was a born leader and her peers acknowledged her as such. Her character was that she would debate endlessly for what she thought was right. She was very witty.

So I can think of her caring for her family, holding her opinions strongly, working on the family farm. She was shot and killed in Maple Valley, Washington on August 31. Her family must be reeling from the double impact of their sick mother and their lost sister.

Some year maybe we will be able to say that the numbers have gone down … ideally to zero. Until then, we remember and mourn and organize.


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