Table of contents
- Introduction: The Controversy Surrounding School Dress Codes
- The "Boys Will Be Boys" Mentality and Its Consequences
- The Double Standards of Gender and Hormones
- The Sexualization and Objectification of Female Students
- Body Image and Victim Blaming: The Hidden Costs of Dress Codes
- Conclusion: The Need for Reevaluation or Abolition of Dress Codes
Introduction: The Controversy Surrounding School Dress Codes
When one picture’s a girl, what comes to mind? When one thinks of a girl or young woman’s body, should it be hidden? According to most school dress codes, a girl’s body is a distraction and should be covered to protect the male mind. Teenage girls today are told that their bodies, not the actions of the males that the girls “caused”, aren’t appropriate for a school environment. Dress codes can be outdated and sexist. Because of all this, one must ask: Is a female student more than a distraction? Dress codes have been shown to cause body issues, promote victim blaming, and compromise the female education for the males; therefore schools should either revise their dress codes or abolish them as a whole.
The "Boys Will Be Boys" Mentality and Its Consequences
Dress codes promote the dangerous “boys will be boys” mentality that can lead to several extreme situations. According to Mary Widdicks, it is common for not only teachers but for parents to place the blame of crude actions on a boy’s gender. She also states that using the “boys will be boys” idiom is dismissive and does not help solve the problem. Even parents of the male gender can see that boys need to be held accountable for their actions (Widdicks). Telling girls that they have to change because it is a distraction to the opposite gender is enabling the activity from boys they are trying to prevent. Instead of making the girl change because god forbid you can see her leg, the administration should teach boys that girls do not object to pawns and that they are more than a distraction.
The Double Standards of Gender and Hormones
Teachers and staff should teach teenage boys that contrary to popular belief, they can control their actions and their hormones just as girls do. Steven Dowshen reports, “When your body reaches a certain age, your brain releases a special hormone that starts the changes of puberty. It's called gonadotropin-releasing hormone, or GnRH for short. When GnRH reaches the pituitary gland, this gland releases into the bloodstream two more puberty hormones: luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. Guys and girls have both of these hormones in their bodies. And depending on whether you're a guy or a girl, these hormones go to work on different parts of the body.” (Dowshen). This means that females and males receive the same hormones as they go through puberty. So, if girls are expected to control themselves, there should not be a double standard for the opposite gender.
The Sexualization and Objectification of Female Students
Others will say that it is up to a girl to protect herself from a boy’s words and actions. Those in favor of the dress code think that a boy can not control his actions and that his hormones are taking control of his actions. Some think that girls know that the boys in their class are visually stimulated and that they will try to dress in certain fashions to get boys' attention. A popular blog writer who goes by the pseudonym “Peppermintfrost” writes, “Boys definitely stare at girls’ butts when they are wearing leggings. Do we really need those extra distractions in school?” and “I know from male teachers that they feel very uncomfortable when their female high school students are wearing tiny shorts or skirts, or have half of their breasts exposed for the world to see. They don’t want to get caught staring.” (Peppermintfrost). She is a believer that dress codes are not sexist and that it is up to a girl to prevent distractions and that most parts of the female anatomy are not “appropriate” for the school environment.
This is absurd. Once again, a girl and her body are more than a distraction. Shouldn’t the administration focus on the fact that the male faculty are scared to get caught staring at students who typically range from the ages of fourteen to eighteen? Peppermintfrost clearly has a biased opinion. Not all girls have their cleavage exposed and or wear small attire or in her words, “sexy nightclub outfits”. There are plenty of examples of young women being dress coded for outfits where their body is completely covered and not serving as a “distraction”. “Seventeen Magazine” journalist Hannah Orenstein writes, “A lot of schools ban spaghetti straps, low-cut tops, and short-shorts. But Woodford County High School in Woodford County, Kentucky takes the concept of a dress code way further: school officials sent home student Stephanie Hughes because her collarbone was showing” (Orenstein). The picture in the article shows Stephanie Hughes wearing bootcut jeans, a tank top, and a sweater. How is this a “sexy night club outfit”? The answer is, it is not. The dress code is clearly sexualizing a young girl and her body parts that are even shared with the male anatomy.
Such extreme codes are not just evident in high school-aged girls’ dress codes. These strict rules start in grades such as elementary school. Society starts raising girls to believe that they should conform to protect the males and that their body is a problem. If we did not have these rules starting so young, maybe the males wouldn’t learn that a girl's body can serve as a distraction. We should start teaching from a young age that girls are not objects to lust after. A young girl should not have to worry about the clothing that she is wearing and the effect that it has on the boys in her class. She should be learning at that the most important thing about her body is not how it is covered, but what's inside.
Body Image and Victim Blaming: The Hidden Costs of Dress Codes
Your body is a problem. That is what girls are told when reading the dress code. Because of this, body issues are created at such early ages. Girls are told to hide their bodies and that sends a very clear message: don’t show your body, there is something wrong with it. Dress codes target those who have a bigger or curvier body type. Clothing pieces can appear different on different body types. The way one article of clothing fits one girl will fit another totally differently. If one is of the thinner body type, one is less likely to get dress coded. Take wearing shorts for example. The High-School dress code states that shorts should be at mid palms length when arms are at the side. But, if one is bigger in size or one’s shorts are just tighter, which is not against the dress code, you are more likely to get coded. This conveys the message that a girl’s body is an issue. If one is told that a piece, even in the dress code, is not flattering on her, what is she to think of her body? The school is creating negative body images and implanting them in young girls’ minds. Girls and people, in general, have a hard enough time dealing with society's body standards, there is no need to bring that body image issues to the school environment.
