Undressing the Dress Code

Decades+Dress+Up+Day

Decades Dress Up Day

Written by Becky Cooper and Maya Sritharan, Guest Contributors

If you look at schools across America, you will notice that most of these schools implement a dress code. Looking closer, you’ll notice that most dress codes share the same basic set of rules. Girls: no shorts, dresses, or skirts shorter than fingertip length, no crop tops, no low cut tops, no backless tops, nothing that shows off undergarments of any kind (yes, that includes bra straps), and at some schools, no leggings or yoga pants. Boys: don’t sag your pants. Obviously there’s a bit of an imbalance between the rules put in place for girls and the rules put in place for boys. And while everyone wants to agree that sexism is wrong on a large, generalized, public scale, many people are hesitant to address sexism on a local, more personal scale. Those in support of strict dress codes tend to present two primary arguments. First, the need to  “uphold decency in a place of learning,” and second, the notion that “revealing clothing will distract the boys.” But when you really look at the issue, you’ll realize that neither of these arguments in support of dress codes hold any value–in fact those ideas alone perpetuate misogyny and rape culture.

When was the last time a male student was reprimanded for wearing shorts?”

The first argument, the idea that we want our girls to dress “decently” implies that showing your skin, whether it be on your legs, stomach, or back, makes you a less respectable person–but only if you’re female. When was the last time a male student was reprimanded for wearing shorts (picture the senior boys on decades day)? Probably never, because society teaches us that it’s okay for boys to show their skin and be comfortable with their bodies, but that it’s not okay for girls to do the same. The argument that revealing clothing distracts male students not only villainizes girls, but degrades boys as well. This statement implies that male students have no self control–that the mere sight of a girl’s legs will inhibit their ability to focus and learn. This claim also perpetuates the mindset that in such a situation, the girl is responsible for the boy’s actions, which bolsters victim blaming and rape culture in our schools and our society. Yet another problem with this claim is that it dehumanizes young girls, turning them into sexual objects that must be covered up at all costs. We should not be perpetuating sexist ideas such as these in our schools. School dress codes based on misogynistic ideas allow for misogyny to spread on a wider, more dangerous scale. In fact, rules like these create the entire basis that allow misogyny to happen. In order to end sexism we cannot just attack the extreme issues, we must attack the local ones too, starting by reforming school dress codes.