Double standard of the dress code

By  Emma Hunter, Youth Speak News
  • March 24, 2016

In recent years, there has been public debate about the need for dress code reforms, particularly for female workers in the restaurant industry. Workers and restaurant patrons have complained that it is unfair for female servers and staff to be forced to wear short skirts and high heels as part of the establishment’s dress code standards. This issue hinges on discrimination towards female workers, as their male counterparts often don’t have the same dress code requirements.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission called for an end to sexualized dress codes in a report released on March 8, which coincided with International Women’s Day. The commission stated that, “While International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, unequal treatment is still a daily challenge.” 

In the past few years, I’ve personally seen and experienced these unfair dress code standards in workplaces. I have friends who worked in the restaurant industry who felt that if they didn’t dress provocatively, they would lose their job to someone who would be willing to. I’ve eaten at restaurants where I felt uncomfortable with the noticeable difference between female and male uniforms. How should I, as a young Catholic, respond to these issues? 

Catholic social teaching concedes that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is foundational. In the case of the dress code debate, the dignity of the human person is compromised when someone feels uncomfortable in the clothing they are forced to wear.

The workplace dress code issue is a specific situation where we are called to be a witness in a culture that is obsessed with conformity. St. Paul advises us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). 

In order to not be conformed by the world, it’s necessary to first learn what the issues are and to do some research and ultimately become more informed. The Ontario Human Rights Commission report is a good place to start. 

St. Paul challenges us to be counter-cultural and as young Catholics we are especially called to defend the dignity of the human person. Responding to and discussing issues like unfair dress codes is one way that we can live out this call in our daily lives. 

(Hunter, 24, is a first-year Master’s student in history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.)

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