Every morning I find myself looking in the mirror with my arms pressed against the sides of my body trying to measure whether or not my fingertips exceed the bottom edges of my shorts. And every morning after spending 10 to 15 minutes trying to find a pair of shorts that are long enough to save me from being ridiculed by my second period social science teacher—who makes a habit of shaming girls in front of the whole class for dressing “provocatively” and “inappropriately“—I reluctantly conclude that I’d better just stick to boring black leggings lest I be targeted for humiliation.
The dress code issue has been a topic of contention in recent years. Just last month, Lydia Cleveland, a senior at James River High School in Virginia made national headlines when she wrote a letter to her school’s administration concerning the blatant sexism that exists within dress code implementation; specifically, that it is enforced for girls but not for boys. Not only did Cleveland argue against the discriminatory rules in play but she also spoke out against the Scarlet Letter-inspired shaming tactics that are employed by her school. Any girl who violates the code must wear a ridiculous pair of sweatpants that prominently state “DRESS CODE” along the sides. Hester Prynne anyone?
“If we think shaming someone is OK, how long before they bring back a dunce cap or something because this is basically what that is,” Cleveland said, according to Huffington Post.
Significantly, these sweats are specifically made for and have only been worn by the girls at her school.
Cleveland is right. The very infrastructure of most school’s dress codes are sexist and underscores the reality that females are held to different standards than their male counterparts, and forced to feel ashamed of their bodies. Indeed boys are hardly ever called out for breaking the dress code by wearing sagging pants, whereas the length of every girl’s shorts is consistently in question.
Historically, women have been subjected to discrimination by either being objectified or ridiculed for being overly masculine. It’s appalling that such hateful and ignorant beliefs persist as a staple of the modern landscape—particularly within the context of the educational system, which should aim to dismantle any remaining oppressive infrastructures and to propagate progress.
The fact that female students’ school days are being interrupted in order to create a “distraction free” learning environment for males implies that a girl’s education is not as important as a boy’s. Also, by assigning girls’ clothes titles such as “provocative” and “revealing,” schools send a powerful message to girls—it’s your fault if you’re sexually targeted.
This serious issue must be socially addressed. Schools should focus on educating males about the fact that the female body is not an object to be openly sexualized. Indeed, every female has the right to be treated with dignity and to have access to a shame-free education. The “distraction free” learning environment that currently drives the dress codes of schools across the nation egregiously compromises this inherent human right.