The discussion of dress code and it’s discriminatory nature against girls and their self-image has been a prevalent subject amongst many middle and high school students. This topic has continued to stay relevant, and I’m sure we’ve all either heard about, or even experienced ourselves, the unjust punishments hundreds of students receive daily because of ridiculous dress code rules.
I’m going to be looking at something a little bit more obscure in the realm of this discussion. That is: how dress codes are a direct reflection of the unbalanced gender roles present in our society today, and additionally, how they will only further perpetuate the existence of conflicting morals amongst all students they’re imposed upon.
When discussing this topic, it would be ignorant to ignore the sexualization of female bodies in our society. This is arguably the root of all problems relating to dress codes, and likewise, the main reason that a restrictive dress code would ever exist in the first place. As has been proved time and time again in nearly every aspect of our daily lives, the female body is commonly associated as being synonymous with sex.
The objectification of women in the media is something that only further bolsters this idea; which has encouraged the conception that the female body is nothing more than a selling point or form of entertainment. Something only to be viewed in a sexual light or as something “appealing” for those who see it. The societal fault that has built this negative connotation surrounding female bodies is the exact source of what has led schools to create a dress code.
I mean of course, if schools were to allow bra straps to be shown or shorts to be worn, female students would be far too distracting to their fellow classmates and student body, right?
As I’m sure anyone who has been dress coded themselves has experienced being punished because of something that you wear is not only incredibly inconvenient (no, I did not bring complete a change of clothes with me to school), but especially embarrassing and guilt-inducing.
Every time I’ve been dress-coded, or told to “cover up,” my skin would begin to crawl, my face heat up, and my chest begin to feel heavy, as if a rock-form of guilt was thrown right on top of it. Throughout all of these situations I couldn’t help but think that I’d done something inexplicably and horribly wrong.
(hint hint I didn’t.)
You see, telling a girl to go and put on a jacket, change her outfit, or whatever punishment is decided upon, does more than just force her to go change. It sends her a message that will continue to be recited and repeated every day for the rest of her life. A message that says: your body is a sexual thing, and the exposition of your skin will only ever be seen in an inappropriate light. A message that is only confirmed by our media and passed down by parents who want to protect their little girl. A message that will travel far past the boundaries that any school will ever reach.
Dress codes also give the person doing the dress coding the power to deem someone’s body as a sexual thing. While some teachers or staff may simply be following a certain rule set by their school, I myself have been dress coded, on more than one occasion, for reasons that were in no way an actual violation of the dress code.
Even though I was following the rules that are considered to be so necessary in creating a “safe learning environment” for students, somehow, I was still too inappropriate to be sitting in class. This only further proves the point that, no matter what “rules” or ridiculous outfit guidelines you impose on students, it is solely up to the people around them to decide whether they are going to view that individual in an appropriate light or not.
It is not a girls fault for wearing something that may “distract” someone, but rather the fault of whoever may view a girl’s body as being “distracting” in the first place. My body is not a distraction. My existence is not a hindrance to those who surround me. The only real issue I can name in this situation is the fact that anyone would have the mentality that these claims are true.
The fact that so many girls have to miss class time, or even be sent home because of something that they’re wearing sends out another societal message. The message that their male counterparts education is more valuable than her own, and that their bodies themselves are something punishable.
In the United States, it’s been a few decades since women weren’t allowed to receive the same education as men; and since then, we have prided ourselves in providing equal opportunity for any gender to succeed in life. As has been shown on multiple occasions however, gender inequality is still a huge problem today. But why do we continue to insist on making these problems worse?
Things like dress codes pretty much ingrain gender roles and unfair treatment of the sexes into the minds of children as being normal. Yes, we may have accomplished allowing females to actually receive an education, yes we may have accomplished allowing females to be seen as actual members of society (wow!!), but that doesn’t get rid of the fact that we are fueling ideas gender inequality everyday, and doing so by cementing them within our school systems and students minds. How can we claim to be anywhere near having gender-equality in schools while these unjust dress codes continue to exist?
To emphasize the true hypocrisy of dress codes, let’s look at this situation in perspective. It is incredibly common for schools to have girls leave class, or even school in general (I’ve even had friends of mine be suspended), due to a violation of the dress code.
The dress coding process normally goes a little something like this: You go to class and have a teacher deem your outfit as inappropriate; from there you need to go and change; and while there are multiple different ways that you can be sent off to change, all of which involve finding some sort of jacket, sweatpants, or even completely new outfit to change into. A reminder that this whole process is happening during class time.
After finding whatever it is you need, you have to put away (or in some schools, turn in) your “inappropriate” clothes before heading back to class. For some teachers, finding a new article of clothing is enough; for others, there’s more to the story.
Girls may find themselves doing work in a side room for the rest of the period (been there), having to serve detention or maybe even be sent to an administrator’s office for an even harsher punishment. Regardless of the details of any punishment however, we shouldn’t have such protocol being implemented in school in the first place. The process itself is tedious, time consuming and guarantees that a student will be missing out on class time in order to find new clothes.
Many dress codes detail their intent as creating a “safe” or “productive” learning environment for students. Which means, the main reason schools don’t want male students to be “distracted” in class is because they recognize this class time as being important and necessary in the first place! In an attempt to condense everything into very brief and blunt terms: the solution to ensuring that one student does not miss class time is to force a different student to miss that class time instead.
Is there not the slightest trace of irony in this situation?
Which leads me to my next point: how dress codes are also harmful to boys. Dress codes succeed in further adding onto and broadcasting the largely false and negative aspects of the male stereotype. While girls are far more likely to be actively discriminated against, boys are consistently being portrayed in a negative light.
Men are stereotypically seen as power-hungry, emotionless, sex-driven beings. And through dress codes we have only added onto this imagery to create a narrative that says: boys aren’t capable of not being distracted by girls. That boys are already far too sex-driven to be trusted to focus in a room that contains exposed shoulders, thighs or midriffs. Yet surprisingly, never in my whole existence has a boy ever been outwardly affected by what I was wearing.
In fact, I can name countless situations where boys didn’t blink an eye at an outfit that I had previously been dress coded for. The very foundation that dress codes are built upon instills boys with the mindset that they constantly have to be yearning for sex in order to be considered “normal” teens. When in reality, boys are not only able to control their hormones around their classmates (regardless of what they’re wearing), but most likely weren’t even affected or “distracted” to by them to begin with.
Although dress codes may be viewed as “necessary” in order to maintain a “proper learning environment” in schools, they are in no way needed to actually be doing so. Instead of creating guidelines that require girls to hide their bra straps, create an environment where these straps can be seen for what they are: a piece of elastic.
Instead of taking girls out of class for being “distractions” to other students, teach kids that they shouldn’t be “distracted” by anyone’s physical appearance in the first place. Instead of trying to “protect” boys from the exposition of too much skin, understand that they genuinely won’t be affected by a girl’s appearance until we make it a point to constantly draw attention and shame girls for it.
If we truly value the progression of gender equality in our society, and if we truly want to protect our youth from potential danger in the future, we need to ensure that they are not being taught the opposite of these morals in their schools.