Preposterously sexist dress code enforcement is, sadly, a fairly common occurrence in women’s daily lives. From a young age, we’re taught that our bodies are responsible for “distracting” boys, and that we must cover up accordingly. It’s a tedious cycle, but it’s one we’ve all begrudgingly earned to navigate in the years since puberty.
However, there are still certain baffling incidents of this casual sexism that can cause even the most jaded among us to do a double-take.
Sarah Villafañe, a student at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, walked into the school’s gym wearing black yoga pants and a black, cropped exercise tank top. She was promptly told by gym staff that she would need to “put on a shirt.” (Um, what is your definition of “shirt,” guys?)
Though Villafañe attempted to continue working out, the gym staff eventually forced her to leave when she refused to change clothes.
Villafañe posted to Facebook about the incident, showing the “offending” outfit in question.
In the photo caption, Villafañe wrote:
I’ve worn this same outfit all day. Went to 3 classes and spoke personally with each of my professors today and they didn’t have a problem. But when I walked into the gym they asked me to put on a different shirt. Obviously I didn’t bring an extra shirt to the gym and wasn’t about to wear my flannel while working out. So I just said mhm ok and went about my work out pretty pissed off that they even asked me to change.
Then, when I’m in the BACK CORNER of the gym doing abs on the floor, another staff member comes up and asks me to “put my shirt back on.” I said “I have a shirt on.” They say “no that’s not a shirt. You have to wear a whole shirt” I say “how is this not a shirt?” And she says “You need full coverage. If you have a problem, we always have our boss here.” I laughed and said “Alright bring him over here if he has a problem.”
A few minutes later while I’m doing more work outs on the floor, the “boss” comes up. He says “I’m gonna need you to put a shirt on.” Again, I tell them “I am wearing a shirt.” He says “I need you to put on a shirt or I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.” I said “But I HAVE A SHIRT ON.” He says “Are you gonna put a shirt on?” And I said “Well if this isn’t a shirt… no. I’m not gonna put a shirt on.”
Naturally, the whole thing was utterly confusing, because this attire is not uncommon in the typical gym experience. Why should Villafañe be targeted for wearing exercise clothes to, well … exercise?
“I bought this outfit to work out in because it’s COMFORTABLE,” she wrote in the caption of the photo. “What is the issue? Why can’t I work out in this outfit? Is my belly button distracting to the general 85% male demographic that your gym serves? I’m forced to leave, WHY? Honestly I’m so floored that I just got kicked out for this.”
After the post went understandably viral, Villafañe later updated her status to report that the gym had contacted her to clarify their position on the matter — although their justification was pretty damn weak, particularly considering that there was no visible signage anywhere to support this supposed policy.
The gym has since said that they kicked me out for “sanitary concerns.” However, they never made those sanitary concerns clear when they asked me to change. They told me I need “more coverage” and nothing more. Not to mention, their website has no written dress code anyway. The dress code at the front of the gym simply says “Athletic wear must be worn.” I would say that what I’m wearing (whether you believe it’s a sports bra or a crop top) is completely normal and considered athletic wear.
A College of Charleston spokesperson, Mike Robertson (no relation, even though, um, that’s my dad’s name), told TODAY that the gym’s concern with the spread of skin diseases led them to ask Villafañe to change her shirt.
“Because of this possibility, the College of Charleston and many other colleges and universities follow best practices that require people in the gym to wear a full shirt while working out in order to minimize skin exposure to possible infectious agents”
To which I say: Psh. Yeah right.
“Many people have told me that they have seen girls wearing similar outfits to mine in the gym, as well as men wearing muscle tees that expose their midriffs,” Villafañe told TODAY. “It is interesting to me that the men I have seen wearing jeans in the gym were not bothered or kicked out for not abiding by the dress code rules,” she adds, clearly referring to the rule stating that “Athletic wear must be worn.”
The whole thing seems so archaic and puritanical that it’s bizarre to imagine this incident taking place in modern times. That is, until you take a gander at some of the comments on Villafañe’s Facebook photo.
Welp. Thanks, guys. You’re the reason we can’t have nice things.