Dress Codes, What are They Good For?

thumbnail.aspSummertime is quickly approaching, which, when I was in school, always meant that it was time to switch out my wardrobe for fun prints, flowing skirts, and lighter fabrics.

Now (as well as then, but much less so) it also means the beginning of the annual campaigns to “tell girls they need to cover up their bodies” and the nation-wide fight back against ancient dress code rules (with the latest attack falling on leggings).

Dress codes are not a new issue. I still remember the three-finger rule to measure straps of our tank tops as well as the arms-length check for our shorts and skirts. And by our, of course, I mean us girls. Because for some reason, boys got away with wearing their pants below the waist and muscle t’s and gym shorts. Their anatomy wasn’t nearly as distracting to us girls as our bra straps would be to the boys.

I have a vague memory of some middle school assembly during which a male teacher got up to make some awkward complaint about the cut of our (in hindsight, extremely unfashionable) camisole-based outfits. At the time, I didn’t register the feelings of discomfort and body policing his comments created within me. I just assumed that of course our new 15-year-old boobs and waistlines would be distracting, albeit it was a little gross to hear from a teacher.DRESS_CODE

But over time, I stopped letting people make excuses for their misinformed sexism. And so did other girls. That’s why we see girls and their advocates fighting back when they’re told their outfits are inappropriate. Because I don’t want to live in a world where girls are no longer given a choice as to what they can and cannot wear and be deemed “appropriate.”

And dress codes are important in a sense. Without them, there wouldn’t be any value of measure. Things might spiral out of control. Girls might show up to Social Studies with too much visible thigh. But a dress code shouldn’t take aim at one gender specifically. And sure, maybe girls are more “at risk” for exposing a part of their bodies that others would find “distracting” and that’s why they are policed more than their male classmates.

For this reason, a lot of schools are relaxing their dress codes, or re-evaluating them to reflect today’s standards of fashion.

But do girls really need their school administrations to tell them what’s “appropriate”? Especially when these rules are enforced through humiliating calls to the principal’s office (which, honestly, are probably more distracting than the outfits themselves). We need administrators to teach students how to respect their classmates, if they really think these outfits are causing issues. We shouldn’t have to sit quietly and dress modestly so as not to distract our male classmates. They should be taught that a female body is not a distraction or a source of their pleasure without consent.

These cultural distinctions are learned, and maybe if we didn’t teach children at an elementary school level that girl’s bodies are a source of lust and therefore need to be covered up, the issue wouldn’t arise at a high school level. Maybe kids would just see clothing as clothing, and bodies as bodies. Maybe they already do.

How does your school treat dress code issues? Have you ever fought back against these double standards?