Language We Should Be Giving High Schoolers

Articles like this one and discussions I’ve been having with some friends have made me realize that there is a serious disconnect between the actual issues at hand with slut-shaming dress codes and the language accessible to teenagers to respond to these policies.

I never had a problem with my high school’s dress code, but I did have an issue with a church-related mission trip.  The youth leader made a couple dress code policies that I took issue with.  He said that any girls who wanted to swim during the trip (one summer, we spent the week at a hotel with a pool, and a couple other times we bought a slip ‘n’ slide during some time off) must wear one piece bathing suits.  I remember arguing against this because one pieces are really annoying to wear, and pointing out that there are some very revealing one pieces and some very modest two pieces.  Other girls complained that this was unfair because they only owned two pieces, and he was making them spend money on things that the boys didn’t have to spend money on.  None of these arguments affected his policy.  The other issue he brought up was work shorts.  He said that every person had to wear shorts down to their knees so that, if someone was standing on a ladder, they couldn’t see up your shorts.  The main argument I raised against this, at the time, was that women’s shorts don’t generally come in that length, so again, this was a policy that was creating extra inconvenience and expenses for the boys but not for the girls.

All those arguments are relevant and worth thinking about when sexists dress codes are put into place, I think.  (And, in that youth leader’s defense, when the boys on the trip started playing a game of shirtless soccer and I complained that this was clearly unfair when we weren’t even allowed to wear tankinis, he made them put their shirts back on.)  But the MAIN PROBLEM here, the one that goes way beyond the “That’s not fair!” instincts I had in high school, is that policies like this suggest that it is girls’ responsibilities to make sure that nobody else is looking at them inappropriately.  And that’s flat-out not true.  It’s not true about high school girls or adult women.

I’m not saying that organizations aren’t allowed to make dress codes.  Of course they are.  I think it’s totally fair to demand high schoolers to dress in a put-together way for school.  To me, that means no ripped pants, no bare midriffs, no exposed undergarments.  And I guess “no hats” gets shoved in there, which, sure, go ahead and make a policy on.  Even things like “No outside jackets,” while generally pointless to me, at least aren’t sexist.  If you’re a private school with a uniform, you’re allowed to do that, too, as long as you aren’t being a dick to anyone who doesn’t fit into outdated, rigid sexual stereotypes (so, don’t force anyone to wear a skirt or pants if they’d prefer to wear the other option).  I can understand these policies.  The problem comes when dress codes, as they tend to do, affect girls’ clothing choices way more than boys, or when administrators state that the reasoning behind their dress codes is to prevent girls from distracting the boys.  The article I linked to at the beginning of this article talks about one school where they took all of the girls out of classes to sit through an assembly on dress code policies.  This sends a clear message that this school is valuing boys’ educations over that of girls’.

In high school, I was angry about dress code policies because I believed that teenagers had the right to express themselves however they want through their clothes.  Now, I’m angry about them because I believe that teenagers have the right to not be blamed for possessing female bodies.

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