School dress code management is not always the most professional, and the angry parents addressing this issue would agree. Dress codes are common regulations implemented nationwide in schools with something written usually along the lines of: no spaghetti straps, no ripped jeans, no halter tops, etc. These rules have been put in place to promote professional attire and uniformity amongst students in schools. The rules enforced are black and white; if the outfit does not follow proper regulations set in place, further action needs to be taken. But in certain occasions, the actions taken are not the most professional. I think that school administrations can maintain uniformity and professionalism while getting rid of the rape culture that is being promoted when confronting dress code violations.
No short skirts, halter tops, or prominent cleavage; these are all rules directed towards the female student body. Some may argue that these rules are mostly applied to girls because boys would not wear such things, but what boys do wear are tight jeans, sleeveless shirts, and basketball shorts, all items of clothing that could be equally as revealing or distracting yet they are not addressed in the handbook. If dress code management is only enforcing what is written in the handbook, why does the handbook mainly focus on female attire? In fact, the part that is actually addressed towards boys is very loosely enforced, such as muscle shirts and tucked shirts.
A common problem when enforcing the dress code is also that the rules are not enforced equally amongst the student body. This is an important tool that schools use to make sure students do not dress too radically. But the problem begins when there are inconsistencies in the way it is enforced. If it is enforced on one student strictly and not on another, the system begins to fail. The excuse that security guards are ‘just doing their jobs’ when they code someone is lost when they do not apply this rule to everyone out of will rather than ignorance.
There have been many people who believe that the manner that these regulations are enforced are extremely sexist. At Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, Montana, Gabriel Montie, a male student that was nearly coded but was ultimately disregarded: “Administration once tried to dress code me for wearing a small crop top and low skinny jeans because they thought I was a girl. It didn’t bother me personally, but it was idiotic that I was to be dress coded when they thought I was a girl, but left me alone when they discovered I wasn’t”. The fact that it happens makes this set of principles lose their actual purpose. The school’s dress code was implemented in school to protect students and give the school the right to tell students what is deemed to be distracting to the education of others, but that point is lost when insinuating that a young girl’s body is to blame.
The first dress code policy was implemented in 1969 when a group of students wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. After this case, known as Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District, the court decided that it would be best if schools wrote regulations regarding the handbook about appropriate attire to use in school. After that, any gang-related paraphernalia or lewd and otherwise sexually explicit clothing was banned from being used on school grounds. This has proven to be effective, and parents agree for the most part, yet the parameters of ‘appropriate’ attire put in place are obscured when it is mostly about the way a person looks, rather than the safety and professionalism of students and the school. “No, there is no valid reason [to manage the dress code the way it is managed] that I know of. If it was to prevent violence then sure, but my body is not a weapon and it should not be treated like it is”, said Maritza Rodriguez, a former lawyer and current AP English teacher at Nogales High School about regarding. At an age where young women are developing their bodies and finding who they are, it is extremely detrimental to hear a security guard say that the reason they are coding is because the student’s body does not look good with her outfit, rather than stating that those are the rules they have to follow.
Some students who have been dress coded have said they felt that administration or security staff take pleasure in shaming girls and the way they look, and felt a lack of professionalism on their behalf. Though this may not necessarily be true, there is definitely heavy bias when security guards dress code girls. In one instance, a young woman who would be considered tall and curvy was wearing a skirt that administration would deem inappropriate, but instead of stating that it was unacceptable attire, they told her the skirt did not look nice on her body, and if it were another girl, they would not say anything. This exact situation is a prime example of the growing epidemic that is rummaging its way through schools in the United States.
When security guards do happen to dress code someone, students do not always comply with security guards and, in turn, they lose professionalism and say demeaning things to the violator. They shame and embarrass them in public so they can get their way, or so it seems. During lunch- time, students are out in the open around campus and so it is easier for security guards to find the violators. A common approach to dress coding is standing behind them and looking them up and down in disapproval. If the girl is wearing a skirt, they even go as far as to duck their heads under their skirts or have them climb stairs to ‘prove a point’ that their skirts are too revealing. To say the least, these actions are invasive and unnecessary. What this in turn does is promote rape culture.
