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Dress Code Sexism

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Akron chapter.

Any girl that has ever attended public school knows about the struggle of a dress code. On those hot days as the school year approaches summer, girls pour over their closets trying to find an outfit they won’t get called out for or sweat to death in. All their dresses are too revealing, their shorts too short, and their shirts reveal way too much shoulder—or so their school says. Girls have been attacked time and time again with dress codes. Policies are almost always directed strictly towards girls; some even specify for girls only. These dress codes are not only sexist toward women, but they limit their expression and comfort in so many ways.

Dress codes have some kind of restriction on every single item of clothing, among other things, a girl can put on. Shorts and skirts have to be a certain length, normally mid-thigh or knee length. Tops are required to have a certain size strap or sleeve, and bra straps are not allowed to be seen. No shirts that reveal midriffs are allowed either. Sometimes the amount of how much a girl’s back is showing is restricted. Leggings and yoga pants cannot be too tight, and in some schools they are banned completely. One has to control the amount of cleavage visible, which can prove very difficult for any girl, especially those that have larger breasts. Anything from shoes, to hair color, to piercings are monitored; at some schools even the visibility of one’s collar bone is restricted.

These regulations clearly apply to girls more-so than they do boys. Boys shorts are made longer, their tank tops have thicker straps, and they have no bra straps or cleavage to hide. Do we really think that this all is a coincidence? That dress codes just happen to be written in favor of all the clothes boys normally wear? Of course not.  Dress codes are clearly written for girls. No one is monitoring the length of any guy’s cargo shorts, but someone is always watching for a dress that comes up a little too short.


(Stephanie Hughs– Dress coded for the visibility of her collar bones)

One reason commonly given for dress codes is the notion of “Professionalism,” but is that honestly the point? I don’t think so. Why are we expected to believe that covering up those few inches on our shoulders is for professional dress when half the boys have on basketball shorts? How about the phrase, “Because boys will get distracted?” This is the winner. We have all heard it before and we will hear it again. Dress codes are enforced for the comfort and “lack of distraction” for male students. Girl’s bodies apparently pose an inconvenience for the teenage boy. If not properly covered, a male student might become so entranced with a female student’s shoulder that he could completely miss out on all the information in class. And whose fault is that? According to schools, the girl he was distracted by holds all the responsibility.

Think about it: who has to dress a certain way to make sure their body is covered? Who will be asked to change if they don’t follow this rule? Who will be taken out of class or even sent home if their clothes are deemed to be too distracting? Girls.

This concept is beyond belief. Because a female student’s body might pose a distraction to a male student’s education, her education is interrupted and put on hold until she can find something more suitable for the classroom. What kind of messages is this sending to both young women and young men?

Girls are taught that they must cover up their bodies for the benefit of any males that may see them. Girls from age 12 in sixth grade to age 18 in 12th are taught that their bodies are always sexualized and bad, and that they must cover them up to appear decent. They are shown that if there is any chance they could distract from a boy’s education theirs will be halted.

What about girls getting distracted? Maybe the boxers hanging out of the top of a boys pants is distracting or perhaps she’ll be so entranced by an athlete’s biceps she’ll miss the entire lesson. The answer to that: “girls should have more self-control!”

Shouldn’t we be giving boys a little more credit? Boys are taught that since they are incapable of controlling their own urges, girls are therefore responsible for making it so they are not tempted. It shows them that is not their fault if they get distracted; it’s the girl’s fault because she chose to dress like that. This plays right into rape culture.

Boys grow up thinking it’s the girl’s responsibility to cover up, and if she doesn’t it’s her fault he got distracted. What is a question that is so commonly and despicably asked in rape cases? You guessed it: “What was she wearing?” Dress codes are put into place for girls. Schools are teaching girls that they should be covering up their bodies for the sake of boys. How much more sexist can we get?

According to a Seventeen magazine article, a high school in England sent home 70 students for the way they were dressed. Girls who wore skirts that were “too short” and girls whose pants were “too tight” were sent home. According to the article, school officials claimed boys would be able to “peer up the girl’s skirts while they climbed the stairs,” and that, “tight clothing is unflattering ‘on girls who are not very slim.” The article then stated no boys were dress coded.

So many things are wrong with this situation. For starters, the school interrupted the education of 70 girls. 70 girls were told that because of what they wore, they did not deserve the right to be at school that day unless they changed. Secondly, rather than teaching boys that looking up girl’s skirts is wrong—no matter how convenient the angle might be—they enforce a rule that punishes a high school girl for being sexualized by her peers. And thirdly, not only are they sending girls home for skirts, they’re sending girls home because their pants did not look good on them. Are school administers now the fashion police? Do they now have a right to tell a high school girl that her body is not attractive or small enough to be seen in certain clothing? This is just one example of so many unfair dress code violations that happen every single year to young women.

The wording of this dress code announcement is just offensive. It refers to a female student’s breasts as “the girls” and calls out heavier women, claiming they don’t want to see“sausage rolls.” The last line then states, “As you get dressed remember that you can’t put 10 pounds of mud in a five-pound sack.” Now we’re referring to girl’s bodies as sausage rolls and mud?

Dress codes have gotten out of hand. Young girls should not be subject to body shaming at all, let alone in their own schools. Schools should be the absolute last place a girl is sexualized, especially for body parts like shoulders, thighs, and collar bones. Dress codes that are sexist toward women play a role in rape culture. Dress codes teach boys that a girl’s body is something to be sexualized, and if too much is revealed he cannot be accountable for his actions. This is the 21st century and there are still schools telling girls their shoulders are too much for a teenage boy to bear. It’s ridiculous and insulting to both girls and boys.

Abbey is an Ohio native currently caught between the charm of the Midwest and the lure of the big city. She loves all things politics and pop culture, and is always ready to discuss the intersections of both. Her favorite season is awards season and she is a tireless advocate of the Oxford Comma. Abbey will take a cup of lemon tea over coffee any day and believes that she can convince you to do the same. As a former English major, she holds the power of words near and dear.