Culture

Brown Accused of Sexism for Gym Dress Code That’s Exactly the Same for Men as for Women

#CheckYourPerspirationPrivilege (Photo: Arne9001/Dreamstime)
Two women asked to leave the gym over the policy don't understand what discrimination is.

Two Rhode Island School of Design students were kicked out of Brown University’s gym for wearing midriff-baring gear, and now they’re insisting that the dress code is sexist — even though the rules are exactly the same for men as they are for women.

RISD student Elizabeth Dimitroff claims that she was told to either cover herself or leave while she was working out at Brown’s Nelson Fitness Center in a “sports bra with high-waisted leggings” last spring, according to the Brown Daily Herald. And another RISD student, Chloe Karayiannis, said that an employee at the gym told her that her bare stomach might make other people at the gym uncomfortable while she was working out there over winter break.

The Herald reports that although both women consider the policy to be “sexist and discriminatory towards women,” school officials have insisted that that’s not the case. In fact, Nelson Fitness Center manager Jason Bishoff told the publication that if an employee really did tell Karayiannis that the reason she had to cover up was to avoid making other people uncomfortable, then that employee simply did not understand the real reason for the rule — which he said is “to reduce skin contact with workout equipment.”

“We don’t want anybody to feel that this is targeted at them,” Bishoff said. “These rules apply to all genders, all ages, all populations.”

That’s right: According to Bishoff, the reason behind the rules is not to maximize the power of the patriarchy, but to minimize the amount of sweaty, germ-covered skin that will be touching the equipment. Still, both Dimitroff and Karayiannis insist that — gender-neutral or not — the rules are clearly rooted in a misogynistic desire to police women’s bodies

Dimitroff told the Herald that the policy “place[s] the blame on women and the way women dress,” and “blames women for something that men need to change about how they view women’s bodies.” And Karayiannis said that “it doesn’t matter whether or not it applies to men as well because it’s sending the message that what I’m wearing is not respectable and associates what I’m wearing with respect.”

But here’s the thing, Karayiannis — it actually does matter “whether or not it applies to men as well.” The definition of “discriminatory” is “making or showing an unfair or prejudicial distinction between different categories of people,” therefore, a policy that shows no distinction between categories would not qualify. In fact, it would be the opposite.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online

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