I never thought much about dress codes when I was in school or at work. It seems like a given and not something to argue with or get in trouble over. But when I started teaching middle school I found out that dress codes do matter and they are kind of tricky.
The biggest thing I discovered was that dress coders breakers do not mean to break dress codes. When you are a teen, you are definitely NOT interested in breaking a stupid dress code on purpose. (There are so many more worthwhile things to get in trouble over.)
So it’s weird when schools are policing what girls wear, mainly that what they’re wearing is too revealing. Revealing is a code word for too sexual, which would be distracting for boys. *rolls eyes* When girls have to go home or change so that boys don’t see their bare shoulders, it is just ridiculous. (I shared this with a 7/8th grade class and the students got the point of it right away.)
“When you interrupt a girl’s school day to send her home because her shoulders are exposed, you’re telling her that making sure that boys have a distraction-free learning environment is more important than her education,” says Bay Area student Rhea Park, 15.
No matter what the rationale is, punishing girls for what they wear is misguided. Covering a girl up has never stopped a rapist or creep. At the end of the day, people still seem to see creepy men as a given, and the only people expected to be proactive and change are the girls.
Is the double-standard rooted in some desire to protect girls from the Larry Nassars and the Jeffrey Epsteins of the world? Is it a tacit acknowledgment that we’ve not done enough, will continue to not do enough, to believe girls and protect girls from monsters?
I’d rather we police the creeps than the girls’ bodies.
Lastly, dress codes have so many layers of associations. Clothing can never just be clothing–it’s a class indicator and signals a bunch of things. When clothing gets this complicated, it’s no surprise that some schools decide to do away with it and go with uniforms.
These punishments interrupt girls’ educations while sending dangerous messages to the school community: how a girl looks is more important than what she thinks, and girls are ultimately responsible for the misbehavior of boys.
On the other hand, can we please move on from making girls responsible for not distracting boys? It starts way before adulthood, and this kind of messaging is exactly the thing that gives boys a pass.
There are so many priorities for schools to address other than dress codes. It’s time to stop punishing students for what they wear.