Dress Code Discrimination of Girls in Public Schools

Dress Code Discrimination of Girls in Public Schools


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:

  1. No see through/revealing clothing or exposed midriffs
  2. No exposed undergarments
  3. Attire cannot display offensive slogans or symbols or drugs and alcohol
  4. Shorts and skirt must be at least fingertip length.
  5. 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.


23 Comments on this Post

  1. i agree but dont agree!!!!and they have to wear dresses down to there ankles.

    • anne barner

      Just wanted to remind you we live in 2016 and not in medieval times

    • Elli Ranpo


    • Yeah there is no way that I will ever wear a skirt down to my ankles….. this isn’t the Medieval times like Anne had said

  2. The reason why there are more rules for girls is simple: feminine clothing is more complicated and has more variations than men’s clothing. A young man’s casual attire is generally simple: a polo, t-shirt, maybe an overshirt; jeans or shorts, maybe slacks or kakhis; maybe a hat. Young women, however, have many more options. Women have more choices in their attire, such as dresses, skirts, and blouses.
    I saw no less than 3 of the 5 general rules which apply to males:
    No see through/revealing clothing or exposed midriffs
    No exposed undergarments
    Attire cannot display offensive slogans or symbols or drugs and alcohol

    muscle shirts are just as off-limits as a crop-top, and a young man’s shirt should not lift up if he stretches. Also, as this is an upper middle class school, it’s not surprising that the masculine issue of sagging pants is overlooked. Offensive slogans/symbols/drug, alcohol references are a general rule applying equally to both genders.

    So please stop complaining. The dress code applies just as well to young men as to young women.

    BTW. I have 2 sisters and know of several young women who choose not to conform to your ‘modern day ideals’. One of my sisters (I’m not certain about the other one but it wouldn’t surprise me) made a change to her prom outfit to stay within decent boundaries.

    As you said, it’s about the mindset.

    • yea, but the whole thing is [word deleted] ridiculous. they should be able to wear whatever the hell they want, as long as it’s legal. it’s called free speech, and it’s a human right.

  3. Crashley Nichole

    Hi, i am doing an essay on how school dress codes at my school is singling out girls on our dress codes. in the past week my friend andrew and i have wore the same outfits to school a little alterations on my part, and i was the one who got in trouble all week, and he got in trouble one day, the day i mentioned andrew to my principle, and he asked him politly not to wear it again where as i got detention.

  4. Melissa

    Does anyone else realize that the ones who disagreed to this problem are guys? How would guys feel if they got in trouble for wearing a tank top? That’s how we girls feel about getting singled out just because a teacher doesn’t like our clothing. How are we supposed to change how we dress? Go up to clothes designers and say “Hey, can you make girl clothes really covering? I mean everyone wears a tank top and shorts when it’s hot, so why do only girls get in trouble for it?

  5. My daughter is 12 years old. Today is the first day of school and her principle called to tell me she was wearing leggings and it is not in their dress code. I told him that they are sweat pants and she is not even allowed to wear leggings at home nor do I purchase them for her. He said no my staff said they are leggings. I told him they may be a little tight because she has gained weight over the summer and she has a huge butt! But they are NOT leggings! He said well she cannot wear those at school. I could of told him that no matter what she puts on her butt will be showing because she has a butt! She cant help it! But I felt like he should and would of understood just by looking at my daughter that she is more developed than most girls her age. I would never allow my daughter to come to school wearing provocative clothing or things that will get her the wrong attention but that is how he made me feel. I feel like no matter what she wears she will be considered out of dress code..

  6. I actually agree with Spencer, except I think the no exposed undergarments rule supplements the no sagging rule. My school was mostly upper middle class and plenty of them sagged and constantly got reprimanded for it.

    Guys have less clothing options and therefore don’t need as many rules. They also can’t wear tank tops and can’t have offensive or revealing clothing. They don’t need a rule telling them how long their shorts have to be because their shorts are very rarely above the knee. Just don’t wear tank tops, low cut shirts, leggings, or super short things. I think whining that it’s too hot is silly. I went through a phase where I mostly wore black shirts and jeans and it was in early and late summer in Texas. It was never so bad that I needed to violate dress code to cool down. You’ll live.

    It’s really not hard to follow the rules as long as your school isn’t purposefully overlooking guys clothing and being especially harsh on girls (which is a slightly different issue that shouldn’t happen but sadly does) and as long as the rules aren’t terribly ridiculous.

