The Problem With It Was Never A Dress

“So what?”

This was my initial reaction to the now-viral campaign It Was Never A Dress. The campaign redefines the female washroom symbol, which was previously assumed as a figure wearing a dress. According to this new information, it was never a dress. It was always, in fact, a cape.

image credits to

People on the internet are celebrating the newfound notion of the symbol showing a woman in a cape, not a dress. But wait, hold on a second… why was a woman in a dress not good enough? The fact that this had to be changed suggests women are not good enough the way we are, and not strong enough wearing a symbol of femininity.

Think of the female washroom sign – back when everyone thought it was simply a dress – as a metaphor for women. We’ve gone along, in our dresses or whatever we were wearing, fighting for our rights and being awesome. Then It Was Never A Dress comes along and says that we’re not good enough the way we are, and that we need to have our images reinvented in people’s minds in order to be better at being women.

Furthermore, there’s what the dress was replaced with (or what women are being told they need to be more like in order to be better): a cape.

Why is the image of a woman in a cape stronger than the image of a woman in a dress?

A troubling answer: because capes are typically worn by male superheroes, and often symbolize masculine strength.

The people who are delighted at the cape-wearing woman (instead of the dress-wearing woman) are inadvertently saying that females are stronger and better when they are masculine and embody masculine traits. So what I’m getting from It Was Never A Dress is that women are not good enough the way we are – and if we put on a symbol of masculinity, we are better.

According to their website, It Was Never A Dress is “an invitation to shift perceptions and make assumptions about women and the audacious, sensitive, and powerful gestures they make every single day.”

That sentence puts up red flags for me. An invitation to make assumptions about women? That can’t have been what they meant, because it implies an open invitation to assume negative things about women. This should be what the campaign is trying to avoid.

And yet, It Was Never A Dress is, to me, perpetuating a bold (and horribly misled) assumption: that to be strong, women need to be masculine.

Throughout history, women have had to fight for our right to be recognized as equals to men. Today, in the 21st century, we are still fighting for this. We are not going to reach a point of total and complete gender equality by telling women that the way for them to be strong is by being like men.

We don’t need a new perspective on the symbol on our washroom door to tell us that women are strong; we are already strong. And without misleading campaigns like this one, we would be even stronger.

32 thoughts on “The Problem With It Was Never A Dress

  1. Well said, but I also think that the original sign is a little stupid because it suggests that women SHOULD wear dresses. If a woman wants to wear a dress, cool, if not, cool. I think they should all be replaced with the actual gender signs. The circle arrow and circle cross thing. Of course, then we would have to be taught which is which, but nothing wrong with being taught something.

    1. I agree Josh! That’s a good idea for replacement signs; or, if people were really opposed to learning something, simply the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ would suffice.

  2. hey .. hi … agreed to your point dear .. i think it should not be like men & women, white & black, rich & poor . We are what we are & we should respect that coz god made us like that … Also we should respect others & respect there feelings & give everyone equal opportunities to grow …. As per this campaign i think they are just talking useless… i mean not all guys are brave & not every women is weak… washrooms are made for something else & these signs are for our ease to understand the choice where to go … so we should keep it simple… giving capes and all wont make mens strong & womens weak … it’s actually the individual himself who has to decide what he/she has to be ……

  3. I also had the “so what” thought when I first saw the picture and agree that the sign doesn’t need to be redone to make women seem stronger. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with wearing a cape or what that symbolizes. To me, it’s just a cape, not a masculine symbol. Every day, I wear my “cape” and try to kick ass as best I can. Sometimes while wearing a dress 🙂 but typically it’s in my jeans and t-shirt.

  4. Reblogged this on He For She and commented:
    This entire image is about perspective and the way in which we are taught to see things. If we only changed how we interpret things, then this world would be a better and more equal place to live. If we stopped seeing women as dainty and fragile people and men as strong and brutish, and instead see each other as just people with our own unique thoughts and feelings and styles, then we would realize that gender isn’t a stereotype that we must fall into. All it is is a descriptor of what body parts we have. And at that point gender will just become a medical term.

  5. Sherina, thank you for this post. I didn’t know about the campaign until I read it. Good job on keeping me informed. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I am a proud dress-wearing woman. I wear pants and shorts and skirts, too. And I am strong!! I don’t need a cape. In fact, I spent too many years trying to be Wonder Woman, trying to be all things to all people and it sucked the strength and life out of me. I’m strong when I’m myself. I was strong when I tenderly cared for my dying mother and I’m strong when I hold my neighbor’s baby. I’m strong when I run a 5K or when I cook dinner for my family (yes, I cook dinner for my family people, and so does my husband). I’m strong when I’m patient with my teenagers, and I’m strong when I choose to love those who’ve betrayed me. I am strong when I do my best at my full-time job as an accountant. I am strong because I live like it matters. Women don’t need capes to be strong. We don’t need people implying that wearing dresses or femininity is weak. What we need is to embrace who we are, to love who we are and then to live and love like it matters.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thougts! I completely agree with you; women are strong in whatever we choose to wear! I love your words, “I am strong because I live like it matters”.

  6. Interesting perspective. I hadn’t heard of this campaign until now, but I’m going to choose to interpret it as an acknowledgement that women are SUPER, not necessarily that they need to be more masculine. At the end of the day though, I agree — so what? There are more important feminist and civil rights- related questions we could be focusing on than the attire on bathroom signs.

    1. Thank you so much for the nomination! 🙂 Unfortunately I have chosen not to “accept” awards (and make the posts that come with them) but I really do appreciate this. Congrats on being nominated yourself!

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