Body image issues are something that almost everyone deals with. But, body issues are most prominent in older girls and young women. The question is, where did it all start? Body image issues start at earlier ages than one may suspect. According to the Common Sense Media researchers, “Almost as soon as preschoolers complete the developmental task of mastering a concept of their bodies, they begin to express concerns about their bodies, taking their cues from peers, adults, and media around them.”(Common Sense Media Researchers). This means that as soon as a child can understand his or she’s body, body issues can start to arise. Eating disorders are most common in those ages fourteen to twenty-five. Eating disorders can last people a lifetime.
If a girl thinks that her body is an issue or not good enough, this could cause her to start having body issues, leading to an eating disorder. If a girl is constantly told by school administration that her body is not the “right type” for a certain article of clothing, or that she should cover her body up because it is “too revealing”, this can cause one to think that her body is not good enough and that she needs to do something to change it. This said, she could then turn to not eating and other unhealthy habits that affect her body’s image which can cause an eating disorder. Some eating disorders include bulimia and anorexia. Anorexia is the leading cause of twelve-year-old girls. This is the age when most girls are heading into middle school and or in middle school. This is the prime time when bullying and body issues occur. If the school administrative system is telling a girl to hide her body and telling her that it is a problem then that opens up the door for an eating disorder.
Those who agree with the dress code say that they give a more professional environment to the classroom. This is not the case when every day someone is pulled out of their classes because of the outfits he or she chooses to wear. This instead of creating a positive environment produces a negative one. Such a negative environment pulls focus away from education and focuses it on a girl’s body, again. This teaches young women that their education does not matter, what matters is making sure their body is not providing any diversions and is okay to be viewed. Such negative environments can also be a cause for such negative body images.
School dress codes also promote victim blaming. Most people who are against the abolition of dress codes say that the girls who dress in the certain way that got them coded, are asking for it. This goes exactly with victim blaming. Telling the girls that a boy's actions are her fault is not right, it’s sexual harassment. Peppermintfrost writes“Sexual harassment is a problem, but it isn’t caused by boys” (Peppermintfrost). When a girl wears something that showcases a certain body asset and a boy makes some comment to her, people will then say that she was asking for it. This is and should be seen as sexual harassment. Harassment comes in different types of forms whether it be physical or verbal. With either type, a short skirt is not an invitation. Since when did wearing certain clothing become a way to ask for rude comments and behavior? A girl should be able to wear what she wants without having to worry about a boy’s or anyone else’s comments. Each person is responsible for their own actions and one can not blame them for what another wears. A clothing article can not speak. Therefore, it can not say “please make rude comments to me”, “please make me feel ashamed about my body”, or “please act in an annoying manner that will make me uncomfortable”.
Dress codes also teach young women that a man’s education is more important than hers. A girl can be pulled out of class, just so she can go home and change or change in the office so that she doesn't distract the opposite gender. Instead of holding the boys accountable for their actions, the girls are the ones getting in trouble. Girls have to sacrifice their precious learning time because a boy cannot understand that shoulders are shoulders, not sexual objects. There is no excuse to pull a girl out of class. The main reason why most administrators take girls out of class is that the girl is serving as a “distraction”. This sends the message loud and clear that it is more important for a boy to not be distracted by a girl's body than for the girl to be in class. This teaches a girl that a girl is just a body, not a mind. It does not matter what a girl thinks, just the way she covers her body. We must protect the male’s education because it is way more valuable than the girl even being present in class. Many colleges go without a dress code, yet the male students still manage to obtain an education.
Some people say that dress codes help prevent bullying. This is, in fact, the opposite. Students feel targeted by administrators for their body type and gender. CNN reports that a young girl says “The message her school is sending her, she said, is that she should cover up and be ashamed. 'If I show a little bit of my body, I'm considered a bad girl' (CNN). There have been many instances where teachers or school administrators tell young adults that they can not wear something because of their size. The clothing item can be completed in the dress code but will still be sent home or punished. Girls have been told that they cannot wear leggings unless they are a size zero or two because it makes them appear “fat”. Young women have been punished on multiple occasions for being “too busy” even when their tops are in the dress code given to them. If a girl chooses not to wear a bra to school for whatever reason, she may not only be in trouble but it can cause embarrassment as well. The Today Show covers an issue where Florida teen, Lizzy Martinez was told to put bandaids over her nipples which can cause extreme pain and be dangerous because she wasn’t wearing a bra and it was distracting the boys. After the male administrators had left the room she was asked to move and jump around so the movement of her breast could be evaluated and see if she would still continue to serve as a distraction (The Today Show).
Conclusion: The Need for Reevaluation or Abolition of Dress Codes
A girl’s body should not be seen as a distraction. A girl’s education should not be compromised to benefit the male’s education. Society needs to teach boys that a girl’s body is not a toy or an object to lust after. It is not a girl’s job to shelter a boy’s mind. Boys do have control over their hormones, just as girls do. The negative environment can cause body issues and victim blaming. We should not teach young girls that they ask for a male’s bad behavior with what she dresses in. A girl’s clothing choice cannot speak, therefore she can not ask for anything with how she dresses. Dress codes single out those who don’t conform to society's expectations of what is and is not okay for a girl to wear and or show. Dress codes bully those of bigger sizes and sexualize the female body. Dress codes are outdated and need to be either reevaluated or abolished.