    However, I don’t see how tight jeans should be against the rules. That one does seem kind of silly to me, as does that girl that got in trouble for her shirt, and then got in trouble again for not wearing the scarf her mom brought her “properly”. We had a weird one where you couldn’t wear flip flops unless both the strap and sole were at least 1″ wide/thick because some idiot blew out a flip flop once and I guess tried to sue the school or something… Which, wouldn’t taller, thicker soled flip flops seem more dangerous?? Anyway.

  7. Ashley Joy

    I was wearing a tank top to school on the hottest day of school. In the Hand books it clearly says you can not wear a tank top that shows you back and it has to be two finger length and cannot hang low in the upper front part. My tank top had all the requirements and I was still forced to change my shirt, I had to get a sweat shirt from the nurses office and I couldn’t take it off for the whole school day. But for boys muscle shirts are not allowed and I saw five boys that day wearing there muscle shirts and didn’t even get a warning. Dress codes are sexist, and the teacher are becoming more sexist by not getting boys to follow rules. The boy teachers are the ones that been getting on girls back.

  8. Almost everything in the dress code is completely sexist. Some of the rules don’t even make any sense. To girls especially, they are extremely strict. Just because ‘boys get distracted’ shouldn’t mean the girls should have to suffer. I noticed that middle school dress codes are more strict than highschool dress codes. I hate how girls can’t wear shorts, tanktops,or anything that is comfortable. Things like bright hair should be up to the person not the school.

  9. TrinityHall

    Ban school policy on MIDRIFF dress code cause were women don’t punish us for having breast and ban no bra strap showing in High school?

  10. In my school, boys can come how they want, there is no dress code for them. However, girls are punished for showing all other than head, neck and hands. They can’t even show their arms.

  11. During a football game color guard was told to wear black shorts while the rest of the band wore kakis the director wasn’t aware that we were suppose to wear different attire because our instructor didn’t tell him and one of the assistants who was aware that a girl was getting sexually harassed by a freshman (following her to the bathroom, take pictures of her etc) and she told the girl that “I don’t understand why you would choose to wear that when someone is sexually harassing you” which I feel shouldn’t be allowed to tell a student when they informed the adult to get help and instead have it thrown back in their face simply because we weren’t following dress code even though we were just doing what we were told especially when there are guys changing shirts in front of everyone in the band hall and don’t get called out for it there were literally guys shirtless and no one said a word but the moment we wear shorts its like we summoned the devil himself dress code should be about upholding a formal environment not sexualizing underaged girls Another example is that the reason we weren’t allowed to wear shorts is because the director didn’t his guard to be made fun of like the cheerleader

  12. anonymous

    Ill give you credit, the argument has its strengths and weaknesses. You provide quite a sufficient amount of evidence however your reasoning and addressing of counter arguments is weak. Lets say that the attire a girl wears is distracting the boys in a classroom;in this case the attire is undermining their ability to learn:the very reason school’s were built. We have a dress code for a reason you know. Consider it, what if one of those boys does badly in a class because of attire, technically, he can sue the school for lack of dress code and the school’s reputation goes down the drain. The crazy part is, this could all have been avoided if you just sucked up and changed your clothing.

  13. You are more than right .. we shouldnt have to dress in a certain way just because boys get distracted .. guys should learn how to respect girls .. there should be no reason why a guy should be looking at girls a**** when they wear leggings or at their legs when they wear skirts .. we shouldn’t have to “pay” for the perverted mind of a guy or the male adults in classes .. we could easly talk about the size of their a**** when they sag or wear jeans just like they can .. or when they wera muscle shirts . We could think so much stuff by just them wearing tht but no .. we are the “sexual” ones because of the way we dress? Sorry but they are hella wrong on that. We shouldnt change our way of dressing, guys should change the way of looking and thinking of a girl .. they have been teaching guys the wrong way and that’s why they are the way they are now days

  14. Alice R.

    ok it was a relly hot day and I wore a dress that was a little short but I was minding my own bissness and the princeable calls me to the office and says i have to go home. so I ask why? and she says becaus my dress is too short. and I say but it doesn’t show anything. and she says to wait in the hall becaus my gandma was coming to pick me up. so I agree it is discimination agenst girls becaus the boys have no dress code at my school.

  15. hannah baker

    i agree. i would know.

  16. No women wont stop complaining. Must be nice to be born as a privileged male. Ive seen some of the crap women get sent home for. Just stop telling women to shut up and take it.

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