Dress code perpetuates sexism

Most dress codes are sexist. Regulations are almost exclusively aimed at female students’ bodies; words like “inappropriate” are used as euphemisms for “slutty.” Girls who wear clothing deemed “inappropriate” are stigmatized. Others assume that clothing which showcases certain body parts indicates a sexual intent or desire; in effect, this demonizes and shames girls purely for the existence of their bodies.

In creating and enforcing the dress code, the administration intends to maintain a safe learning environment for all students and staff. The dress code prohibits clothing that harms other people or property, clothing that is a distraction to the learning environment and clothing that advertises pornography, alcohol, drugs, etc. The dress code requires protective clothing in science labs, tech education, etc. and mandates that students “shall dress appropriately for the learning environment” on a daily basis and whenever representing the school in sporting events, concerts, etc.

Such vague language allows the administration to enforce the dress code on a case-by-case basis and make changes as issues arise, which is ideal. Students are mature enough to regulate themselves in terms of what clothing is appropriate for a school setting.

The five major tenets of appropriate dress, as outlined by Tim Kenney, principal, are as follows: no butts, no sagging, no belly buttons, no cleavage, no bra straps.

(Olivia Loomis) One student exposes her stomach during class in violation of the no bare midriffs rule. The rule is just one part of the school dress code that is a point of contention between students and staff.
(Olivia Loomis) One student exposes her stomach during class in violation of the no bare midriffs rule. The rule is just one part of the school dress code that is a point of contention between students and staff.

“Contemporary style obviously contradicts what the dress code says. We try to be mindful of style while being mindful of how we need people to dress in order to have a safe environment for everyone,” said Joe Patek, associate principal.

Despite its positive intent, the dress code, like most others, present an impressive array of problems.

The dress code creates a double standard for female students. Moreover, it contributes to the oversexualization of the female body.

According to Soraya Chemaly, Huffington Post writer, “Dress codes, while usually regulating boys’ slovenliness, tend to police girls for how much of their bodies are visible.”

“This ‘distraction’ standard for a dress code sets up a model in which the default student we are concerned about – the student whose learning we want to ensure is protected – is male. It presumes that female students are a distraction to male students’ learning, and therefore it’s young women’s actions that must be policed,” wrote Jessica Valenti, The Guardian columnist.

When asked, teachers generally brushed over sagging, calling it “silly” and “unnecessary,” but went into long discussions of sex and sexuality in addressing crop tops and other female dress code violations.

Dress code 3

This oversexualization stems, in part, from what is commonly referred to as the “BBB rule”: students may not display their breasts, butts or bellies. This rule applies almost exclusively to girls, as boys do not generally have breasts or wear crop tops.

Breasts are not sexual organs, as they do not aid in reproduction, but our society sexualizes them to the point of censorship. Since breasts and butts do have sexual implications in modern society regulating bellies on the same level as breasts and butts oversexualizes yet another innocent body part. If bellies have a sexual implication, then so do legs: where do we draw the line? Do we prohibit students from wearing shorts?

Furthermore, three of the five guidelines to appropriate dress apply almost exclusively to girls’ bodies and fashion: no belly buttons, no cleavage and no bra straps.

Female students with large breasts are disproportionately  targeted by the no cleavage rule. As Valenti wrote, the same v-neck t-shirt can easily be considered “acceptable” on one student and “scandalous” on another; this sexualizes large breasts, promoting the idea that only large breasts and only certain body types are sexy.

Dress code 2

In regards to the no bra strap rule, it seems ridiculous to take such offense from an article of clothing which society has deemed essential to women’s attire.

Although boys are not allowed to take off their shirts while exercising, the no belly button rule does not affect their daily clothing choices; rather, it is clearly aimed at the recent influx of girls wearing crop tops.

“I really don’t think it’s a good idea for girls to be walking around – despite what society’s fashions are – with a half shirt to show their belly buttons. I don’t think that the boys should be out on the front lawn not wearing shirts. I don’t think that that’s okay at a school,” Kenney said.

Kenney went on to say he would take the concern of oversexualization into consideration when presenting the BBB rule.

“If we can make improvements, let’s do that. I’m all for it,” Patek said.

SHS is fortunate to have an administration that is open to discussion about the dress code.

“If [an interaction made] somebody feel like there is hypocrisy involved here, that’s not my intention. I don’t want that. I wish that the person or people would come talk to me,” Kenney said.

These conversations are difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, but we must have them in order to make progress. In writing this opinion, I interviewed many teachers from different departments and students of different grade levels, in addition to the administration.

Certain teachers raised concerns about sexual harassment, but the fact of the matter is that life at school has nothing to do with sex, and students do not get dressed in the morning with sexual intents. People who wear revealing clothing are not “impure” nor are they “morally incorrect,” and they do not set out to make others uncomfortable.

It is the administration’s responsibility to foster a school environment in which all students are safe and comfortable. In order to advocate for every student’s education and wellbeing, however, we must acknowledge and modify the stereotypes and sexist language in the dress code, not just take them into consideration in its presentation. Not only do the no bellies, no bra straps and no cleavage rules disproportionately target female students, but they oversexualize and shame girls simply for the existence of their bodies. These rules must be eliminated in order to have a truly safe and gender equal dress code.

by Em&Em (Emma Soldon)

One thought

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