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Commentary: Women's rights trailblazer Paul Ryan demolishes sexist House dress code

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) answers questions during his weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Ryan said he plans to “modernize” the current dress code for women in the Speaker's Lobby. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) deserves credit for his response Thursday to a series of false news stories about the House dress code.

Earlier this month, members of the media decried the “new” and “sexist” dress code in the House Speaker’s Lobby that prohibited women from wearing sleeveless dresses or open-toed shoes.

Some of the stories about the dress code painted a picture that could have been ripped from the pages of "The Handmaid’s Tale" — an oppressive rule implemented by a patriarchal government hell-bent on controlling women, an example of sexism in President Donald Trump’s America rivaling that in the Republic of Gilead.

There was just one problem with the stories — they weren’t true.

My colleague Jon Street detailed last week how multiple media outlets erroneously reported that the dress code was implemented by Ryan. It has, in fact, been in place for many years. Additionally, the same dress code requires men to wear jackets and ties at all times in the Speaker’s Lobby.

While the dress code did hold women to an outdated definition of business attire, it was not Ryan's doing.

But during his weekly press conference Thursday, Ryan responded to the controversy, telling reporters that “over the break, it came to my attention that there was an issue about [the] dress code.”

Ryan said that the dress code currently being enforced is “nothing new” and was in place under his predecessors. He pledged to “modernize” the dress code in the House.

"We will be working with the sergeant-at-arms to ensure the enforcement of appropriate attire is updated," Ryan said.

"A dress code in the Chamber and Speaker's Lobby makes sense," he said. "But that doesn't mean that we need to bar otherwise acceptable business attire. So, look for a change in that soon."

Ryan took the opportunity to “modernize” the current dress code for women, an action his predecessor — the first female speaker of the House — didn’t even undertake.

If Ryan were a woman or a Democrat, he would likely receive much more praise for demolishing an outdated definition of women’s business attire in the House. But since he is not, this article will probably have to suffice.

As an aside, the speaker could cement his legacy as a trailblazer for women’s rights by ensuring that men still be required to wear jackets and ties — even in July.

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