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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 25, 2018

The problematic sexism of dress codes

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News | Aug 24, 2018

I was 13 years old at a Christian summer camp for teens when a woman came up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and told me my tank top was inappropriate.

It was smack dab in the middle of an outdoor worship service, nonetheless — a day when it was likely 90 degrees outside and everyone’s thighs were sticking to the seat of their chairs.

During that time where I could have been soaking in the pastor’s message, I was told to go change because my clothes were too revealing. During a time where I should have felt carefree in a safe environment, I felt ugly in a body that other people saw as dangerous and an invitation for harassment.

I lost a piece of my innocence that day.

School dress codes will be a topic of conversation in the classrooms as the 2018-2019 school year commences. Already in the news, schools have been praised and shamed for the way they have handled controversial policies.

As students and parents grow increasingly frustrated by dress codes that often target girls over their male classmates, one school in California is implementing a “no-shame” dress code policy that empowers students to wear what they want.

The dress code, or lack thereof, at Alameda Unified School District in San Francisco lets parents, guardians and students decide what appropriate is, an English and history teacher in the district told The San Francisco Chronicle. The district reached their decision after taking a suggested policy from the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women.

While the dress code is being adopted on a trial basis, it evolved out of the idea of rejecting that certain students’ bodies are distracting and therefore must be monitored and covered, Alameda Unified School District administrators wrote in a dress code FAQ document, according to USA Today.

Administrators hope the changes will reduce unnecessary discipline and help maximize learning time. The enforcement of dress codes is not important enough for students, mainly girls, to miss out on parts of their education.

“If you get dress-coded too much, you don’t just risk missing out on class, you can also get barred from going to prom, rallies or being able to leave campus for lunch,” one student said on Youth Radio.

On the flip side, one school in Texas had to apologize for a “sexist” dress code video produced by the school to inform students about its dress code policy. The video depicts high school girls being ushered into a classroom reciting, “I will not wear athletic shorts.”

But the video only showed girls being punished for dress code violations, for which parents and students criticized the school. Nicole Hollowell, a student at the Texas school, said the thing that really hit her was the song the video was set to the song “Bad Girls” by rapper M.I.A.

On Twitter, a father of one of the female students at the school wrote, “I have no problem with a dress code, IF it is enforced equitably for both boys and girls … From the music, to only females being featured, to the demeaning ‘repeat after me’ segment, it was just wrong. It boggles my mind that the adults in the video did not have a ‘this is not a good idea’ moment.”

Girls have story after story of the times they got in trouble for what they were wearing, often receiving punishments for the alleged dress code violations. The students speak about missing class to have their hemlines measured or waiting in the office for a change of clothes to be brought to school by a parent, Insider reported.

Additionally, projecting a sexualized perception onto an outfit or body part by enforcing sexist dress codes shames girls into thinking their bodies are something that should be covered up.

“Girls are repeatedly told the reason they have to cover up to avoid ‘distracting’ their male peers or making male teachers ‘uncomfortable,’” stated one interviewee from a project called The Everyday Sexism Project.

Another wrote, “I can’t help feeling there is a powerful irony in accusing a girl of being ‘provocative,’ projecting that societal assumption onto her adolescent body, before she is even old enough how to correctly spell the word.”

When girls are removed from classrooms for alleged dress code violations, their male classmates’ education is being prioritized over hers. It shows her she is an item to be objectified rather than a person who should be respected. And it gives them a false understanding that their body is not their own, but an object to be evaluated and judged by the people around her.

Stop policing the way girls dress to the detriment of their education and self-worth.

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