By Sajani Clerk
When I got dressed for school this morning, I felt confident. My outfit was flattering and it made me feel good. But when I got to school, it didn’t take very long for me to get “dressed coded” in front of my entire first period class. My exposed shoulders and tight fitting jeans were considered “distracting for the boys.” I was instructed to change; apparently, this was a display of my lack of self-respect.
But I didn’t pick out my clothes to get attention from boys, and I had always respected myself. I was only trying to feel good about how I looked.
This is a pretty typical instance of how dress codes in public high schools are a form of injustice and discrimination against teenage girls in today’s society. New fashion trends, such as leggings, yoga pants, and shorter clothing, have sparked controversy, as they have been banned from many public high schools. Parents and students all over the country argue that dress codes are directed mainly at girls and are a blatant example of gender inequality. School dress codes have a tendency to be more for regulating the clothing habits of the female population; there are far less restrictions for teenage boys. The enforcement of dress codes has generally become a form of public humiliation for girls. The idea is that shaming those who violate the dress code will teach self-respect and raise moral standards. When the reasoning behind dress codes is called into question, the rationale “it is to prevent distractions for the boys” is a staple answer. Theoretically, a dress code makes sense and should be effective. In reality, it doesn’t affect how students dress; all it really does is discriminate against teenage girls, for whom these dress codes are clearly biased against.
School dress codes are fairly universal; According to the Washington Times, they all consist of similar rules:
- No see through/revealing clothing or exposed midriffs
- No exposed undergarments
- Attire cannot display offensive slogans or symbols or drugs and alcohol
- Shorts and skirt must be at least fingertip length.
- No spaghetti-strap tops.
Out of these five general rules for proper school attire, how many apply to girls? All of them. How many apply to boys? One, possibly two. For the most part, dress codes seem to be more biased against girls. Boys have far less regulation on what they are allowed to wear. According to a national poll run by the Washington Times, 50% of parents agree that gender inequality such as this is a pressing matter, and that more regulations should be imposed for boys.
Part of the reason girls refuse to follow dress codes is because much more importance is placed on girl’s attire as compared to boys. Speaking from my own experience, we as teenage girls are singled out and lectured about our appearance multiple times during the school year. I couldn’t tell you how many times this happens to the boys, probably because it never does. At least at Williamsville East, boys don’t even have dress code meetings. How are girls expected to follow rules that aren’t consistently enforced? If this isn’t gender inequality, I don’t know what is.
Instead of simply reprimanding girls for their supposed inappropriate attire, teachers and administrators feel the need to make it a public spectacle. At Wasatch High School in Utah, senior portraits were photo shopped so that girls in the pictures were following dress code regulations, without the student’s prior knowledge or the opportunity to re-take their picture, according to the Christian Science Monitor Newspaper. Imagine how infuriating it must have been for those girls to realize that their yearbook pictures had been edited, solely their actual pictures exposed their clavicles. Not cleavage, not midriffs. Clavicles. Someday, they’ll look back at their yearbooks and remember “…how they were punished for being who they were” as described by one of the students at Wasatch.
Personally, I think this is more damaging to a girl’s self-esteem than anything else. How we dress is freedom of expression; it represents our personality. Humiliating a girl based on how she dresses is practically mocking whom she is. Society today already puts so much pressure on appearance; the last thing us teenage girls need is more of that. How you feel if you were publically told your clothes were distracting? Yes, sometimes it may be necessary to reprimand a girl if her clothes really are inappropriate. But making a spectacle out of it and essentially slut shaming them? That can’t be the only way to deal with a situation such as this.
One of the most infuriating situations for a girl is when she is told her clothes are inappropriate because it is “distracting to boys.” Girls should not be held responsible for boys’ actions. Boys are the ones behaving inappropriately, so the girls are forced to take action? How is that fair? The purpose of the female is not to appease the male; we don’t live in a male dominant society. This concept is not effective; all it does is justify the actions of males and sexualize young girls. Change the mindset, not the action.
In North Dakota, a high school used the movie Pretty Woman to teach a dress code lesson. The idea was to show girls how the main character, who is also a prostitute, received better treatment at a store and by other men when dressed more modestly. Essentially, the students were compared to prostitutes. That doesn’t teach girls about modesty. If anything, it sexualizes them even further. Why are girls being taught to be subject to the opinion of the opposite sex? How is it our fault that men constantly objectify women as sexual objects? All this “lesson” did was add fuel to the fire of resentment girls have towards dress codes. How would boys feel if they were told to change how they dress because it was distracting to girls? What if they were sexualized the same way teenage girls are?
People argue that dress codes are only reinforced so strictly because of they way girls dress. Teenage girls show a lack of self-respect and morals with inappropriate clothing. I can’t help but wonder: By what standards is it inappropriate? Maybe by those of an older generation, but they grew up in a different society. Standards change with time. At some point in history, short clothing was unheard of. But in this day and age, it is part of a societal norm. Fashion and clothing styles are generally shorter and more revealing. It happens to all types of fashion trends. Girls can’t be expected not to conform to modern day ideals. Everyone else is assumed to follow social norms as they come and go; why single out teenage girls?
While it’s easy to criticize, I understand that the issues of dress codes are a tough one to fix. Finding a balance that will satisfy both generations is difficult, but not impossible. Avoiding public humiliation and using suggestions rather than demands when reprimanding girls could be more effective. Using boys as a rationale is only gathering more resentment; it might be best to stop that completely. Addressing boys and their general behavior could be met with a lot of success; it would educate boys and satisfy women with some form of fixing the gender inequality. I strongly feel that schools should take today’s styles and fashions into account when forming dress codes. Odds are, girls will a lot more likely to follow dress code rules with a few simple changes.