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Students Lead Change For Gender-Neutral Dress Code

Photograph by Twenty20

Score another point for the younger generation!

Middle-schoolers in Portland, Oregon, pushed back against their school's dress code, saying it was biased against girls and created a culture of sexism and victim-blaming. Now, their district has a gender-neutral dress code.

No more body-shaming, no more focus exclusively on girls, no more accusations of girls distracting boys with their bodies. What makes it even better? The code asks teachers to consider whether pulling someone out of class truly necessary.

Bitch magazine's Sarah Mirk wrote that, a couple of years ago, Sophia Carlson and her friends at Irvington School in Portland noticed that only girls ever got called in for dress code violations. They talked to their principal who confirmed that, yeah, they were right: Just girls.

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The principal encouraged Sophia and her friends to push for a change to the dress code policy for the entire district. The girls—plus teachers, parents and administrators—got to work. Their district's school board passed the new dress code this summer.

According to Mirk, the code says, “Students must wear clothing, including both a shirt with pants or skirt, or the equivalent (for example: dresses, leggings or shorts) and shoes. Shirts and dresses must have fabric in the front and on the sides (under the arms). Clothing must cover undergarments (waistbands and straps excluded). Fabric covering breasts, genitals and buttocks must be opaque.”

If a teacher suspects a violation, the code directs them to consider that “school-directed changes to a student’s attire or grooming should be the least restrictive and disruptive to the student’s school day. Any school dress code enforcement actions should minimize the potential loss of educational time. Administration and enforcement of the dress code shall be gender neutral and consistent with the PPS racial equity policy.”

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The dress code could be a model for districts around the country, where shaming language aimed almost exclusively at girls is used. This new approach to establishing norms around clothing instead keeps terms that could be applied to any clothing, not just those typical of one gender (e.g., skirts and bras).

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