Stress Coded: Why High School Dress Codes Are Hurting Girls
"When you interrupt a girl's school day because her shorts are too short, or her clothing is immodest, you are telling her that hiding her body is more important than her education. You are telling her that making sure the boys have a distraction-free learning environment is more important than her education. In a way, you're telling her that the boys are more entitled to an education than she is, and that isn't acceptable." -Anonymous
It was the last hot day in mid-October, and I decided to wear shorts to school. Shocker, I know. The problem wasn't the shorts I was wearing, but what I went through for wearing them. As I made my way to first period, I was stopped by a teacher as she was mid-conversation with a colleague to be asked, "Aren't you going to be cold in those tiny shorts?" As the other teacher stared at her in shock, I walked away, ill at ease. This inappropriate comment was a mere hint of how the rest of my day would go.
Still embarrassed and upset, I sat in my honors Precalculus class distracted by the remark. Next thing I knew the vice principal of my high school was at the door. She entered the class, stopping my teacher mid-sentence to pull me outside. Shaking with nerves at this point and wondering why the disciplinarian of the school was pulling me out of Pre-calc, I follow her outside. "So, your shorts are a little short..?" she asked. At a loss for words, I nod. The rest of the conversation consisted of her telling me that a complaint from a teacher made her pay me this visit. She then continued to tell me that I had to find some other clothing to change into. I naturally didn't come to school with a change of clothes, so she asked if I could find anything from a friend. "If not" she said, "I'll have to find you something from the lost and found, but warning: they might be a little buggy."
Soon enough, my clothing incident became the talk of the school and people were fuming. Girls from all different grades were stopping me in the hallway and telling me how mad they were about what happened and how determined they were to shine light on the injustice of the situation. I was inspired and invigorated that so many of my peers shared my feelings on the incident, that they recognized what happened to me was wrong.
The problem is that I was pulled out of math class, because of my clothes. The problem is that my school pulled me out of math class because they thought my clothing was distracting the boys. My school demonstrated to me that my education is less valued than those of the boys in my class, and that is why I'm writing this article.
I'm currently one of two captains for my high school's varsity cheerleading team, and that's not a role I take lightly. The team is made up of thirty-five girls and we are treated like any other sport. Like cheerleading teams everywhere, our uniforms consist of a skirt and top. It shows people that we're part of a team, and it's something we take pride in. The school pulling girls out of class and calling their clothes inappropriate makes girls feel uncomfortable in their own skin. Previously confident girls walking in the hallways wearing their team uniform feel shamed for the length of their skirts.
The point of this article is not to humiliate my school, because this is an issue everywhere. Girls from schools across the country are pulled out, sent home, or otherwise punished because their clothes are said to be distracting to boys. Girls are negatively impacted and taught that this is normal. It's 2014, and yet gender inequality in the workplace is still an issue. This school dress code system promotes this, and it's something that has to change.
The impacts of strict dress-codes on women in particular, for the sole purpose of 'not distracting boys' isn't a victimless act. The way I felt the day I was pulled out of class, nervous and violated and insubstantial, I wouldn't wish on anyone. And if girls are made to feel this way to appease the boys in their classes, is it any wonder they choose not to enter fields made predominantly of men? Is it any wonder there's such a huge gender gap in fields like science and technology when girls are told they're lesser during the most influential period of their lives? Women need to stand up against dated, sexist stereotypes of what's appropriate in schools. Girls need to stand up against shaming one another for their clothes and choices. Most of all, the systems that instill more value in boys' disruption-free education than to girls', need to change.