Feminism | Posted by Gabby C on 05/13/2016

Teen Girls Are Going To Keep Rebelling Against Sexist Dress Codes

The dress code poster, via ABC.

When girls wear short skirts, we call them “inappropriate.” When girls make bold decisions about their lives, we call them “vain.” When girls call themselves feminists, we call them “ugly.” When girls ask for justice in an unfair educational system, we call them “unheard.” But teen girls are refusing to tolerate any of the above any longer — one need look no further than the protests surrounding sexist dress codes for proof.

Most recently, high school seniors at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, Arizona took action when a sexist cartoon about the school’s dress code was posted in their library. The cartoon essentially relayed the idea that when girls show off their legs and wear clothes that are too “revealing,” boys can’t focus and ultimately drop out of school — which in turn forces girls to take care of boys and “support [them] forever.” The poster also claimed that girls “come to school looking cute,” that all “boys see is meat,” and depicted images of girls’ bare body parts and a wolf.

The poster was apparently an attempt to humorously relate to students and send a message about the importance of their dress code. Yet it did less to reiterate this message than to mock and undermine female students. What’s more, when a senior wrote the phrase, “It’s the girls’ fault right? #feminism” on the poster at Desert Ridge, the librarian immediately covered it.

This may just be one incident, but this poster exemplifies the strict, gender-based dress codes that are still prevalent at schools across the country. One 2016 study showed that 19 percent of students were prevented from wearing clothing deemed “inappropriate” based on their gender. In 2014 alone, more than 200 students on New York’s Staten Island — the majority of whom were female — were given detentions over dress code infractions. That same year, a student in Florida was forced to publicly wear a “shame suit” — a yellow shirt that read “Dress Code Violation” — after her outfit was deemed inappropriate.

Although dress codes have long been a topic of contention, protests against these attire-based rules have perhaps never been so visible as they have in recent years thanks to social-media based campaigns. For example, #IAmNotADistraction encouraged girls to share their own dress code discrimination experiences on Twitter last fall, as did #CropTopDay, which also encouraged students to protest their school’s dress codes by deliberately wearing clothing out of code and even writing #CropTopDay on their bodies.

The prevalence of these protests suggest that schools not only need to change their policies, which are themselves often quite hazy, but must also address the underlying gender stereotypes and biases those policies represent. Sexist dress codes, like the one at Desert Ridge, only fuel self-image issues and categorize women as alluring objects and men as uncontrollable animals. When young women’s bodies are framed as “distractions” to men, they are sent the message that male students are the default, the priority — and that female students are intruders. They not only strip girls of their sense of self-respect and free-expression, but demean boys as incapable of controlling their basic urges.

Girls who take issue with these rules aren’t blindly rebelling, but truly advocating for their right to be heard as sentient subjects rather than passive objects. They see that their protests are still being brushed to the side and discriminatory rules and regulations enforced because their voices still don’t hold the same weight as their male peers.

So, in response, young women will continue to advocate for their right to gender expression and self-respect in their schools and make their voices as loud as they possibly can. Is this not loud enough, administrators?

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  • Reader @ at 5:28 pm, May 18th, 2016

    I don’t agree with the argument that girls are required to keep boys from being distracted.

    But some outfits worn by girls ARE too revealing. It doesn’t come up as often with boys because in general males dress in a manner that is more covered up. Too many girls today are socialized to dress in a sexually objectifying and undignified manner.

    Needless to say, codes should be gender neutral and written to address too much skin or body shape being revealed.

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