According to Southern Connecticut State University, “Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety”. This taboo topic is something that is being avoided and not talked about on school grounds, because schools do not want to promote it, but accidentally promote it anyways. There is no doubt that this is not the intention of the school board, yet the mere fact that it is being avoided removes the platform for the victim to speak up because they feel it is not allowed to be talked about.
Some may argue that school dress codes are meant to be socio-economic levelers, preventing students from spending on expensive items and to take away the pressure of kids having to conform with popular trends being promoted by students’ wardrobes. The University of Cambridge wrote an article titled ‘Economic and Social Stress and Material Culture Patterning’ that stated that they had done ethnographic research in Kenya and Zambia and anthropological studies in Sudan and Nigeria. Their studies demonstrate those cultures to communicate within-group corporateness in reference to outsiders. “The greater the competition between groups for resources, the greater the likelihood that material culture will play a part in the maintenance of internal cohesion”. While this is a valid argument, it is an unfit argument due too little to no way of preventing students from buying the most expensive outfits or a trend that follows school regulations yet, still otherwise pressure other students to follow suit to ‘fit in’.
By telling girls that what they wear is provocative, they are telling guys that it is okay to rape because the girl was provoking him. The way the school dress code instigates that is by saying that their body is too distracting to the students around her. They are indicating that it is her fault that they are distracted towards her, rather than giving a different reason or teaching the other students about respect towards their peers. This indirectly tells guys that the excuse, given that he was provoked by what the girl was wearing, is a valid excuse, and the school most likely does not want to be the catalyst for this action. “Administration doesn't want to sexualize students, and students don't want to break the rules, but the dress code allows both of them to do so. If there is no dress code, there is no abuse of it” (Personal Interview: Maritza Rodriguez). A female student at NHS was told that if a boy were to come up to her and pull down her shirt because she was wearing a shoulder top, she would be sent to the office and given a referral, rather than the person who did it.
Not only does the school dress code promote rape culture, but it also sexualizes girls in the process. The very reason that they have to tell a girl that she looks provocative insinuates the sexualization of young girls. Some may oppose saying that the school dress code is doing the exact opposite by attempting to relieve the stress that young girls may feel to look sexy, but that indicates that they dress for other people, not for themselves, and since this is not always the case, this reason is invalid. A teen may simply be trying to be fashionable, but an adult may perceive her outfit as sending a sexual message. Or a girl may indeed be trying to look sexy, but the adult is almost certainly not her intended audience. The fact that adults even have to go out of their way to tell an underage girl that she looks too sexy is implying that they were looking at her that way in the first place, and that is certainly a goal that the school board does not want to achieve. These are such antiquated ideas that should stop being perpetuated. It’s objectification and sexualization. These kind of social ideas have been around for a long time being the main reason why girls are sexualized at a young age, making to feel inferior, and allow ideas within the rape culture to fester. These dress codes, it is argued, are to keep girls’ sexuality in check and to curtail promiscuity. It is argued that a shoulder, a too-tight legging, will simply be too distracting for the student body of a school to get any academic work done. These old, slightly Victorian ideas simply have no foothold in modern society anymore.
Administration does not handle the dress code professionally due to lack of uniformity, promotion of rape culture, and inability to make things impersonal. The dress code, in the end can be a good thing, but is lost when too much bias comes into play. Dress codes are antiquated, in the modern world the sole focus should not be on what women wear. The school dress code, if it is to be effective at all, should continue to be solely about the protection and betterment of the educational environment, rather than the justification of good looks. In many situations, the dress code can go a long way, but when the focus is derailed, so is the argument that supports it.
- Bates, Laura. 'Everyday Sexism Project: Dress Codes and Rape Culture'. Time, 22 May, 2015.
- Friedrichs, Ellen. '4 Lies About School Dress Codes That Cover Up Their Oppressive Effects'. Everyday Feminism. N.p., 10 Aug. 2016.
- Hodder, I. (1979). ‘Economic and Social Stress and Material Culture Patterning’. American Antiquity, 44(3), 446-454 20, January 2017.
- 'School Dress Codes'. Findlaw. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 November 2018.
- 'Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist'. LII/ Legal Information Institute, n.d. Web. 2 November 2018.
- Whaley, Katie. 'Students Question Inconsistent Dress Code Policy'. Bearing News. N.p.,Web. 29 November 2018.