Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Case Against School Dress Codes

When people ask me what I hated most about high school, I cannot usually give them an answer. Honestly, I have a hard time recalling moments or events from my high school career that I actually didn't like. But I got to thinking the other day, and one thing stood out. The dress code. I really did not care for the high school dress code. I understand, reader, that at this point you are probably thinking to yourself that my reasoning was because I was constantly in violation of it. You would be wrong. I never got in trouble for breaking the dress code because I exist in baggy sweaters and skinny jeans or pants. I always just thought it was unfair that as I female I was being punished and being held to this laundry list of rules dictating how I was allowed to address because apparently teenage boys are uncontrollable.

Holding students to a standard of wearing professional or semi-professional clothing to school makes sense. Demonizing the female body does not. And if you don't agree with me when I say that dress codes demonize the female body, then please continue reading. By telling girls and only girls that they have to wear certain clothing so that school can be a place of education free of distractions, you are telling them that their bodies are distracting and that is a bad thing. I'm sorry but if shoulder blades are so distracting that high school boys cannot control themselves any longer, then I think there might be a deeper issue. Like how shoulder blades became sexual. I'm not being ridiculous by using shoulder blades as a point. Most high schools (mine included) prohibit girls from wearing spaghetti strap tank tops. If I remember correctly I was once told straps on tank tops had to be at least an inch. Excuse me, but who is going to go around and measure that? "I'm sorry, Sally,  your tank top straps are too thin, and John over there is about to die from the sexual tension between him and your very arousing shoulder blades."

Screw. That.

Telling girls they have a responsibility to wear certain items of clothing versus other options is telling them that being ogled at and possibly assaulted will be their fault if they made the wrong clothing choice. Telling young girls who are just getting in touch with their sexuality and developing their self image that if they wear short skirts that they are "inappropriate" and thus "slutty" is not going to make them feel good, it isn't going to stop providing distractions in school, and if anything, it is going to create more distractions because people are constantly judging what other people are wearing and if it doesn't fit within this pre-constructed idea of "good" that the school has set forth, then automatically the person inside of the outfit is a rebel, a slut, a girl your parents don't want you dating. And if a girl wears a skirt and looks "sexy" without trying, why is that her fault? And if she isn't pole dancing in the classroom, why is being sexy a bad thing? Teaching girls to have a positive view of their bodies and their budding sexuality should be being stressed in schools. After all, isn't high school supposed to prepare students for the real world? After 12 long years of girls being told that mini skirts are bad and strapless shirts are bad, and anything too tight is bad, they go into the real world and feel judged and dirty and bad when wearing anything against those dress codes. Why can I make that generalization? Because I can't wear my jeggings anymore without feeling mildly skanky because once, in high school, a male teacher asked if I didn't think my "pants aren't a little too tight?"

I'm sorry - wait, no I'm not - if you thinks my pants are too tight but I can breathe and I am comfortable and I don't feel like I'm being overtly sexual...in fact I didn't think anything inappropriate until you brought it up, teacher. And really, most of the time girls wouldn't be thinking about whether or not their outfits were sexy if school administrators weren't constantly policing girls to make sure that anything even hinting at sexy was immediately removed so the boys didn't get distracted. 

Because after all, boys will be boys, right?


It is not my job to not be a victim. It is not my job to worry about whether or not a boy can control himself if he sees too much of my thighs. It is not my job to worry about getting raped. It is the rapists job to not rape. It is the rapists job to control themselves. It is the rapists to make sure they do not rape me. It is not my job to avoid being raped and ogled at. It is my body. I own it. And school dress codes remove ownership of the body by employing the "modest is hottest" method of shaming girls into robotically wearing and doing whatever the school wants them to do in regards to sexuality.

The female body is not sinful, it doesn't determine her character, and it is not any more sexual than a man's body.


Why is that being stressed? Because boys don't have dress codes. Administrator's don't worry about what girls will do if a boy wears a bro tank that is so tight that their abs are defined. They don't penalize boys for wearing pants so tight we can see their junk (ew) and I don't hear about kindergarten boys being forcefully removed from outfits deemed to inappropriate for school. For some reason administrators who write dress codes are still under the delusion that boys cannot control their penises whenever they see a girl in something that might be kind of sexual, such a short skirt, or a shirt that shows a tad bit of cleavage. But being a boy doesn't mean anything except they have a different body part and a different gender.

By ensuring they we aren't wearing anything that might make a boy want to rape me, the boys will be boys excuse is not only being reinforced, but their ill behavior is then condoned and excuse me, but why are we really marveling about the high rate of rape and sexual assault?

By telling girls that they have to dress a certain way because they are at fault if they become a victim, you are telling boys that they are somehow not to blame for raping a girl. In the same breathe you are are classifying girls as sexual objects and condoning bad behavior from boys.

This is how we have rape culture. This is how we have victim blaming. This is how come boys find rape jokes funny. I'm not saying dress codes are completely to blame, I'm saying they are part of the problem. I understand not wanting a distracting environment for learning, but not at the cost it comes with. Yes, it is bad to wear underwear to school. Spaghetti straps and mini skirts that are long enough to cover a girls ass? I think one could probably let that one slide.Students go to school to learn. If all we are teaching young girls is that their bodies are bad, and showing skin makes them even worse, what are we accomplishing?


Libby Walker said...

Thank you so much! This really helped me as the other day I was punished for wearing a dress seen as 'too tight' , although I had specifically worn a long loose blazer over this dress to ensure it would not be inappropriate. This is an outfit which my mum happily sent me to school in as well and I am sure she would have prevented me wearing something unacceptable. However during the day through other teachers a leading female teacher made comments on my dress code and had me lectured. This is a teacher who has repeatedly appeared to have issues with me , meanwhile other members of staff had told me that day that I looked very professional and the best dressed for the year group (inc my male headteacher!). I am tired of dress code rules being used to embarrass girls and give them a false reputation. It is the conduct taken to publicly send a girl home for her clothing which I feel is more of a distraction to that students learning and is more likely to attract or distract male student attention. I am in a girls secondary school which a few male students join in the sixth form I have now joined and I feel disgusted that another male student's opinion should be taken as higher priority then my own comfort and self esteem. I will not even begin to get started on the strappy top rule as in my institution the code states that it should be thicker then 2 inches, this suggests that it is publicly more acceptable for a school to sexualise a minor's shoulders and clothing then for me to wear a top with 1.5 inch straps on a hot day. Yet rape culture is still not okay to be discussed.
yours sincerely, clearly the biggest slut ever sat in hello kitty strappy top pj's ...

♥ Alexis said...

Libby, thank you so much for reading my little blog and for leaving this comment. I am so sorry to hear about your struggle with dress codes, it is a battle, that unfortunately, I know only too well. Thank you for sharing your story. It is only if we band together and unite in solidarity that we can make a change in the world.

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