What’s Sex Got To Do With… Dress Codes?

“Students, please feel free to contact me directly with any further questions about this year’s dress code policy” the Dean of Students at my high school closed with. It was always a meeting that left my friends and I angry and confused. They told us it was primarily in place to prevent distractions amongst the student body. Some of the policies made sense, like not wearing shirts with profane images. As the year went on though, we began to realize how gendered school dress codes really were.

School dress codes have come under a lot of heat over the past few years for a variety of reasons. They have been called out for being too vague and too subjective, but either way, they seem to affect women much more than men. One of the most troubling findings about the construction of these dress codes is how they play into rape culture.

For years and years we have been told we cannot wear certain types of clothes because they are “distracting”. But distracting for who? I feel confident in saying that someone wearing red or blue nail polish (as opposed to the allowed light pink/clear at my elementary school) would not detract from my educational experience.

The answer I fear, is that it is “distracting” for male students and teachers, which is extremely troubling. Staring at an extremely young age, education systems are inadvertently teaching young girls what it means to submit to rules that do not entirely make sense. At the same time, these dress code policies are validating and condoning the “distractions” of men in the education system, students and teachers alike. Instead of taking the approach that teaches men and boys not to sexualize young girls in an educational setting (or any setting for that matter), we have enforced harsher and harsher dress code restrictions on girls, which can be detrimental for them in developing their own sense of self. The classic “boys will be boys” culture can no longer be tolerated at any level and those responsible for expressing lewd thoughts and behaviors need to be held accountable for their actions, not accepted and worked around.

6 thoughts on “What’s Sex Got To Do With… Dress Codes?

  1. I can identify with what you said…I don’t ever remember the males having a dress code in school, it always pertained to females. Our dresses, tank tops, shoes, and shorts were all scrutinized and they would send us home or have our parents bring us a new outfit because we were dressed “inappropriately.”

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  2. I had a uniform K-8th grade and a dress code in high school. It has never been fair. Girl’s skirts had to be a certain length, tops had to cover certain areas, girls had to wear sweaters so that shoulders wouldn’t show—all because males may be distracted by a woman’s body and sexualize the female students. It really is not fair to restrict women and how they dress because of how boys may act. Instead, boy should stop sexualizing girls and then women can wear what they want without feeling uncomfortable.

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  3. I like the point that you made where it says that the schools are teaching boys to sexualize girls in an educational setting. Girls should be able to wear what they want. If boys can not cope with the style or impression that someone is wearing, then they should not be considered eligible to even stay in school. Some schools do take the dress code way to seriously, in my opinion. For example at the (public) school system that I went to, the middle schoolers were not allowed to wear tank tops, yet when you got to high school, you were. This made absolutely no sense to me. Since when does high school validate you to wear no sleeves?

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  4. I completely agree with this post! My high school had a uniform and it made 0 sense. We had to wear socks that covered our ankles because supposedly ankle socks were “too showing”. One question I have is how does this portray into rape culture? Personally, I think it plays into rape culture because all of the dress code violations are based on what girls wear. If our school systems comment on girls skirts being too short or our clothes being too showing, then this is looked at as “normal”, hence making it okay for boys to get distracted when girls aren’t completely covering their bodies. Our whole society is based on what the girls do. Girls are the ones who get the sexual reputations, and our school systems commenting on girls’ dress codes and not boys’ makes the situation even worse. How do you think this idea plays into rape culture?

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  5. I really like this post because the dress code is something I have always found frustrating in elementary school, middle school and high school. From nail polish to the finger tip rule with shorts to always having to keep our shoulders covered, it seemed to always be one thing after another. I’m sorry but if my shoulders turn you on then that’s your own problem. I totally think the concept of dress codes provokes rape culture because it makes young boys believe they SHOULD be sexualizing girls for how they look when in fact they shouldn’t. It puts an idea in people’s heads about what’s right and what’s wrong. The fact that boys can wear their pants below their butt showing boxers, but girls can’t show their thighs or shoulders is completely contradicting and a total double standard. Why should girls be punished for the way boys minds wander? That is their problem, not ours.


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