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The Truth About School Dress Codes

It was an annual occurrence at my private high school: after lunch, the principal would ask all the boys to leave and the girls to gather. Then she would give a talk about dress code, and how it was our duty to dress in such a way that we did not distract the men.  I think this principal had intentions of helping the young women in her school through these talks, but unfortunately, I think she accomplished just the opposite.

At the beginning of high school, I was allowed to wear shorts that reached the length of my fingertips. This was annoying, as finding shorts of exactly this length proved difficult, but I could still find clothes that could keep me comfortable during the warmer months.  Later, the policy changed so that I was only allowed to wear shorts that were two inches above the knee. 

Picture Credit: ofimin

This sent all the girls into a short-shopping frenzy.  I lived in a place where weather could be as warm as one hundred degrees during the school year, and our school didn’t have air conditioning.  Wearing jeans was not an option.  If you’re a woman reading this, you know just how hard it is to find knee-length shorts in women’s sizes.  They’re not in style and not the most comfortable, so stores hardly carry them.  The ones they did carry tended to be made of heavy, tight denim, which was hardly suitable for wearing in an overheated school without air conditioning. 

Now, as you recall, the reason for my school to make this rule was so that the girls’ legs wouldn’t distract the boys from their studies.  Of course, no one considered that wearing knee-length shorts would make the girls physically warm, distracting them from their studies.  When we brought this up or requested air conditioning (did I mention that we didn’t have air conditioning?) the administration ignored us. If we rebelled and wore something in which we would have been better able to concentrate, we would have been punished.

Do you see the problem here?  The rules were written entirely for the benefit of the boys. We girls had to inconvenience ourselves in order for the boys to concentrate better, at the cost of our own concentration.  The administration of our school (albeit subconsciously) prioritized the education of their male students over their female students.

Now I attend Boston University, which has no classroom dress codes that I know of.  Girls wear crop tops, short skirts, and spaghetti straps all the time.  And to the best of my knowledge, the straight men at our school aren’t failing at astonishing rates, showing men are actually physically capable of concentrating when a woman’s epidermis is showing. 

In fact, I think it’s better for men when women don’t have strict dress codes because it communicates that they are more than just testosterone-driven animals. If men hear all their lives that they can’t control themselves around women, this will give them a low view of their self-control and they will use this as an excuse to act inappropriately.

Honestly, I think students are just as likely to be distracted by a window than they are another student’s body (To be fair, windows are ridiculously distracting).  But we don’t remove windows from schools because part of life is learning how to overcome distractions.

If schools take it upon themselves to teach boys not to objectify women as distractions and to teach women to view themselves as more than a distraction for men, then students will concentrate not only better on their studies but on being kind, confident people.         


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Sarah "Kathleen" Lupu is a senior studying psychology at Boston University. She grew up in Bucharest, Romania and holds both Romanian and American citizenships.
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