High School Dress Codes: Sexist or Appropriate?

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We can see a trend of the extremely conservative codes that we experienced in the last few decades shifting to ones that allow more personal expression and freedom of choice. We also see codes that do not shame women’s bodies as much. Unfortunately, a majority of these newer school dress codes particularly target women’s choices in clothes above their male peers. Certain codes such as the “three finger rule” for shoulder coverage as well as other tests to determine how long shorts have to be are specifically tailored to women. This is especially problematic during the hotter months of the year when wearing clothes that are considered a dress code violation is often a more comfortable and available choice than the school-approved alternatives. More disturbing than the practical disadvantages of our school’s dress code is the message it sends to the students. One of the most common defenses of the current dress codes is as follows, “Wearing shorter or more ‘revealing’ clothes (almost exclusively talking about women) will distract other, (usually referring to male) students.”

This is an extremely critical point in the dress code debate because it suggests that instead of dressing for the purposes of self-expression or simply feeling good in certain clothes, women dress for other students, namely male peers. Not only is this highly inaccurate, but it blames the “victim” instead of holding the other students responsible. If the populace of the school is truly getting distracted by their classmates wearing different clothing then why are we not teaching our students to not objectify and over-sexualize their peers’ bodies instead of punishing their classmate? It is a scenario all too similar to modern rape culture in which the victim is often blamed instead of the attacker instead of holding the latter accountable for their actions and sends a disturbing message to all students affected.

The shaming and objectification of women’s bodies that rape culture revolves around can only be perpetuated by singling out women and forcing them to cover up. One of the most common phrases in said culture when talking about the victim is that “she was asking for it.” While this quote can be used in several different contexts, try putting it into a perspective specific to women wearing shorter or more revealing clothes. We cannot keep pretending that codes do not enforce these ideals by restricting women’s clothing choices over their male peers. Rules such as these make women feel like sexual objects which leads them to feel ashamed of their bodies. Students appear to have a similar opinion when confronted with the issue.

While conducting a survey in a WBHS class of 26 students, we asked if the students thought that dress code should be changed. 13 out of 26 students all said that they would personally benefit from a change in dress code; all 13 were female. We then asked if they thought the code should have tighter regulations or become more lenient and all thirteen continued to say that many of the regulations, specifically placed on women, should be amended. Finally, we asked how many of them had been confronted by a staff member over what they had worn and 12 of 13 said that they had been confronted, or seen a friend confronted about what they had worn. Last school year (2012-2013) some students were turned away at the door in the last few months of the year because they were deemed to have been showing “too much skin.”
In search of a different point of view, we wrote down opinions from a few different teachers and students from around the school. The first teacher we asked did not know any specifics of the dress code and neither did the next. The second teacher interviewed suggested that, although she did not know much about the dress code, she still thought that restrictions on wearing leggings ought to be put into place due to their elasticity. We managed to catch the school’s principal, Mr. Tom Shelton, for a quick interview and his views on how dress code affects the students. We asked him what he thought of our school’s dress code and whether it needed to be changed or not. He said, “I think the dress code is being enforced.” Principal Shelton went on to agree with the previous statement that the violations of dress code are more common during the summer months, and expressed his view that students need to remember to be careful what they wear when the weather gets hot.  We tried getting a student’s perspective on the subject. Tenth grader, Blair Sakwa, when asked what she thought of our school’s dress codes said the following. “It is taking something that is casual  for girls and changing it into something that objectifies them and makes them feel indecent in everyday clothing.” When the same question was asked to Doug Husic, a senior at West Bloomfield High School, he quoted, “The rules set up women to be objectified because they draw a line between what is ‘proper’ and what is not.” Mrs. .Katherine Law, a sociology of gender and AP World History teacher at  WBHS also said, “High school is the beginning of our social development and administrators need to remember the messages that policies like this send to students. It is a cultural problem which should not be perpetuated.” Finally we interviewed Ms. Marlowe B’sheart, the Spectrum administrator, English, and sociology of gender teacher, who was informed on the current dress codes. When asked what she thought of our dress code she said, “As a fan of individual expression I struggle with the philosophies that inform dress codes. Exploring the dress code through the lens of gendered inequality may inform us of unspoken ideas we, as a community, communicate around gender.” Most inequalities resulting from the dress code are inherently gendered against women and should be addressed. The sad truth of it is that school dress codes are locked into an unquestioned system of inherently sexist policies. Only by addressing said policies and continuing to amend them to include complete equality can we claim to have a truly equal system which is mutually beneficial to both the concerned staff, as well as the students victimized by the policy that they are forced to adhere to every day.

 

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West Bloomfield High School’s Dress Code

1. No inappropriate or revealing clothing is permitted.

2. No bras or underwear showing. Pants must be at waistline.

3. No clothing with inappropriate messages: sexual references, profanity,

alcohol and drugs.

4. No bare midriff for males or females.

5. Short Skirts must be mid-thigh (no shorter than 3 inches above the knee.

(No short-shorts or short skirts)

6. Shoulders must be covered.

7. No hair grooming attire or sleepwear may be worn in school.

8. Disciplinary action will be assigned for dress code violations.

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