Wow, this university’s graduation day dress code was seriously sexist

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Moya Crockett
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By now, we’re well aware of the fact that many, many places – from schools and offices to gyms, airplanes and chess tournaments – have anti-women dress codes. Whether the issue is 12-year-old girls being banned from wearing vest tops to school because they might ‘distract boys’, or grown women being ordered to shave their legs for work, examples of sartorial sexism are depressingly rife.

One event where you might hope women could escape disappointing dress codes is on their university graduation day – but alas, we don’t live in a perfect world.

The Guardian reports that a university in Belgium has been forced to issue an apology after students were told that women should wear cleavage-baring tops to their graduation ceremony.

The suggestion was contained in an email sent to medical students at Brussels Free University (ULB). Buried among useful information about graduation was this handy hint: “From an aesthetic point of view, it is preferable if young women wear a dress or a skirt and a nice low neckline.”

Male graduates, the email advised, could wear suits. (It did not specify whether they should also get their chests out.)

A screenshot of the email was posted on an ULB ‘Confessions’ Facebook page, where reactions from students at the university ranged from angry to disbelieving.

“Basically it’s saying: ‘Women, great that you’re doctors, but what you have in your head doesn’t matter… All that matters is your breasts… And especially the fact that they’re on show!” wrote one commenter.

Another wrote: “Is this a joke? They are graduates of medicine and we’re asking them to show their chest?”

Watch: What happened when the Stylist team wore power suits to work

The university published a formal apology on its own Facebook page after the story was picked up by the Belgian media, saying: “The Faculty of Medicine, through its Dean, presents its most sincere apologies to all Students who received the mail.”

However, an apology was missing from a second email sent to students concerned, reports the French newspaper Le Parisien.

“You can of course wear the outfit of your choice, provided that it is correct and consistent with the solemn aspect of this unique event in your life,” read the second email.

“Whether you’re a boy or a girl, we’re just hoping that there will be some harmony between the gown and your outfit.”

Because remember, ladies: nothing says “solemn” and “unique event in your life” like showing a bit of skin.

Image: iStock


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.