For weeks my Facebook feed has been rife with rants about
public school dress code policies. I read a story about an uproar over rejected prom dresses in
Shelton, Conn., and recently, a school administrator in North Carolina told a
teenager that her modest sundress and jean jacket were inappropriate for school.
Whatever "improper" outfit is being questioned, the bigger issue is this: Why are we monitoring girls' bodies and shaming them
for their style choices?
While it sometimes seems ridiculous to be having heated
conversations about short shorts and the fingertip rule, with sexism at the epicenter of this issue, we need to talk about it with the people who are
most affected: our daughters.
Although there hasn't been a dress code controversy in my
daughter's Massachusetts middle school, Addie and her eighth-grade friends regularly trade stories about getting "pulled over" and "coded." When found to be in violation of the school dress code policy, the student is given a football jersey to wear over her clothes.
When I sat down to talk with Addie and four of her friends about this issue, they had plenty to say
about short shorts, distracting boys and what they should be allowed to wear.
Mom.me: Tell me how you feel about your school's dress code?
Joji: It's annoying
because girls in our school are told what to wear and what not to wear, but the
boys don't get in trouble if their underwear is hanging out. No teacher will
pull a boy over in the hall and say, "Pull up your pants." But if a girl is wearing short shorts, a
teacher will pull her over and say, "You need to change your shorts. We're told
that we're "distracting the boys." Girls do wear short shorts, but that's not
because they have the intention to try and grab the guys' attention.
Abby: I don't like
the dress code. I think it's a promotion of rape culture that girls should be
blamed for not wearing enough clothes. We should protect everyone by teaching
guys to focus on schoolwork and stop looking at a girl's butt and boobs. A girl
should be able to express her personality in her clothes, and the school is
restricting that by teaching her to hide instead of being confident.
Grace: They should
give us good reasons for how they want us to dress. They shouldn't just say, "Don't
do that because it distracts the boys." That's not a good reason. It's
sexist and bad explaining. It's patriarchal.
I know it's a small thing, but it's a stepping stone to larger things, to sexual and gender equality in the world.
Juliette: The idea of
the dress code is that no one should come to school in something that's not
appropriate for a learning environment. But the thing that's happening is people are placing sexuality on a piece of material that happens to be the bra
strap my shoulder. Is it really exploitative of the human body to see a strip of
fabric? Guys are allowed to be distracted and have insane fantasies about
cloth. Girls aren't. It's a little strange when a girl gets pulled over for a
bit of fabric showing. Well, if you're the one whose sexualizing a bit of
fabric, I have to ask why you're blaming me?
Addie: I don't like
how they tell us the dress code without telling us the reason beyond saying
"boys peek." How is a girl showing her shoulders worse than a guy showing his
underwear? Also, if school is supposed to be a learning environment, how are we
supposed to learn when we're sweating in our jeans, because we can't wear the
shorts we're comfortable in? I just
started wearing skirts this year because I'm afraid of getting in trouble for
not wearing something appropriate. And they don't check the length of skirts—maybe
because they're more ladylike.
Joji: I think it
would be a good idea if the principal went around to each homeroom and got our
opinions about to wear. That way we aren't being told what to wear, and it's
Mom.me: So then you take responsibility for what you wear and
you respect the dress code because you created it.
Juliette: I think the
dress code should be about social protocol and not about men. But the dress
code is actually about sexism. If we had social mindfulness, we wouldn't need a
dress code anymore.
If you want me to respect myself, and I respect myself in this outfit, then you shouldn't decide I'm a slut because I'm wearing this shirt. It's just a shirt!
Abby: Just the other
day I was ranting to my mother about the dress code and my brother—a 17-year-old white male said to me, "You should check your privilege." That got on my
nerves, because I know there are more serious feminist topics, but for me this
is the biggest areas of sexism that I've experienced. I know it's a small thing, but it's a stepping stone to larger things, to sexual and gender equality in
Grace: I also think
that the way they tell the boys about this is telling them that they are in
control of society.
Juliette: Modest is
hottest. That's a phrase they use to enforce dress codes. So you don't have to
wear all of these revealing clothes to be beautiful. But my perception of
myself and my beauty should not be determined by whether or not other people
find me "hot."
Joji: Whenever we're
called down for the dress code talk, most of the focus is on girls and not guys.
Addie: The dress code
says that students are expected to dress in good taste and take pride in their
personal appearance. So, good taste is what the administrators think is good
Grace: They talk
about respecting, but then they put you down for wearing certain things. So, if
you want me to respect myself, and I respect myself in this outfit, then you
shouldn't decide I'm a slut because I'm wearing this shirt. It's just a shirt!
We had a dress code in kindergarten; we weren't allowed to wear things like
tank tops. So, if you're sexualizing our clothes that young, it's not good.
Are we supposed to deny that we wear bras?
Abby: With the dress
code, it's about the shorts, tank tops and bra straps. I have two Guinness Shirt—I'm Irish—
Addie: (quoting dress code) "No clothing that is imprinted with obscene language or artwork that
relates to alcohol, drugs or smoking."
Abby: So, I wear
this Guinness shirt, but nobody stops me. But when I wear shorts, they say, "Are
they down to your fingertips? "No they aren't because it's hard to find those
kind, and when I do, I don't like them.
Grace: Also, they
want us to hide our bra straps. Are we supposed to deny that we wear bras?
Juliette: The day I got
dress-coded, my mother said, "I wish I could be in your generation because
showing your bra strap was the height of terrible fashion. And I want the
freedom to do that, but I'm too old now." It made me wonder, if the people who
make the dress code just don't understand that it's not a part of our culture
anymore to hide your bra strap. We've moved progressively forward.
Abby: I think if a
girl is confident about what she's wearing, then you shouldn't just crush her