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Girls getting fed up with school dress codes that treat them as distractions


Schools waste a lot of time enforcing dress codes, most of which focus on preventing young girls from distracting young boys.

Hardly, a week goes by without a news story about overreach by a school administrator who suspends a girl home because of an errant hem or blue hair. (See this Georgia freshman sent home for blue hair, and this Alabama girl for red.)

(This generation won't flub the PSAT if a classmate shows up with magenta tresses.)

Decisions about clothing and hair color should be left to parents and students. The usual retort here is I don't know the revealing stuff girls wear today.

I know what girls wear. And the range of acceptability has changed, as has what we consider proper attire for boys. We are long past skirts for girls and suits for boys. People wear shorts to church. On hot days, men walk around Atlanta shirtless and women wear halter tops. There is no resulting panic in the street. You may not like it, but freedom to dress as we choose is firmly embedded in American culture now.

It wasn't long ago society contended a flash of female ankle was distracting and women had to cloak themselves from head to toe. Kids today are used to seeing a lot more exposed flesh than even a generation ago. Go to a beach and it's often dads turning around discreetly to look at teenage girls, not their sons who have grown up seeing midriffs and thighs.

To that point, check out this video from a homeschooled student who attended a prom for homeschooled teens. The teen says she was asked to leave because male chaperones feared she was provoking impure thoughts among boys.

http://youtu.be/6MaHxxlfDXo

Bottom line for me, it is not the responsibility of girls to ensure male classmates aren't flummoxed by above-the-knee shorts or sleeveless tank tops.  And girls' education should not be sacrificed.

As this mom wrote on Slate after her sixth grader was sent home for her shorts: My daughter was punished for showing too much of her (gasp!) legs. Her school is normalizing the notion that girls’ bodies are distractions. That girls bear responsibility for boys’ reactions to their bodies. That boys have thoughts that are inherently impure and will lead to misconduct. The school’s chosen mode of punishment is disrupting girls’ educational experiences and quite possibly hindering their legal right to an education. The message and actions perpetuated by gender-biased implementation of school dress codes—the blaming and shaming of our girls—has got to stop.

Girls are tiring of the inherent bias in dress codes and have started the  #IAmMoreThanADistraction   campaign.  And a Pope High School student sent me this letter I wanted to share on this issue:

When you send a girl home because of a violation in dress code rules or her clothing is too immodest, you are essentially telling her that hiding her body is more important than her education. You are telling her that making sure boys have a distraction-free learning environment is the uppermost priority.

In a way, you’re telling her that’s boys are more entitled to an education than she is, and, if I’m not mistaken, defeats the purpose of a school. Since when do boys dictate whether or not their learning environment is distraction free?

Maybe the better question is why are we punishing girls for a crime boys are committing? Boys have self-control. It isn’t fair for girls to be limited from expressing themselves through clothing. Now I’m not saying we throw away all dress code rules, I’m simply saying that the rules are too harsh.

Every time a teacher has to stop class to remove a girl is time students waste when they could be learning. Not only that, but the girl who was removed is now missing out on her education to be criticized for something that should not be her fault.

Yes, some clothes are definitely not school appropriate. Those clothes should not be permitted. All I’m proposing is that we quit being so harsh on the girls dress code. Education is too important to be interrupted. Boys should not blame their inability to focus on the girls.

By enforcing the rules, you are sending each and every girl a message. You are saying to them that because they are female, they are guilty and should cover their body. How do you think this will impact girls in later years? Girls will have a sub-conscious thought in her mind that tells her that she should be ashamed of her body.

Women have the rights, like every other human on earth, to express themselves and be confident in the person they are happy to be. By enforcing these unjust rules over them, you are stripping them of the person they want to become. You are stripping away their education. And education ought to be every school's top priority.

 

 


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.