Steph's Place

6th March. The right to wear trousers

Men always have oppressed women.

Men always have oppressed women.

In November of last year, a video circulated of a Chinese man apparently beating his wife to death in the street whilst passers-by just walked by. Fortunately, something so extreme is improbable to occur in most western cultures. Still, for sure, men murder women (very often their partner) within the home every week, even here in the UK.

But oppression can be more subtle, right down to the clothes that we wear.

Anyone who watches the BBC TV programme "Call the Midwife" may have noticed women in the 1950s never wore trousers - despite the obvious advantages of them when working in a nursing environment. Indeed as a child, I recall my mum and sister saying they were "wearing trousers" like it was an act of rebellion that could lead to criminal proceedings.

And indeed it was illegal to wear trousers in many countries or cities. For example, Paris had a bye-law, which meant that women had to ask the police for permission to wear trousers that was not repealed until 2013!

The UK newspaper 'The Independent reported this:

The by-law appeared to have been introduced because French revolutionary women started to take “liberty” very seriously and demanded the right to perform men’s jobs and wear men’s clothes. The law was last applied in the 1930s when the French Olympic committee stripped the French athlete, Violette Morris, of her medals - because she insisted on wearing trousers!

Oppression was common in the United States too. In 1938 a woman was jailed for having the audacity of wearing trousers into a courtroom. The Los Angeles Times reports this:

Kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick made Los Angeles court history — and struck a blow for women’s fashion.

Hulick arrived in court to testify against two burglary suspects. But the courtroom drama immediately shifted to the slacks (trousers) she was wearing. Judge Arthur S. Guerin rescheduled her testimony and ordered her to wear a dress next time!

Hulick was quoted in the Nov. 10, 1938, Los Angeles Times saying, “You tell the judge I will stand on my rights. If he orders me to change into a dress, I won’t do it. I like slacks . They’re comfortable.”

She returned to court five days later — in slacks — infuriating the judge.

The LA Times reported:

In a scathing denunciation of slacks — which he prosaically termed pants — as courtroom attire for women, Judge Guerin yesterday again forbade Helen Hulick, 28, kindergarten teacher, to testify as a witness while dressed in a green and orange leisure attire.

“The last time you were in this court dressed as you are now and reclining on your neck on the back of your chair, you drew more attention from spectators, prisoners and court staff than the legal business at hand. You were requested to return in garb acceptable to courtroom procedure.

“Today, you come back dressed in pants and openly defying the court and its duties to conduct judicial proceedings in an orderly manner. It’s time a decision was reached on this matter and on the power the court has to maintain what it considers orderly conduct".

“The court hereby orders and directs you to return tomorrow in an accepted dress. If you insist on wearing slacks again, you will be prevented from testifying because that would hinder the administration of justice. But be prepared to be punished according to the law for contempt of court.”

Slack-shrouded Miss Hulick was accompanied by Attorney William Katz, who carried four heavy volumes of citations relative to his client’s right to appear in court in whatever dress she chose.

“Listen,” said the young woman, “I’ve worn slacks since I was 15. I don’t own a dress except for a formal one; if he wants me to appear in a formal gown, that’s okay with me".

“I’ll come back in slacks, and if he puts me in jail, I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism.”

The next day, Hulick showed up in slacks. Judge Guerin held her in contempt!

She was given a five-day sentence and sent to jail.

“After being divested of her favourite garment by a jail matron and attired in a prison denim dress, Miss Hulick was released on her own recognizance after her attorney … obtained a writ of habeas corpus and declared he would carry the matter to the Appellate Court,”

The LA Times reported this.

Hundreds sent letters of protest to the courthouse. Guerin’s contempt citation was overturned by the Appellate Division during a habeas corpus hearing. Hulick was free to wear slacks to court.

A couple of months later, Hulick came back to court. Her point made, this time, she wore a dress!

In essence, women wearing trousers over many centuries was seen by many western countries as "cross-dressing" - something frowned on as a perversion.

Even today, men who cross-dress and wear a dress or skirt are often seen as freaks by both men and women.

In reality, what they are doing is discovering their true selves. Cross-dressing is certainly about freedom and the right to choose, as women like Helen Hulick proved - but it is also about the right to find out if you are trans or remain cis.

And since when - has the right to wear trousers, skirts or a dress hurt anyone?




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