Dress codes assume that male students’ education needs to be protected. What girls need doesn’t rate
Now that the warm weather is here, everyone is happily boxing away sweaters and breaking out their summer clothes. But as students across the country are bringing out their t-shirts and dresses, school administrators are ramping up their efforts to quash cleavage and “risqué” outfits.
According to educators and even some parents, young women’s outfits – their bodies, really – are too distracting for men to be expected to comport themselves with dignity and respect. It’s the season of the dress code – so instead of teaching girls math or literature, schools are enforcing arbitrary and sexist rules that teach them to be ashamed of their bodies.
Take the example of a young woman in Virginia who was kicked out of her prom this month because fathers attending the event though her dress was giving rise to “impure thoughts”. Clare, 17, says her dress was well within guidelines for the event’s dress code – it was “fingertip length”. She wrote on her sister’s blog, “I even tried it on with my shoes, just to be sure.”
Still, she was asked to leave – thanks to a group of ogling dads perched on a balcony above the dance floor. “I am so tired of people who abuse their power to make women feel violated and ashamed because she has an ass, or has breasts, or has long legs,” she wrote
It’s not just proms that make for problematic interactions for young women. Everyday school dress codes disproportionately target, shame, and punish girls – especially girls who are more developed than their peers. In 2012, students at Stuyvesant High School in New York (my old school) protested the biased implementation of the school’s dress code. One student noted that the “curvier” girls were singled out – a v-neck t-shirt considered acceptable on one student was seen as absolutely scandalous on another.
Like the fathers at Clare’s prom, Stuyvesant administrators defended the sexist dress code by saying girls shorts and spaghetti strap tank tops are “distracting” to male students and teachers. This is a common theme when policing the way women dress – just last month a junior high school in Illinois banned girls wearing leggings because they’re “distracting to boys”.
To assuage the supposed distraction, girls caught wearing leggings are forced to put on blue school shorts over them. At Stuyvesant, dress code violators are pulled out of class and made to change into a large baggy shirt. (There are dress codes for boys, but they’re not as frequently enforced and all a male student generally has to do is keep his pants up and t-shirts referencing drugs inside-out.)