Dress Codes: the War on Women?

High School administrators are enforcing ever stricter dress codes, and many students believe their policies are outdated with today’s fashion and culture.  Administrators and society want to believe that by dictating what students wear, there are less discipline problems, girls are not as sexualized, and the playing field is leveled for students from low-income backgrounds.  In practice, however, these dress codes cause more problems, because the regulations are simply not compatible with today’s fashion, and many girls’ gets in trouble when they shouldn’t think the policies actually objectify girls.

High school dress codes overwhelmingly target girls because boys supposedly aren’t able to control themselves, and girls’ fashion is apparently too distracting. Dress codes are supposed to liberate girls from sexualization—however, they do the opposite. They take girls out of the classroom, embarrass them, and publicly shame culturally acceptable attire. I think it’s wrong to reinforce the culture of objectifying women and girls by allowing this type of sexism. Insisting that girls should cover up more objectifies them, and places the blame for their sexualization on them. Boys should learn how to honor and respect girls irrespective of new fashion trends. Girls aren’t asking to be sexually harassed and objectified, and it is wrong that schools are choosing to benefit the boys rather than allowing the girls to be comfortable with their clothes and body. We are not teaching boys how to be respectful, and are allowing boys and administrators to make fun of girls who are being punished for not even dressing inappropriately. For example, there was a recent story this year about a Kentucky girl being sent home from school because her collar bone was showing. According to Caroline Bolognia, “After receiving a phone call from the school about Stephanie’s dress code violation, Dunn brought her daughter a scarf to wear (The Ridiculous Dress Code Rule That Made This Teen’s Outfit Inappropriate,  Huffington Post). The incident didn’t end even after Stephanie put on the scarf. The male principal  said Stephanie was giving him “attitude,” and sent her home anyway.

High school dress codes need to be modified to provide a more fair evaluation regarding what girls can and cannot wear due to evolving fashion trends. School administrators should tolerate current fashion trends (within reason, obviously) and should hold boys accountable if they are disrespectful to girls. As Laura Bates, a Time magazine journalist, says, “It teaches our children that girls’ bodies are dangerous, powerful and sexualized, and that boys are biologically programmed to objectify and harass them (How School Dress Codes Shame Girls and Perpetuate Rape Culture, Time Magazine feel that girls are targeted due to male teachers and students feeling uncomfortable with their clothing. I personally think society is educating boys to think this way at a young age, to accept society’s perpetuation of the rape culture, and further ingrain negative patterns of sexualization and objectification. Society and the public school system are ingraining sexist attitudes in young men and boys by enforcing a dress code that restricts women.

The idea that dress codes establish an even playing field for all genders is a myth, because they are almost always targeted more towards women and girls. In a recent study conducted by Carrie Preston, a Boston University women’s studies professor, she claims that school dress codes rarely have positive effects on students. According to Preston, “It’s certainly going to give women the idea that the exposure of their bodies is a negative thing.” (How Dress Codes Make Things Worse for High School Girls, Boston.com). What Preston maintains is the dress codes are not beneficial to all they continue a cultural trend of being uncomfortable with the female anatomy. For example, “A high school in Shelton, Connecticut, banned backless, cut-out, and midriff style prom dresses eight days before the dance this week, drawing panic and anger from students and parents who say it’s too late notice to change the rules (“How Dress Codes Make Things Worse for High School Girls). Reading these stories from high schools around the United States alerted me to the problems that young women and girls encounter in trying to express themselves fashionably, hoping to not be shamed.

Young men and boys almost never get in trouble for wearing low saggy jeans, for example. I don’t think dress standards are justified when the sexes are treated unequally regarding dress code enforcement. Overall, even if dress codes are meant to be well intentioned, they establish sexist divides in American culture I believe school districts need to evolve their polices and enforce consequences for male students who choose to be disrespectful towards girls. The problem runs deep, however, and cannot be solved overnight.

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