'Handmaids' in the House? Dress Code Requires (Most) Women to Cover Their Shoulders

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Michelle Obama flexes her arms in response to a joke about her habit of wearing sleeveless dresses during the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, D.C., on May 9, 2009. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

If you're covering the House of Representatives, you'd better cover up.

That was subject of much online debate this week after CBS News published an article dissecting the dress code for female reporters in the U.S. House chamber. The report, which went live early Thursday morning, told the story of a woman who was recently blocked from entering the Speaker's Lobby because she was wearing a sleeveless dress.

Related: White House women face bigger gender pay gap than national average

She tried to cover her shoulders with pages from her notebook, but she still broke the dress code.

Women "have been told they're not allowed to wear sleeveless blouses or dresses, sneakers or open-toed shoes," the story read, adding that men are expected to wear suit jackets and ties in the House chamber and Speaker's Lobby. "These rules are far from clear-cut, and there are no visible signs defining them. They are also not enforced on the Senate side of the Capitol."

The article went on to explain that, though House Speaker Paul Ryan has asked representatives to "wear appropriate business attire during all sittings," and those requirements apply to the Speaker's Lobby, the policy apparently isn't universal. Not only did former first lady Michelle Obama regularly forego sleeves in the chamber, but current first daughter Ivanka Trump has done so as well. In 2011, Roll Call wrote Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann "frequently [wore] sleeveless tops on the floor to vote."

By Thursday afternoon, Jezebel had condemned the rule, writing, "It really is truly something that the House wants to deny essential health benefits to women, including prenatal care, while simultaneously worrying themselves over the appropriateness of shoulders and toes."

The CBS News report also made waves on Twitter, where several female journalists shared their own encounters with the dress code.

This is real. Fellow female reporters barred from Speaker's lobby for wearing sleeveless dresses while doing their jobs. (It's hot in DC) 🙃 https://t.co/8evY6wQmA8

— K Tully-McManus (@ktullymcmanus) July 6, 2017

Wore a sleeveless, work-appropriate dress to Speaker's Lobby six years ago and was advised to "please cover up" next time. https://t.co/66biNrmbtQ

— Patricia Mazzei (@PatriciaMazzei) July 6, 2017

I was asked to leave the Speaker's Lobby for wearing a sleeveless dress as a female lawmaker in a similar dress walked on the House floor https://t.co/8miHuEyaWy

— Emily Goodin (@Emilylgoodin) July 6, 2017

Others weighed in as well, with responses ranging from comparisons to the sexist dystopia in The Handmaid's Tale to arguments it was a non-issue.

Love the new uniforms for women on Capitol Hill. pic.twitter.com/AxZoehm1cz

— Sarah Lerner (@SarahLerner) July 6, 2017

Thus confirming that the United States Government is run by a pack of 7th grade boys. https://t.co/6gKQ393Tjo

— Sophie Vershbow (@svershbow) July 6, 2017

1. this rule is 100 percent not new. 2. ive seen congressmen be forced to put jackets on before going to the floor. https://t.co/QiYTLMVzJF

— Kate Nocera (@KateNocera) July 6, 2017

guys stop blaming Paul Ryan for this it's a dress code that I've gotten away with disregarding in the past this does not need to be avenged

— Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) May 4, 2017

And, of course, another part of the internet seized upon the opportunity to make Second Amendment jokes, echoing President Barack Obama's 2009 quip at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner: Don't women have the right to bare arms?