Gentlemen of Jefferson City, please refrain from veering off track.
There is one sure way to end the sexist, slovenly behavior of some male politicians toward female college interns and other women working in, or elected to, our state capital. Demand that men behave properly. Focus there.
The idea of a dress code for interns was floated Tuesday, then nixed as backlash built. Let’s hope the legislators grasp the gaffe and aren’t just running for cover from a bad idea after two Missouri politicians have resigned over allegations of inappropriate relationships with college interns.
The proposal was a centuries-old patriarchal paradigm: Shift the guilt so that the woman is chastised and monitored, lest she lead the innocent man astray. As if the sight of a knee uncovered unleashes a torrent of hormones that men simply cannot control.
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The errant male politicians need to change. Not the women who have been forced to deal with the juvenile antics of some representatives, senators and lobbyists.
And yet the idea to focus on the women’s behavior, via their dress, was among the fastest replies to sprout. It’s backward thinking. Worse, it comes from people who make laws for the rest of us. As much as I’m a stickler for appropriate business dress for both men and women, this misses the point.
Men should have been offended too. The idea assumed that they are weak, unable to control themselves at the sight of an attractive woman. It implied that men will be men. And it’s up to the women to be on guard.
The onus is on the elected officials to behave with respect for themselves, the intern, the political office that they hold. College interns are there to learn about good government, not to prop up some middle-aged man’s faltering ego.
The suggestions that Rep. Kevin Engler circulated in a draft proposal were thoughtfully crafted with the intention of cultivating a more respectful environment. Many, like GPA requirements and a neutral ombudsman, would give the program more structure.
The intern scandal has also reignited talk of long-needed ethics reforms on allowable gifts from lobbyists, a positive development. Booze paid for by lobbyists and after-hours carousing lay a fertile ground for the antics.
Still, the most effective means to curb sexism in Jefferson City will likely occur informally. Sexual harassment at the capital will cease to be a problem when men hold other men accountable.