Gendered dress codes can make trans and non-binary students feel excluded from events and many of the traditions of Cambridge life. Degendering dress codes would be a meaningful way of ensuring all students feel comfortable and included.
- For many people, having two options (male or female, or two options that clearly imply this gender binary) is actually a no-option scenario. The anxiety related to having to choose either of these “options” can discourage trans and non-binary people from attending formal events.
- According to CUSU LGBT+’s 2018 Big Cambridge LGBT+ Survey, almost a quarter (23.4%) of trans and non-binary people have refrained from attending formal events, including meals, because of a lack of dress code they are comfortable wearing. Those who do choose to attend may feel very uncomfortable at such events.
- Trans and non-binary people are sometimes challenged if they use the binary dress option that is closest to their gender identity. Fear of this can also prompt internalized self-policing by the affected students.
- The university’s guidelines for graduation clothing are binary-gendered, and this can cause anxiety for trans and non-binary students.
- The introduction of gender-neutral dress codes would be a meaningful sign of increased recognition and inclusion of all non-binary, trans and intersex students, and would send a more welcoming message to visitors and prospective applicants, into all parts of Cambridge, rather than being excluded from the formal traditions.
- De-gendering dress codes can be helpful for all students, by more explicitly stating the dress requirements. Dress codes often say something along the lines of “jacket and tie or equivalent”, which is vague and especially confusing for people who would not wear a jacket and tie. De-gendering dress codes, and removing the binary options implying gender, means that dress codes will have to be more specific, and thus more useful to anyone who needs to follow them.
- Start the conversation among students in your college or your faculty. Get their opinions, informally or formally – this can make it more convincing to staff.
- Start talking to college staff. Show them the “Why Gender-Neutral?” leaflets (available from the committee). Tell them about your peers’ needs.
- Try to get college to agree to:
- Remove all reference to gender in dress codes.
- Remove unnecessary binary distinctions from dress codes.
- Make dress codes more specific and explanatory of their requirements.
- ‘Our college doesn’t specify gender in its dress codes’
- This is a small step in the right direction but it is not enough. Often dress codes which do not explicitly specify gender nevertheless still imply a binary gendered approach. If your dress code only offers two rigid options, you are still forcing attendees to choose within a binary.
- ‘Our college staff won’t listen to us’
- We can give you advice on how to best campaign. Attached to this page is a guide regarding the implementation of gender-neutral dress codes, which can (and should!) be used in negotiations with college staff. You can contact the Trans and Non-Binary Reps and the Campaigns Officer for more statistics or any other help we can give. We can also put you in touch with people who have already had success, so that you can get help from them.
PDF guide on gender-neutral dress codes: GN Dress Codes Guide