A girls’ leadership program that promotes female empowerment is getting slammed for a “sexist and antiquated” dress code.
Utah Girls State is an exclusive, yearly summer workshop series for teen girls who have completed their junior year of high school. From June 4th to 9th, the $400 program at Weber State University, put forth by The American Legion Auxiliary, a non-profit for veteran women, teaches public speaking, debate, drafting public legislation, and how to run for office with a political platform.
Girls are required to wear dresses or skirts of “modest length,” per the dress code on the organization’s website. “No pants or shorts are allowed during these meetings. Long or capri pants/jeans, are allowed for some evening activities. Shorts and sweats are allowed in the dorms and may be allowed during exercise times. We recommend a semi-formal dress for the banquet and a formal for graduation, but they are not required—informal dresses may be worn.”
While Utah Girls State runs entirely independent of Utah Boys State (also held at Weber State University), teen boy participants are issued two T-shirts to wear during the week and are only required to wear dress pants and a shirt with a tie for the graduation ceremony.
The girls’ dress code doesn’t sit well with one Utah Mom who on Friday, vented to nearly 4 million followers on the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation.
While sharing a photo of her daughter Isabelle who was accepted into Utah Girls State, Lura Dulaney Snow wrote, “We are excited for her to have such a cool learning experience! We are stoked for scholarship opportunities! We are also disgusted by the sexist, antiquated rules of the girls dress code. Boys get to wear slacks and a t-shirt they are issued upon arrival. Girls must wear a dress or a skirt. At all times. No pants. Because… you don’t want your women to get all uppity and start thinking they can do all the things men can do. Like sitting without worrying about your knees showing. Like holding political office.”
Snow continued, “Like being more than just some man’s wife and a 2nd class citizen. This rule has been protested multiple times in the past, most states allow girls to wear the same things as the boys, and still… here we are in Utah in 2018 telling our girls they are nothing more than what they are wearing. I am disgusted and disappointed that in order for my child to have this opportunity I have to tell her to play their game. I just want her to know that she is more than the clothes she is wearing. And that it is possible for a woman to be professional in pants!”
The mom’s post got 2.8K reactions and almost 900 comments from people with many calling the dress code “ridiculous.”
“How about we let her dress respectfully in a way that she is comfortable,” one commenter suggested. “Perhaps she, like me, would rather wear a suit and jacket, maybe with a tie or without. Either way, it is HER decision, and she should NOT have to conform to sexist gender roles to participate in an educational or civics program.”
Another wrote, “Wear the dress with jeans underneath and whatever she wants on top. Even better, try to find a poodle skirt from the 1950’s!! Sue them later.” And one even recommended that all girls in the program should protest by wearing pants.
“Isabelle is in the National Honor Society and has a 4.0 GPA and it was an honor to be chosen for Utah Girls State,” Snow, 36, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We’re frustrated by the implication that girls will be judged by their looks, not their merit.”
When the 17-year-old initially received the offer, Snow hesitated to accept due to fears her daughter, with her pink hair and nose ring, wouldn’t fit in. “I actually worry about adults being mean to her, more so than kids,” she says.
Snow claims that on Friday, she spoke to a representative of Utah Girls State and was told, “Girls in dresses behave differently than girls in pants” and “Girls in pants are more respectful.”
Utah Girls State has previously been criticized for its dress code. According to a 2017 article published in the Salt Lake Tribune, Chloe Collins, who attended the program after spending her summer campaigning for Sen. Bernie Sanders, was taken aback by the rules.
“The dress code, I feel, is doing a disservice to all the girls,” Collins told the publication. “When I found out that I had to wear a dress or a skirt, I was a little offended.”
She added that wearing skirts causes girls to cross their legs, a position “where she is folded in on herself” and that the dress code is “a way to force women to make themselves smaller around men.”
Cary Fisher, ALA Utah Girls State Education Director tells Yahoo Lifestyle in an email, “Girls State is so much more than the dress code and when you focus on this one detail, you miss the value of what this program has to offer year over year…Our dress code does require girls to wear dresses or skirts during the day. They are in meetings with various state, local, county and military speakers as well as with their own Girls State cities. Once they return to the dorm in the evening, there are no restrictions on dress. Those girls who are not comfortable in a dress or skirt also have the option of long skirts or dresses with leggings or tights. The staff are required to follow the same dress code.”
She adds, “The dress code has been discussed in executive meetings of the ALA Utah Girls State staff, Department of Utah ALA Executive Committee and with membership at our Department convention. We have not received a resolution from any of the Units requesting a change to the Girls State Constitution and By-Laws regarding the dress code.”
Snow says Isabelle is grateful for the opportunity and will abide by the organization’s dress code. However, the mother says, the experience has sparked an idea: “Her political platform will be sexist dress codes.”
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