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Are School Dress Codes Sexist?

by Alexa Checklenis, staff writer

Photo by Tori Stamm

As the new class entered and veteran classes returned, Orientation in August contained warm welcomes and much talk about dress code. Reminding students of the restrictions, the deans and administration made it seem that one of the major focuses was dressing appropriately, or as Ms. Cruze said, “dressing as if you are going to work.” This topic was repeated until it was cemented into students’ brains, but there was much confusion from students, following this speech.

Does the strictness for guy dress codes come even close to the strictness for girl dress codes? Many girls think there is no way.  At Leigh High School and worldwide, the controversy of a sexist dress code has been a recent argument in the feminist community. In many cases, girls are looked at as objects by boys, and are therefore punished for what is worn.

I recently asked Ms. Cruze if she felt there was a discrepancy between male and female dress codes, and was told that she feels as if many different schools do have sexist dress codes but that ours does not. When asked how she felt about a sexist dress code, Cruze said that she is, “very well aware that dress codes are controversial because often they’re phrased as that women are distracting others and that’s utterly sexist BS.”

Girls are dress coded because they are considered to be distractions. But maybe boys should use what they are taught: that girls are not objects and should not be judged based on appearance. Being a teenage girl in the world of slut shaming and strict guidelines of what’s appropriate and not, it seems unfair to be punished for what makes a girl feel bold.

“I didn’t understand because, I was more developed than other people. I was wearing a tank top, just as everybody else was,” said Grace Broberg, junior. “And my teacher told me I shouldn’t wear it again because it was distracting. I was like, ‘oh, so other people can wear it, but I can’t because I am more developed, and that’s not fair!’” When asked how she felt about being thought of as distracting, Broberg told me what many girls feel when they are pointed out by the administration. “Victimized.”

TIME Magazine writer, Laura Bates has a strong view when it comes to sexist dress coding. She uses an example of a high school female that is dress coded for wearing a tanktop because the males in the room feel distracted.

“When a school takes the decision to police female students’ bodies while turning a blind eye to boys’ behavior, it sets up a lifelong assumption that sexual violence is inevitable and victims are partially responsible,” said Bates in TIME Magazine.

Emily Cruze, Leigh assistant principal, has studied a lot about this topic because of the controversy revolving around the thought of the exposure of a girl’s body. Cruze said that it is outrageous to shame a girl for displaying her body.

Most girls are sent home to change for showing a bra strap, strapless top, revealing midriff, short shorts, mini skirt and/or any displaying of undergarments. Generally, boys are coded for gang affiliations, drug/alcohol references, “bro tanks” cut too low, and sagging pants. And in the past few years, Leigh has made more restrictions for girls. The question here is, are restrictions equal for boys and girls? And many girls’ answer is no. Yes, there are clothes that should be deemed “inappropriate”, but punishing a girl for wearing a shirt that reveals her shoulders is just outrageous. Women are so much more than a “distraction.”

“There are things that are appropriate for the mall or after school or for parties, and there are things that are appropriate for work,” said Cruze when asked on her thoughts. “Our dress code is a little bit different [than shaming a girl for being distracting]. It’s simply just reminding students that they’re going to work.”  

And by teaching girls that they are at fault for “distracting” the eyes of immature boys, the boys get the benefit of the doubt, and are never punished. This leads to much greater problems in the long run when boys begin to take advantage of this.

#IAmMoreThanADistraction. Girls around the world are posting pictures in revealing clothing to accentuate the thought of their bodies being distractions and using hashtags such as #YesAllWomen, #HeForShe, #QuestionsForMen, and #MyClothesAreNotMyConsent, to express their discontent for the treatment of women.

“The problem is often compounded by a lack of any attempt to discipline boys for harassing behavior, which drives home the message that it is the victim’s responsibility to prevent. We have received thousands of testimonies from girls who have complained about being verbally harassed, touched, groped, chased, followed, licked, and assaulted at school, only to be told: ‘he just likes you’, or ‘boys will be boys’. The hypocrisy is breathtaking,” said Bates.

At Leigh High School, the dress code has been altered to be more professional because of the dean’s passion for making our high school a better place, but these actions must be brought up in schools around the nation. The unfair treatment of women must be stopped.