Dress Code: Tolerating a Subtle form of Sexism?

By Kristina Dombek
Staff Writer

Almost any student, especially female students, know the phrases, “three fingers width,” “fingertip length,” and “cover your stomach.” The purpose of dress code ranges from trying to make students feel safe to keeping a level of professionalism in the school environment.

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Isha Brockenberry holding a dress code violation t-shirt

At Hammond, the dress code is implemented in order to get students to become college and career ready, which is a goal all aspects of Hammond is geared towards. Becoming college and career ready is an important duty high school’s should be responsible for equipping students with; however, in the respect of choosing what students should wear, it is unnecessary. The safety and comfort of students is a crucial aspect of schools, but the actual, real effects of dress code create the opposite of what is desired, especially for female, LGBTQ+, or minority students. The dress code creates an environment in which students are shamed and embarrassed, those students miss class time, and it caters to an environment in which subtle forms of sexism is tolerated.

The existence of dress code in U.S. schools is growing. According to Niche, a survey showed that the number of public schools with a dress code increased by 21% from 2000 to 2013. Although it may not be as strict at Hammond, other schools’ dress codes can create humiliation outside of the classroom. According to theatlantic.com’s article, “The Sexism of School Dress Codes” by Li Zhou, the administrators at a high school in South Jordan, Utah, made their female students during a prom dance, “sit against the wall, touch their toes, and lift their arms to determine whether their outfits were appropriate.”

Although dress code may not be always be this strict, students, particularly young girls, do face these threats from their authorities. As one can imagine, this type of embarrassment can traumatize and ruin an event that should be a great high school experience.  

When a student enters a class and gets stopped for a dress code violation, depending on the severity, they must go to the office to change their clothes. I asked a student at Hammond about an experience that she has had with the dress code, and she recounted a time from elementary school. Excited about her new shorts, she was approached. While getting looked up and down by her teacher, she was asked condescendingly, “what’s wrong here?” She was told to go to the office because “[her outfit] was not acceptable.” Crying in the office, she missed about an hour of class before her mother came to pick her up. Is an eleven-year-old’s outfit more important than her own education? There must be a better way to address a child’s outfit than completely embarrasssing them and making them feel ashamed.

Expression and exploring oneself is important aspect of growing up, and school is the primary environment that children are in at least nine months of the year. School dress code now creates barriers in order for that expression to come through. Kelsey Terrasa, a sophomore at Hammond, states that she buys clothes that she feels expresses herself and her personality, but since she spends most of her time at school, she never gets to wear them. “I haven’t worn this shirt since about seventh grade, but it’s something that I feel like is fun and expresses who I am as a person, but I can’t wear it.”

According to Scott Key, Ph.D., from oureverydaylife.com’s article, “How Does a Strict Dress Code Cause Problems for Kids?” he warns, “that a dress code can actually hinder a child’s opportunity to learn about other lifestyles, cultures and styles. This can make your child less prepared for a future work place, where he will need to adapt to different clothing expressions and find a balance between blending in and expressing his individuality.”

In college, dress code is much less prevalent; therefore, learning to behave in an appropriate manner without the implementation of dress code is a way to prepare for college, and that preparation is an important duty that high schools should be accountable for.

The majority of the blow of dress code is directed at girls and their clothing. There are clothes that do abide by the dress code, but there are specific times and situations where following all of the dress code rules seems ridiculous. Not only should students be able to choose their clothes because of their style and expression, but to stay comfortable. The dress code should not be something girls need to stress over because they cannot find anything to wear that will not make them so uncomfortably hot. Majority of men’s fashion in the summer has shorts that go down to about the knee, fitting the dress code, but majority of women’s fashion are all shorts that do not abide by the finger tip length. How is it that boys get to pick out their outfits everyday and only worry about “pulling their pants up,” but girls must overthink if breaking the rule would be worth it to just stay comfortable? There are sexist rules made by other schools where the dress code should be put into practice because “dressing inappropriately will distract the other students, primarily boys,” which is an outrageous statement in itself.

Here at Hammond, those remarks are not thrown in our face, but they are still real comments made that promote this idea that a boy’s education is more important than a girl’s right to feel comfortable in her own skin. Whether it is a young girl or a woman, they should not have to feel ashamed of their skin. “Sweetie,” and “honey,” are all condescending nicknames girls get called before receiving the ultimate comment of “you should cover up.” Schools should maintain levels of professionalism; however, why is my skin an issue? Why are my shoulders so taboo that no one should be able to see them? If schools wanted truly wanted to achieve professionalism, sweatpants, sweatshirts, or any type of athletic wear would not be seen as acceptable.

The dress code should be transformed so that young girls should not feel attacked. Fairhaven Middle School created a gender-neutral transformation to the dress code. The policy now uses language such as “Clothing will cover torso, midriff and backside.” With still some guidelines to how students should dress, the dress code can still be in effect, but with different outcomes. Students should be able to handle themselves maturely; some students are even legally adults. Therefore, still having rules to dress without limiting so much of a someone’s wardrobe will create a more positive, and mature environment. Girls will have confidence and freedom to express themselves which translates into their ability to get their education, go to interviews confidently, and have a “good job and a great life.” Hammond’s motto “where people are important,” should be seen in all situations, genders, backgrounds, and sexualities. Breaking down the barriers in achieving a more equal environment for the genders should not be overlooked. The idea that a woman’s education is just as imperative as a man’s should not be a radical idea; it is a fact.

 

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