After meeting with the school administrators who created this new dress code, we discussed many things that were apparently “improved” in this new dress code, one of which is their assumption that it did not contain any gender biased words/language. However, after re-examining the dress code I found that although gender-specific words or pronouns such as “he”, “she”, “girls” or “boys” were not mentioned, one can skim through these guidelines and almost immediately identify which rules apply to girls, and which to boys… And after making that realization, one would notice that there are a great multitude more rules pertaining to girls than boys. With this fact fresh in my mind, I ventured out to various clothing shops, focusing on what I found out are the top 5 places ACS girls buy clothes from: H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Zara, and Topshop; to see whether the rules that have been imposed upon us are reasonable and the clothes described are available at clothing shops. I came back home with another new realization: the dress code that specifically girls are expected to follow at our school (as well as schools around the world) describes a set of clothing that is the complete opposite from the clothing that girls are encouraged to don by the media, society; and these are the clothes they find in stores.
“The clothes that our culture makes available and fashionable for girls, the ones that tend to be attractive, to glamour, to success, to money and to public female power and glory, are the same ones that make it possible for most girls and womyn to access power and resources vicariously in our male-dominated culture. That is what schools should be concerned with. Blaming girls for making rational choices about what society rewards them for is useless and hypocritical.” (Soraya Chemaly at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/school-dress-code_b_2711533.html)
If one really wanted to form a gender neutral dress code, one would impose rules that forbid boys from wearing tight shirts, shirts that reveal their biceps, skinny jeans and baggy pants. These items of clothing reveal the equivalent in men as “short shorts”, leggings, low-cut shirts, spaghetti straps, etc reveal in girls. If you want to label the body of one sex as inappropriate based on the sexualization of that body, make sure to label the body of the other sex as inappropriate as well or else you will be seen as sexist and misogynistic.
So here’s my question: What kind of message is this sending to, not only adolescent GIRLS who are the main targets, but also to adolescent BOYS?
Womyn are being judged each and every day by the clothes that they wear. What are now called “short shorts” (although I can’t think of any reason why… shorts are supposed to be short) have been deemed by the patriarchal society that we live in as “inappropriate” “revealing” et cetera. Why are short shorts inappropriate? Because, quite bluntly, they reveal a part of the body that has been labeled as inappropriate; because the female body for thousands of years has been sexualized and objectified, and that is why so many flinch or cringe or snarl whenever I walk on the street wearing these shorts — because I dare to break the unwritten rule that states that there are several parts of my body that are NOT MINE: not mine to reveal or control, they are for a man. And by enforcing these kinds of rules based on how much skin teenage girls are allowed or not allowed to show, you are doing the same; you are taking away their agency, their control over their own bodies. You are enforcing the Modesty Doctrine (definition at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/phoenixandolivebranch/2012/06/modesty-body-policing-and-rape-culture/). Stop and think, right now, about how horrible the world we live in must be, so that a girls’ ARMS are sexualized. Her shoulders. A female’s shoulders are labeled as “inappropriate”.
By stating the above, I am not accusing the school of forming the dress code with this in mind. I do not believe that the school administrators were aware that this would be one of the biggest messages their female students would receive from their dress code. After all, the reasons for this dress code are clearly stated in black and white right on top of the page: “We come to school dressed to learn”. In other words, your dress must be “professional” and “acceptable” and “appropriate” enough for school. And in this way; professionalism and attractiveness and appropriateness have become connected to the covering of the female body.
Now you can see how girls are getting two opposing messages about how they should look and act: from the media, they are told to flaunt their bodies (for men), to reveal as much as they can (for men), to be glamorous and beautiful and successful but the only way to do and become so is to use your body. OH, and this entire time, girls are being shown unrealistic images of the female body that get into every girl’s head that she is not beautiful or thin or seductive enough. The female body is for men.
And on the other side, from schools and institutions and adults, girls are told to hide their bodies because they are inappropriate, unprofessional; they are told that it is better/more attractive to be “modest” (whatever that means); that their own bodies are not under their control, a feeling that is very familiar in every girl. Her body is not really hers. The female body is for men.
“The girl also might very well have internalized ideas repeatedly conveyed to her about how people confuse her clothes for “morality” or “intent”. Not only has she internalized these ideas, but her school might have institutionalized them in dress code policy or enforcement.” (Soraya Chemaly at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/school-dress-code_b_2711533.html)
Now, an illuminating part of the meeting that I partook in on the new dress code, was when the adults spoke about how girls must protect themselves in this world — not only that but about how the school must try it’s best to protect them as well. Different viewpoints were discussed, including the belief that if girls wore less “revealing” clothing, the prospect of assault (verbal or physical) would decrease. This is a crystal clear example of victim blaming — this is exactly how dress code is, as Amy A on http://thefbomb.org/2013/08/dress-codes-stepping-stones-to-rape-culture/ describes it, “the stepping stones of rape culture”. The truth of the matter is, my dress does not protect me from sexual assault (verbal or physical) in any way, shape or form. If I am walking past a rapist who decides to try and rape me, whether I am wearing a garbage bag or booty shorts won’t matter to him. He is a rapist. I am the victim. I have walked past the same men in jeans and gotten the same glances and stares that I have gotten while walking past them in shorts. I am not the problem, and neither is the way I choose to dress.
