Dress code has been talked about time and time again. Among the female population, the phrase “dress code” receives nasty glares and turns of the stomach, and this should be no mystery. Most of the rules of a dress code apply to women. Don’t wear this, don’t wear that or you will be deemed a “distraction” to your peers. This explanation for the dress code is well-known among high school students, as many seem to recognize and bring attention to the sexist issues the guidelines promote. Unfortunately, this problem does not only apply to high school students, but a much more naive age group as well: elementary school students.
In elementary school, students are exposed to the basics of academic subjects, other children with whom they build relationships, and guidelines that could form a foundation as to what is “appropriate” in their minds. Students gain social skills and explore different activities that may interest them, and they deserve to do so without judgment. This becomes a major problem when much of the student population, especially females, are punished for what they wear. More so, that they are forced to change and are told that they are distracting their classmates.
Implementing a dress code at such a young age could have detrimental effects on females, considering that even now, as high school students, girls struggle with what messages are being communicated to them by having a dress code. Dress codes seem to subliminally tell females that their clothes are too ‘revealing’, that their body should not be shown in public, and that the male population is easily distracted by the female body. When I interviewed a concerned mother about her daughter’s dress code, she phrased the idea much better than I could.
Parent of a former student at a local school district Anne L. Thompson said, “The message [being communicated] is to [simply] cover up instead of teaching the boys to stop staring. This is teaching our girls that what they wear controls how other people act, that they are responsible for someone else’s behavior. We should not be teaching five-year-old girls that they are responsible for other people’s behavior!” said Anne L. Thompson, parent of a former student at a local school district.
Although schools aim to make their dress code gender neutral, they fail in explaining why these dress codes are important in the first place. Furthermore, they seem to paint the male as a predator and the female as prey. When applying this to the mindsets of elementary school students, the female child is essentially being taught that her body is sexualized. It encourages her to be self-conscious, ashamed of her body, and restricts her from showing skin in public. This, even as a teenager, is a lot to take in as it serves as a precursor to the skewed perception of women in society. We are sexual creatures who are continuously, and acceptably, objectified by the male population yet, we should not be able to wear anything less than a sheet around our body.
Thompson shared with me the tragic mindset adopted by her daughter regarding clothing, demonstrating the lasting effects of dress code on elementary school students.
“To combat body shaming at school, I encourage her to be creative about her clothing,” Thompson explained. “[However,] she [does not] do it because she is conditioned to feel that it is inappropriate. We are teaching our elementary school girls to be self-conscious about their bodies. That is a message I think we can, and should, spare them at such a young age.”
Thompson went on to explain how this issue does not apply so much so for her son. However, it does suggest to male elementary school students that female students have something to cover. It communicates that it is okay to stare at their classmates’ bodies and that if they are distracted, it is the girls’ fault. Boys are being taught that their natural response to a female body is obsessive and that they can not control themselves.
The damaging effects of dress code have proved themselves real. We are not safe from the judgments made about us, as our clothes now seem to define the kind of individual we are, even between the ages of five to 10. It is time for administrators to rethink how they are shaping their students’, especially their female students’, mindsets.