A common critique against the “Modern Day Feminist” is that she spends too much time focusing on trivial, first world, and privileged problems like the average high school’s dress code. She is accused of using ‘sexism’ or pulling the ‘gender card’ in a “boy-who-cried-wolf-manner” in order to mask her true intentions of wanting to wear short-shorts freely. Being penalized for accidentally revealing a bra strap does indeed seem like a trivial matter when juxtaposed to child marriages in India or the domestic violence rate in Afghanistan.
Often, social problems in first world countries are marginalized when compared to the struggles women face in countries like Sudan, Nepal or Iraq. However, boundaries or borders do not confine oppression, and sexism does not immediately disappear the moment a woman sets foot on American soil. Social problems are never isolated from each other, and oppression is not a scale that one puts problems onto in order to compare the “varying degrees” of a woman’s suffering. True, experiences with different encounters vary for all women, but at the foundation of these encounters and at the root of feminism is a binding factor that cries out a simple and uniting message: Women are unequal to men.
Whether high schools (or any institution that implements dress code) care to admit it or not, dress codes expose greater insight to the functions of this world and how it treats its women, and bare the implicit double standards we inflict upon the impressionable minds of our youth. When teenage girls are sent out of class because her bare shoulder possibly “distracts” her male classmate, we place his education over her right to learn. When teenage girls cannot wear shorts during a hot school day because boys “won’t be able to concentrate,” we “sexualize” her natural anatomy while justifying his right to objectify her. When teenage girls spend more time thinking of what to wear in order to adhere to dress code standards than they do on homework, we encourage the idea that her beauty must outweigh her brain.
The Modern Day Feminist does not fight against the dress code for her right to wear spaghetti straps or short skirts, but because of the ideas that dress code perpetuates when she does choose to wear spaghetti straps or short skirts. Dress codes support the idea that a woman must conform to physical criteria in order to take herself or be taken seriously. This concept in itself suggests that self-worth is a matter of external factors, rather than internal. Additionally, dress codes also lend leverage to “rape culture” (or the system that shifts the blame of sexual harassment from the attacker to the victim; commonly heard in the form of, “she was asking for it.”) because it dictates that fault lies within a girl if she distracts a boy from what she’s wearing, rather than condemning the boy for getting distracted in the first place. The Modern Day Feminist fights against dress codes for the same reason she fights against child marriages or domestic abuse: all of these problems subjugate women, and make us seem like lesser beings rather than the humans we are.
Dress codes are ironically outdated in a society that forges a demand for progress. But how can society evolve for the better if we remain immobile and silent in times that call for action?
Sexism thrives through the likes of social media, it thrives in the words and actions of our loved ones, it thrives in our silence when we see injustice and make no act against it. In such a timeless problem as this one, silence can be our deadliest enemy.
We can break that silence by asking ourselves one simple question: When did it become radical to think that a girl’s clothing preferences are not correlated to her capacity for compassion, innovation, empathy, or intelligence?
Tragically, we too often find that the answer to that question is unsatisfactory.