Believe it or not, implementing this type of dress code will lead to the same type of mentality in young teenage boys too. Although the mentality already exists since we have all been socialized since birth to be sexist, this will enforce it. The belief that the way womyn and girls dress is any way at all affiliated with the reactions we receive from men is directly connected to the description of revealing clothing to be “unprofessional” or not school worthy, but beach or party worthy (this is almost a direct quote of what was written on the top of the document of the new dress code). A girl who dares to defy the dress code and come to school in shorts shorter than the stated amount is labeled as sloppy, indecent, dirty, and here it comes… a slut. I am not writing this out of nowhere; I have seen this happen to other people and most importantly experienced it happening to me countless times. The incident that always comes to mind while speaking about this matter is something that happened to one of my close friends: she was biking with her PE class on the Corniche when a man on the street verbally assaulted her. In tears, she approached her classmates expecting to find solace or support, and instead was slapped in the face when they informed her that it was her fault: she was wearing shorts that were too short, what does she even expect? Most of those classmates were male.
Ask yourself: is the school addressing the REAL problem right now?
The truth is, these issues are affecting girls and boys in negative ways. Something as small as a dress code is directly connected with so many other huge realities. Girls and boys are arriving at a very important time in their lives especially in high school where they are learning about the world and about who they are — trying to figure out who they are. Every little thing affects us, even if just subconsciously. Schools were formulated so that children could go some place to learn — but it is important to discern what exactly we are learning. My whole life, I’ve been told that school is a preparation for life. We supposedly are being taught so that we are prepared to enter the “real world”, so that we can become responsible and knowledgeable and wise leaders of tomorrow and citizens of the earth. That is a school’s job. It is vital that you do your job well; that you do not forget that what you are doing is much bigger than the near future — not the school’s reputation and how the student body LOOKS, but whether you are teaching your students how to live in the world, how to make the world better. It is not just about what the SAT scores are, but about why they’re so low, why increasing numbers of students are failing, etc. Do you really think the problem is as shallow as the clothing children choose to wear? Clothing is about self expression and comfort, it is not a reason for failing grades. Depression is a reason for failing grades. Inept teaching methods is a reason for failing grades. Limited room and time for creativity and fun is a reason for failing grades. Forcing teenagers to wear collared shirts will not make the cumulative SAT score rise, no matter how incredible that may sound.
Throughout their entire lives children, and specifically girls, are told by the media, TV, magazines, etc that what is most important is outward appearance. It is important to make sure that as a school — a place of education — you are educating kids so that they realize that what is in their heads is far more important than how they look. By telling us we have to “come dressed to learn”, you are implying that our dress determines how well we learn. A student can enter a class in a suit, and spend the entire hour staring at the wall without paying the slightest bit of attention to what the teacher is saying. Students learn in clothes they are comfortable in… not in clothes that look the nicest or neatest to you. Students only came to school in leggings and sweatpants and shorts in the first place because they are comfortable like that, because that is how they are comfortable learning; or being in a place that they don’t necessarily want or like to be in at 8am in the morning. By implanting a dress code as strict as this, you are focusing too much on the way we dress and not how or to what extent we are getting educated. We come to school to learn, yes… not to look nice (in your terms). If you want good representation for your school, you should not be focusing on ways to change how we look, although it may be tempting to believe that that is the solution, but rather what we are learning and how we are learning it. You should be telling us that it’s more important how smart we are than how we look. This type of dress code is exactly what encourages teenagers to obsess even more than they already do on their appearance. Obsessing over appearance has proved to lead to eating disorders, depression and low self-worth.
There are an infinite amount of points that I could make about this dress code and dress code in general: how it limits individuality and self-expression, something that kids should be encouraged to express and yet for decades have been encouraged to stifle, how it is quite demeaning and strange that a school that has been known to encourage reading and books is now asking it’s students’ to buy an entire new wardrobe for the sake of “looking better” and for upholding the school’s reputation or to give out an illusion that its’ students are smart because of the way they look, that it is plain downright expensive, etc. But I choose not to. I believe it is horrifying that my classmates and I are being forced to comply to a dress code that limits us to a very narrow choice of clothing; almost none in fact. I believe that this is just another piece of evidence shedding light to the fact that most people do not seem to take in: students do not have a voice. Students do not have rights. We have no voice in the way we are taught, who teaches us, and what we are taught. I believe that this is an old fashioned system that must be reformed; and I believe that we must have some type of voice especially in the way we choose to express ourselves — in the way we dress. And so that is why I believe that the ACS dress code and dress codes everywhere must be eliminated. Not just because they stem from long existent sexist and misogynistic ideals, but also because they are the perfect example of the repression of students worldwide.