Yael T. Abouhalkah

Missouri needs ban on lascivious male lawmakers, not a new dress code for interns

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl resigned recently after revelations that he exchanged sexually suggestive texts with an intern.
Missouri House Speaker John Diehl resigned recently after revelations that he exchanged sexually suggestive texts with an intern. File illustration

The news that some Missouri state legislators want a dress code for interns was widely mocked around the state on Tuesday.

That included House Speaker Todd Richardson, who said later in the day that his body “will not be implementing” a dress code change.

And for good reasons: The fact that some male legislators have taken advantage of young, female interns is a problem that will not be solved by a dress code.

That kind of simplistic thinking ignores the real concerns — the attitudes and actions of male lawmakers.

They include Missouri House Speaker John Diehl, who resigned after exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a female intern, and House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, who resigned after two interns accused him of sexual harassment.

People like Republican Rep. Nick King of Liberty also are part of the problem.

Consider what he wrote in an email to colleagues who are looking at ways to improve the intern program in the General Assembly.

“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” he said. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”

King is basically saying women who don’t dress modestly and conservatively are a distraction for people like him, the implication being that he can’t do his job if someone like that is around him.

But what, exactly, is a “good, modest, conservative” dress code?

And as Star reporter Jason Hancock pointed out Tuesday, the “Legislative Intern Handbook” already says women should wear “appropriate business attire (such as dress, suit, dress slacks and jacket).”

With that being the case, it seems the men in Jefferson City, especially, are hoping that a new intern policy will shield them from the “distractions” posed by female interns.

So why not just be upfront and honest about it?

Future intern applications could include a special line for women applying for the job, asking if they consider themselves to be loose women who might “distract” the male legislators from doing the job they were elected to do.

Too sexist?

Hmm.

Here’s a better idea: Elect more responsible men to the legislature. Maybe voters should insist on a special requirement for men applying to be a Missouri lawmaker.

It could rule out any men who consider themselves to be lascivious, salacious and simply indecent.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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