Friday, September 2, 2022

The Girl Code


It’s September in Columbia/HoCo and some of the buzz from schools is about dress-coding. 

Still? I thought we were done with this. I thought the new dress code had put us on a healthier path for dealing with student clothing choices. 

It is such an uphill battle because, in our culture, we are inundated with messages that tell us that women’s bodies are dangerously sexual and must be policed. Dress codes in schools are more of the same. They aren’t about students. They’re about “the girls”. 

But you should see what the girls

You don’t understand what the girls 

It’s really shocking what the girls

They have to do something about how the girls

It’s not a dress code. It’s a Girl Code.

If it’s hot outside a girl’s outfit is “showing too much skin.” If it’s cold and she wears leggings they’re “too clingy or revealing.” Merely by being a certain weight or body type, a girl/young woman can attracted unwanted comments and censure at school. 

We don’t hear these sorts of statements about male students. Why? It isn’t because they don’t “break the dress code.” It’s because we don’t sexualize and condemn male bodies in our school spaces. We don’t say they have a responsibility to dress in a certain way so as not to be distracting. We don’t ascribe sexual intent to them based on our judgement of their clothing choices. 

They just are. Our school dress codes, by and large*, allow boys/young men to “just be” in their educational environments. What freedom that must be. They don’t worry about the fingertip rule or the sleeveless shirt rule or if their shirt rides up if they raise their hand in class. 

From an earlier post about the institution of the new dress code:

I think we should be very careful when opining on how “those girls” just want to make a spectacle of themselves…it is these kinds of judgements that lead to all kinds of hurtful stereotyping and blaming. I wish we could agree that the foremost goal should be that the clothing is comfortable, appropriate for the weather, and suitable for the activities that our kids are doing in school. And that the aspect of clothing which pertains to self- expression is acceptable and - - dare I say it? - - welcome.

After that, perhaps we can begin to look at how young people learn to make clothing choices as steps on a developmental continuum, one that is necessary for growing into their independent, adult selves. Being teenagers, they will sometimes make mistakes, push boundaries, and, to be blunt, do stupid-ass things along the way. They need guidance. Not censure. Respect. Not shaming.

I want to be clear that I think that HCPSS has made a good deal of progress in this area. I support the new dress code and I think it is working well in many schools. I think that the negative examples I’ve been hearing about are limited to a few particular school communities. But, since poisonous attitudes about female bodies are so prevalent in our culture, this isn’t something that we can simply say once and be done with it. We need to keep discussing it with teachers, admin, and staff. We need to keep educating parents, too.

The West makes a big deal about how awful it is that certain countries make it impossible for women and girls to get an education. And it is awful. So much oppression. So much opportunity wasted. But if we maintain and allow attitudes and behaviors that sexualize and police girls bodies simply because they are girls? 

It’s just another flavor of oppression and more opportunity wasted. 

*There’s another blog post in the treatment of how the clothing of Black and Brown boys and young men is policed. I’m not ignoring it. I’m talking about girls and young women today.

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