“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.