Can't. . . Breathe. . . Need. . . Air

Neckties are a funny thing.

People love them or hate them. They wear them proudly, as a badge of success. Or they struggle under the weight, like the chains worn by Jacob Marley, Scrooge's dead business partner.

First introduced as the cravat by King Louis XIV of France, ties made their way to England, and on to America. They were originally worn by wealthy gentlemen, but were soon worn by any man who wanted to appear well-dressed.

Neckties are said to symbolize power, success, wealth. They are also said to symbolize oppression and strangulation of middle management. They're even said to be a phallic symbol, which is why I never wore a tie tack.

Now they're the cause of a sex discrimination complaint filed by a British government employee.

Ian Jarman, who works for the Department for Work and Pensions in Birmingham, England, is filing an official complaint against his employer for sex discrimination, because they're forcing him to wear a tie at the office.

Jarman has gone tie-less at his Job Centre Plus office (official motto: "In England, we spell it 'centre.'") for 26 years. But ever since a new dress code was introduced, he has been forced to wear one. He has already had two disciplinary hearings for failing to follow the new code, and risks losing his job if he goes without a tie again.

Jarman told a BBC interviewer he's upset because "Women are allowed to wear an open shirt and trousers, many even wear a t-shirt. If I wear an open shirt without a tie, it's a disciplinary offence for which I could potentially get the sack — it's sex discrimination."

However, a spokeswoman from the DWP disagreed. "The dress code was introduced in April to give a more professional appearance to staff who deal with members of the public," she told reporters, dressed provocatively in a Cate Coles green and russet evening dress. "We require a smart and professional image from all of our staff, but there is no specific requirements for women."

"See? See?!" shouted Jarman, pointing his finger accusingly at some female co-workers wearing sleeveless t-shirts with "Neener Neener Neener" printed on the front.

"It is ridiculous. I have done this job for 26 years without wearing a tie and it has never affected my ability to do the job," said Jarman, who believes a person's clothing has nothing to do with their professionalism.

Many strippers may disagree with Jarman's idea of clothing and job performance, he does have a point. If an organization makes a rule for one sex, but not the other, that's discrimination. Requiring a man to dress a certain way without making similar rules for women is unfair. And those rules would result in a lawsuit if the tables were turned.

I've spoken with a number of companies that don't have specific dress codes for women for fear of sexual harassment lawsuits. Instead, they require "professional/appropriate dress for women; suits and ties for men," which creates problems for people like Jarman.

And thanks to some gender fashion confusion over the years, certain male fashions have become acceptable for women to wear, causing even more problems for men.

In the '80s, I lost count of the women wearing men's sport coats with the sleeves rolled up because it looked "kicky." But, short of a fraternity prank gone horribly wrong, you'll never see men wearing dresses on a regular basis.

Don't get me wrong. It's not my place to dictate fashion for anyone. I would never tell a woman what she should or shouldn't wear. This will change when my daughters become teenagers.

However, I'm struck by the double standard of what is "acceptable" fashion: men would be laughed at and even arrested if they ever wore a dress in public, but women are free to wear suits and ties if they like. Some would argue this is fashion discrimination and extremely unfair.

Not me, of course.

I wear pants. Very rugged, extremely macho pants. Pants that have a charcoal grill in the pockets. Pants that can be used to put out small house fires.

I would never consider wearing a dress. Not to make a statement against fashion and gender inequality. Not to show solidarity for Ian Jarman in his fight against sex discrimination. Not even if I just wanted to feel pretty.

They just make my butt look big.

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