I am so proud of my oldest and her latest essay. I love reading her thoughts and seeing her grow to have her own opinions and ideas about life and about the world. We have had many conversations where she has challenged my long held ideas and caused me to question why I think certain things. I am very proud of her and excited to see what the future holds for this world changer.
I believe one of the largest areas of conflict in schools is about the dress code. A highly restrictive set of rules dictating what people are allowed to wear under the umbrella term of modesty doesn’t accomplish anything. There are many things that make the principal of this set of rules understandable and it makes sense to want to create a learning environment free of distractions. I believe the flaws in this system come from the execution of this idea. When the system changes its focus from creating a distraction free environment for everyone to creating a “distraction” free environment for the boys, you encounter a great many problems.
The dress codes I have encountered during the years I spent in a public middle school made my point very clear. While there was a written dress code for both male and female students, the male dress code was rarely executed. While our male counterparts are allowed to walk around with sagging jeans and unbuttoned shirts, females were expected to make sure not to wear any pants made out of soft fabric and all of our shorts had to be mid thigh. “When girls are denied time in the classroom because their knees, shoulders or upper arms are considered inappropriate and in need of covering up, it privileges the societal sexualisation of their adolescent bodies over their own right to learn.” (The Guardian) On the rare occasion that a boy would be told to pull up his pants, it would be said with a smile and a shake of the head. The administration seems to think, “boys will be boys” and they cannot be controlled. It appears that this way of thinking causes the administration to stifle the girls rather than teach the boys how to be respectful young men. They assumed they had cleverly solved the problem by shoving the girls in paper bags and telling them to go enjoy school.
This is horribly distracting for the girls and also makes us extremely uncomfortable. Constantly having to worry if your tank top strap really counts as four fingers across and melting in the heat because you’re not allowed to wear the tank tops you own. Feeling uncomfortable because there are teachers whose job is to walk around during break and dress code you. “Because truly, what’s more distracting: boys and teachers having to deal with the occasional glimpse of a girl’s leg, or girls being pulled from class, humiliated and made to change before returning?” (The Guardian) You get told that fighting the dress code system means you just want to appeal to the boys, not that you want to appeal to yourself. You want to feel confident and comfortable in what you are wearing and not feel like you have to hide yourself because, according to your teacher, you are distracting and need to hide so the boys can learn. Girls are told all through school, and especially in middle school, that they need to change themselves for the men and that is something that will rule their subconscious for the rest of their lives. “The argument being made by school administrators is not that distant from the arguments made by those who accuse rape victims of asking to be assaulted by dressing a certain way.” (Time) Do you really want to be responsible for that?
There is no perfect balance between eliminating this dangerous idea and keeping up the modesty factor that many school expect of their female students. There are a few ways to eliminate some of the largest problems with the dress code that don’t take too much work. Make the code count for everyone. You shouldn’t just expect your female students to be modest, you want your male students positively reflecting your school as well. Perhaps try to create a few day long tests where you eliminate the dress code. See how people react and if problems spring up reevaluate what would be the best way to change your school’s system. If you give people a harsh set of lines and tell the girls to not cross them, most everyone will blatantly jump over them. You can’t create sexist rules that are actively shaping the way girls think about themselves and actively making boys expect women to change for them and not expect consequences. As more and more girls find their footing, you will just find more and more problems when you tell them they are lesser.