Can Female Representatives Wear Hats On The Floor Of Congress

As the institutional offices of national government, Congress is a political landscape where certain traditions loom heavily with decades or centuries worth of history informing the many decisions made in day-to-day operations. But as the first branch of government to shape and clarify the actions of America—it is also a place where significant reforms can be asked for, and even fought for. The centuries-old prohibition of women wearing hats on the floor of Congress is one such tradition—but until just this year 2020, it is still something that came with strict enforcement, specifically as it concerns female representatives.

The long-standing rule against hats was mostly intended for reasons of eye contact being obstructed by brims and the occasional feathers, though it also had to do with modesty and appropriateness. After all, while hats were staples in fashion during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they were mainly seen as practical areas for men to tuck away timely documents and preserve whatever hairstyle they were sporting. So it is no surprise that a centuries-old tradition enforced only for practical reasons , has been challenged lately.

In January of 2020, female representatives brought an uproar of opposition to the 159-year-old ban when Representative Jackie Speier of California asked to wear a white ribbon in support of a colleague undergoing treatment for cancer, and was denied permission. This rejection sparked outrage and even brought the topic to a wider scale, from U.S politics to Life and Style magazine. It also has ignited the conversation about why women still have to contend with certain trivial standards when considering both dress code and hiring practices.

The conversations about restrictions aside, the question still remains, can female representatives break the bounds of the 159-year-old ban and wear hats on the floor of Congress? Emboldened by attempts to modernize certain aspects of policy and tradition, Speier resorted to a groundbreaking decision. After being denied the white ribbon and having her career stonewalled in favor of conformity, she broke the ban.

In a feat of defiance, Speier took her hat-wearing protest to the metaphorical stage and went to the floor of Congress sporting a beautiful blue brimmed hat– prompting bystander’s applause and delivering a cold hard answer to the 159-year-old question. In a powerful move, Representative Speier showed that not only are conventions changing, but that even the rules of the oldest government in the union can be his own set of sweeping changes. Bits of archaic tradition can be thrown away without hinderance and that female representatives are no longer obliged to comply with trivial customs.

The Final Call: Does the Hat Ban Still Stand?

Five months after Rep. Speier’s defiance, the Answer is a confirmed No. On May 19th, 2020 the Sergeants at Arms of the House of Representatives issued a statement that new rules are in place to reflect the changing times; clearing the way for female representatives to continue to wear hats in the U.S House of Representatives.

The statement also clarified that the hats will continue to follow the more general standards of dress already in place, including length, color and size. The changes to the already existing regulations also added that the overall style and design of the headwear would depend on the individual’s taste but had to carry a professional and respectful tone.

Though the changes may seem small, the implications for the future of the 159-year-old rule as well as US congress are monumental. The move to amend an age-old regulation encourages pave the way for further reforms and re-examination of irrelevant measures that may have been taken for granted in the congress in the past. The new rule sparks a long-awaited conversation and shift in the workplace, proving that females are gaining more control over their agency within their workplace.

Issues With Women’s Agency in Congress?

The banning of hats in congress does not exist in a vacuum. The breaking of the 159-year-old hat ban shows that the issues of female representation in Congress can and must be addressed, and is only one indicator of a broadly wider systemic issue of women’s agency. Women in politics face many challenges such as the marginalizing of their opinions, vying with the already existing precedent of challenges.

Though hats may seem a minor item, it symbolizes the broader issue of the importance for women to have their voices heard in Congress. From clothes to opinions, female representatives’ agency is gaining traction. When Representative Jackie Speier broke the ban, she was not asking to be allowed to wear hats, she was asking for the right to have her voice heard. The new policy only encourages more of these shifts towards greater equality and recognition for female representatives, and not just in the fashion-related issues.

The Rule Amendment is also a collective call to action for both male and female representatives. The change in policy shows that legislators can not only step up and stand up for initiatives that would not have been accepted not too long ago, but can also successfully tackle large-scale reforms. The fight for something as seemingly trivial as a hat, becomes a symbol of taking a significant step forward in rights for females. Propelled by the re-examination of the hat ban, members of Congress and its spectators are being encouraged to ponder further questions.

A Long Road Ahead For Women’s Agency

The 159-year-old ban on hats in the House of Representatives may have finally come to an end, but the potential struggles of female representatives in Congress is far from being resolved. Even if the culture has shifted and women do now have more agency, there are still many hurdles to be crushed before the job of women in politics is considered equal to their peers.

The new amendment now only opens the doors for further conversations about traditional protocol. Whether or not the changes will stand the test of time and will effectively improve the agency of female representatives is still being determined. But until then, the fashion industry is commemorating the small victory however they can, finally signing their own bill of rights.

Language Inequality in Congress

Another prevalent issue of concern for female representatives still stands: language inequality. The language used by female political figures is often discounted and ignored in favor of reinforcing the status quo. Women are then quickly branded as emotional or having overemphasized tones and accents, even though this only highlights the conditioning that occurs in the existing working culture of Congress.

On top of these already existent biases, people also quickly attribute a lack of knowledge or expertise when women speak up about the topic of their own choice. This is especially dangerous trend in a political setting, wherein the goal is to engage in conversation and constructive debates to create lasting progress. These criticisms can also lead to a wide range of hurtful outcomes if left unchecked.

Recognizing that change can only start with mutual understanding and respect for both global and local ideas, the language debate reaches a head when she enters Congress. It is then when women have to deal with decades or centuries worth of tradition that informs the language, tone and discourse. All of these elements factor in to how women process and communicate.

To ensure that female representatives are given equal weight in debates, both male and female representatives must try to diversify their discourse; making sure room is left to engage in more meaningful conversations. Allowing for ample space and scope to explore new ideas, perspectives, and solutions is key to a fair debate and ultimately a successful one. When all members of Congress– both male and female– work together, it is then when progress can be made and the issue of language inequality can be addressed.

Commensurate Representation and Addressing the Gender Gap

The fight to ensure there is an equal representation for women in Congress has been a long one. Despite the breaking of the hat ban five months ago, the gender gap still persists. So much more a reform needs to be considered to ensure that women’s voices are actually heard and that commensurate representation is delivered to Congress.

Hiring and salary practices are two areas of reform that need to addressed quickly. Women are still earning less than men doing similar work, and neither party seems content with that rate. The wage gap is a problem that continues long after women have entered the political arena, and with no plans of scaling back soon, the need for reform becomes even more apparent. It is only with the help of commensurate representation and the implementation of new standards that women’s salaries and job statuses can be improved.

From hats to wages, change is in the air and the pay and playing field in Congress looks to balance in the future. But until then, all

Roy Burchard

Roy S. Burchard is an experienced hat enthusiast and writer who has been writing about hats for over 20 years. He has a deep understanding of the history and styles of hats, and his writing focuses on the unique features of each type of hat, from fedoras to top hats.

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