Dress Codes, Girls, and Feminism

This is a very popular question recently: do dress codes unfairly target girls? It was brought to my attention yet again when I saw this article in the Orange County Register this morning. So, what’s going on with the dress codes?

Well, girls are feeling unfairly picked on. In a nutshell:

Laura Bates, co-founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, wrote in a recent opinion piece in Time magazine: “When a girl is taken out of class on a hot day for wearing a strappy top, because she is ‘distracting’ her male classmates, his education is prioritized over hers. When a school takes the decision to police female students’ bodies while turning a blind eye to boys’ behavior, it sets up a lifelong assumption that sexual violence is inevitable and victims are partially responsible. Students are being groomed to perpetuate the rape culture narrative that sits at the very heart of our society’s sexual violence crisis.

I think there is some truth to this. Remember, I taught high school. Not only that, I have two teenage sisters and I was once a teenager myself. There’s a lot that goes into what a teenager decides to wear to school on any given day, boy or girl, but girls face much more criticism than boys do. A boy can wear pretty much anything he wants to class and not get in trouble, but they also have few choices to choose from clothing wise (yet another difference between genders). Most boys wear tees-shirts and jeans and call it a day. Girls have so many options: tank tops, tee-shirts,  spaghetti straps, yoga pants, jeans, shorts, skirts, dresses, sandals, tennis shoes, combat boots…. Any of these can be worn in combination according to the girls’ taste or feelings that day and here comes the crux of the problem of dress codes: they are awfully subjective. What one person considers objectionable someone else thinks is totally fine.

I think there is a problem with dress codes, but I also think high school is a place where students are taught about what is appropriate as an adult in a professional world. If I wore yoga pants and a tank top to a job interview, I wouldn’t be hired. The need to dress correctly for different situations is something that teenagers often don’t understand and must be explained. School is not their house or the movies. School is a professional environment, albeit it’s casual Friday five days a week. As a professional environment, they should dress ready to learn, not lounge. Comfortable clothing, but not pajamas. The same rules should apply to the boys: I don’t need to know what pattern you have on your underwear. Wear clothing that covers it up, not because it offends me or will excite members of the opposite sex, but because it’s professional.

As a teacher, I find it hard to believe that in this day an age, a boy will totally lose focus because the girl in front of him is wearing a black spaghetti strap tank top with a pink bra and the bra straps are showing. I, personally, don’t like my bra straps to show, but fashion has moved toward bras being used almost as accessories and the common trend now is that it’s ok for a bra strap to show. BUT. See, again we run into professional environment. Wearing a tank top would be ok if it had wider straps, I think. It IS high school and not an office and in Southern California it gets damn hot and the schools are usually not enclosed affairs you find where it snows. You eat lunch and walk to classes outside. Comfortable clothing, not pajamas, remember.

And then there is the question of age. As an adult, I can wear almost anything I want. As a child, I don’t think you can. With maturity comes responsibility and until you reach that maturity, you have to follow the rules more mature people put in place for you. It’s just the way it is and sometimes it sucks. A young girl wearing shorts that are so short her ass hangs out is not appropriate because she is a YOUNG girl. Teenagers want to be seen as adults, more than ANYTHING, but unfortunately, they are not yet adults.  As such, they should wear clothing that covers more skin and isn’t something a college student would wear. Again, though, this is very subjective and parents will let their child leave the house wearing something that I would never let my daughter be seen in.

See? It’s a tough question and a sensitive topic. Do I think girls should be able to wear what they want? Yes. Do I think they should be told not to because BOYS will be uncomfortable and distracted? Absolutely not. I think the rules should be as follows:

  1. All clothing must be of an appropriate size, not too big or too small. It should not be skin tight or so loose the pants fall off and show off colorful boxers. I REALLY don’t need to know what your underwear looks like. Pants should fit at the waist and not be so low to show me your thong (remember those low rise jeans?!). Underwear stays under there.
  2. Tank tops are fine. Nothing see through. Short should be long enough to keep your butt covered, not just while standing but while sitting or bending over.
  3. Skirts should also be long enough to keep everything under wraps while sitting and not so tight you can’t walk (I just like walking and hate binding clothing, so this rule is mostly for me :p).
  4. Shirts should be long enough that they cover everything MOST of the time. If your stomach peeks out while you raise your hand, that’s ok.

Bra straps will probably show sometimes, but I don’t think it’s much of an issue, but personally, I think spaghetti straps are too casual for school. I think those four rules cover everything and are not too restrictive for either gender.

I do absolutely think that girls need to stop being told that they need to dress differently because the boys will react a certain way. That’s insane. Boys should be able to control themselves and I don’t think they’re mindless sex fiends, no matter their age. I also think that consent should be taught to BOTH boys and girls in their health classes.  This idea that girls are solely responsible for how a boy reacts to them IS the solid foundation of rape culture and the very beginnings of blaming victims for their own rape. Boys need to be taught respect and consent and control, and to learn to take responsibility for their actions. A dress code should not be in place to restrict what clothing a girl can wear to keep boys from feeling uncomfortable. A dress code should be in place because they are children in a somewhat professional environment and should dress accordingly, plain and simple.


One thought on “Dress Codes, Girls, and Feminism

  1. You are completely right! I think that school should be treated as a semi-professional environment where you can choose to wear something comfortable, yet not totally revealing. I agree that instead of saying these rules are to help the boys concentrate, the rules should be focused towards looking professional! I really loved your post and look forward to seeing more!

    Liked by 1 person

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