One day recently, during Homeroom time in Algebra class, Falcon News was all about the Dress Code. My daughter was infuriated.
Ms.Stevens and Ms. Saunderson lectured the entire school about What Not to Wear.
"Now that the weather is warmer, let's review the dress code."
Imagine you're a middle schooler for a minute.
Blah blah blah....shorts should be a certain length...blah blah blah...so girls--
"It was sort of that the girls were being singled out."
What do you mean?
"It sort of saying, "we see that you're wearing this and we don't like this, so stop wearing it, but they don't say that about the boys. The rules don't work both ways."
"So ladies-- if you wear tank tops, cover up so nothing extra is showing."
(Nothing extra = bra straps.)
I asked her, "Should there be a dress code in middle school?"
"I think students can make their own decisions--like pajama pants. Pajama pants don't seem wrong to me. They wear them on college campuses."
"Would you have any rules?"
We talked about it. After a while, it boiled down to this:
Length of shorts -- no butt hanging out.
Consideration should be given for safety, and some basic level of modesty, but the focus should be comfort and personal style.
When the Middle School focuses on how the girls need to 'fix themselves' in order to be acceptable, they are just one more voice in the thousands of negative voices teenaged girls hear, critizing their bodies. Margo's older sister wrote this in a blog post in response to their clothes shopping trip together:
And beyond that - what is this power, this female body, which needs to be vanquished? Not only does my sister need to find shorts in three different sizes, no; she needs to make sure she isn't inappropriate, distracting, tempting. I understand that clothes should address utilitarian needs (so delicate bits hanging out would probably be a problem) but what is so worrisome about legs? I really do get that her clothes should serve a purpose - warmth, comfort, ease of movement - but, for me, any hint of the word "modesty" makes me clutch at my hair and moan. I find nothing offensive about my sister's body. Again, in the situation of her school making rules about the usefulness of clothes, I'm all for it - but once the line is crossed, once it becomes about covering up a woman's body because of "distraction" or "modesty" or "what's appropriate," then I think we all must wonder.
What concerns me about the school's dress code is that they act like the boys must be protected from being distracted by girls' bodies. That there's just something inherent in the female form that must be censored to assure proper learning. There aren't any rules in place to protect girls from being distracted by boys' bodies. Why? Perhaps because they expect girls to be responsible for their own behavior?
Margo and I agreed that this feels suspiciously like a double standard.
And it didn't take very long for me, as an adult, to make the leap to this photo from a Delhi protest.
We need to think about this, and talk about this. Not just because of the message it sends to our daughters, but also because of the message it sends to our sons.