Perhaps the most notable distinguishing factor of a school student is their dress code. We watch as students clamour off the train – the girls clad in long skirts and dresses, while boys wear a shirt and shorts. Of course, we dismiss this as a longstanding tradition – a means to cultivate reputable members of society. But do we consider the ramifications of these policies on gender equity? The answer is, not really.
As a private secondary school student, I can attest that dress codes foster a belief that the female body is something to be ashamed of. When preparing for school each morning, my eyes wander longingly past singlets, T-shirts, and shorts – beacons of freedom only found during weekends. Instead, my gaze rests on a green checked dress. Its hem recedes past my shins, and the high collar rubs uncomfortably against my neck. In contrast, my brother’s uniform is wonderfully comfortable.
According to ABC News, a sophomore student at Oakleaf High School in Florida was told by a teacher that her skirt was too short. She was then forced to wear a neon yellow T-Shirt with “DRESS CODE VIOLATION” emblazoned on the front. The Hartford Courant states that Tottenville High School in New York gave 200 students- mostly girls – two-week detention for infringing dress regulations.
As women, these punishments teach us to feel embarrassed about our bodies.
The way schools justify these dress clothes is profoundly concerning. How many of us have been told to pull down our skirts, so that male teachers don’t feel uncomfortable? I have heard this explanation on countless occasions. This type of reasoning sends the message that girl’s bodies are responsible for boys becoming distracted. The female’s body seems so uncomfortable to men that compliance to dress codes is a crucial factor in any learning environment. Ludicrous, right? Clearly, schools do not think so.
Our society claims to promote gender equality, and yet this is a shameful reality.
Furthermore, dress codes also represent men as being unable to function if the female body is visible. This creates the belief that men are blameless in incidents of sexual assault. Instead, they deem it to be the girl’s responsibility to prevent objectification. Endorsing these damaging dress regulations perpetuates victim-blaming and rape culture.
Enforcing clothing regulations socialise students into gender stereotypes: the boys, in shorts and sand-shoes, embody societal preconceptions of masculinity. The girls, in lengthy dresses, represent the outdated depiction of the female as a mere sexual object. Forcing students to adhere to these gender conventions restricts individualism. It also encourages a society in which everyone fits into the status quo. The school system should be inspiring unique identities, not stifling them.
So, how do we remedy these sexist dress codes? I believe the answer lies in listening to the female voice. Girls know their bodies. They know what they want to wear. Schools don’t have to make this decision for them. To diminish patriarchal attitudes, we must promote equality in all areas. Schools are the building blocks of future generations: this is an important place to start.