Are Schools Going Too Far with These Dress Code Rules?
Fashion is meant to be a form of self expression, but if you’re currently a teenage girl in high school that expression might be seriously limited due to strict dress code restrictions. Of course making sure there are no visible butt cracks, nipples, or genitals is a must for school administrators, but when bare shoulders, backs, and thighs are considered just as taboo there’s a serious problem. In the past week alone I’ve read two stories about obscene dress code restrictions and sexist double standards in both the New York Times and Buzzfeed that call for some rant worthy commentary.
Now about 100 years ago it was positively scandalous for a woman to show a bare ankle in public, but it’s not the Victorian era anymore. Unlike the oppressed women back then, we have the right to vote, serve in the military, obtain an education, and take birth control, just for starters. So you’d think that with all of these advancements in women’s rights, women would have the right to decide for themselves what to wear, right? Wrong.
The New York Times wrote a very interesting piece discussing the issue after speaking with high schools girls who were told by administrators that the expensive dresses they’d purchased for prom weren’t acceptable and either needed to be altered or they wouldn’t be permitted to attend. In their piece Kristin Hussey and Marc Santora write:
Girls have been told to cover up shoulders, knees and backs. They have been reprimanded for partially exposed stomachs and thighs and excessive cleavage. They have been ordered to wear jackets, ordered to go home and suspended.
For one girl in the article, that meant a dress and alterations that cost $400 on top of the $90 prom ticket. Some schools have even begun to require girls to take pictures of their gowns and submit them to administrators for approval before they’re even able to buy a ticket to the dance. When asked why the rules are so strict, one superintendent they spoke with said “We want our young ladies to be dressed beautifully; we want them to be dressed with class and dignity. But we are going to draw the line relative to attire that would be deemed overexposing oneself.”
This idea that schools need to protect girls from overexposing themselves isn’t restricted to just the U.S. Take 17-year-old Canadian teen Laura Wiggins, for example. Laura looked in her closet one morning and decided she wanted to wear a full-length halter dress to her high school in New Brunswick. Her legs weren’t showing. Her belly button wasn’t hanging out. Her breasts weren’t on display. The ensemble did, however, showcase her bare arms and a semi-bare back.
— BuzzFeed Canada (@BuzzFeedCanada) May 13, 2015
That was apparently enough for Laura to receive a detention for being a “sexual distraction” to her male classmates, because if there’s anything that gets a teenage boy all hot and bothered, it’s a back. Isn’t that what Justin Timberlake meant when he said he was “bringing sexy back?”
But it’s the way that Laura dealt with the situation that is truly amazing. Instead of taking the detention quietly, she chose to write a letter to her school’s vice principal and it was very eloquent, impressive, and inspiring. I won’t quote the whole badass letter, but here are two passages that particularly stood out to me:
In today’s society, a woman’s body is constantly discriminated against and hypersexualized to the point where we can no longer wear the clothing that we feel comfortable in without the accusation and/or assumption that we are being provocative.[…]
Then she continues with,
So no, Mr. Sturgeon, I will not search for something to cover up my back and shoulders because I am not showing them off with the intention to gain positive sexual feedback from the teenage boys in my school. I am especially not showing them to receive any comments, positive or negative, from anybody else besides myself because the only person who can make any sort of judgment on my body and the fabrics I place on it is me.
So instead of focusing on what causes boys to be “distracted” my advice to schools would be to try teaching them self control. These young men will need that in the real world, especially with all these empowered girls walking around in yoga pants everywhere.