I’ve been saying this since middle school, when I wrote an essay about dress code being sexist. This was almost ten years ago. But just to reiterate my own experience now that people are receptive, I’d like to talk about it again.
When I was in high school, we had a dress code that was basically no midriff, no cleavage, no tank tops, no bras showing, and shorts that had to hit 2 inches above the knee.
I only got in trouble for breaking it once, when my bra was showing during gym because of my racerback tank top in my gym clothes. I was asked to put on a sweatshirt outside when it was still summer.
My best friend got in trouble countless times, once being paraded around the cafeteria crying by the vice principal (a truly horrible woman who came from teaching at a catholic school) who shamed her and basically insinuated she was a slut.
But here’s the funny thing (okay, it’s not funny at all): I broke dress code constantly, and besides that one time in gym, I never got in trouble.
I was careful. I didn’t stand up in the cafeteria if one of the vice principals was nearby. I never wore shorts, always skirts – shorts (that were not bermuda shorts) always broke dress code, while skirts didn’t always, so it didn’t attract an immediate warning. But the biggest reason why I didn’t get in trouble was because I was a “good girl”. I got good grades. I was quiet. I was unpopular and shy. I was scared to talk to boys. I was well-behaved and polite.
My best friend struggled in school. She had a reputation and was popular among boys. She went to parties. She was still, to me, a “good girl” in a lot of ways. She was certainly a good person. But she was targeted any time she even came close to breaking dress code because of the way the vice principal saw her.
We broke the same rule – me much more so than her – and she was the one who got in trouble.
This was just further proof to me that dress code was bullshit. It was about targeting and shaming female students for their reputations and looking “slutty” more than it was about actually maintaining a professional atmosphere. My outfits were certainly not “professional”, and honestly had a blatant disregard for dress code. Rules that target certain students – not even just girls, which is bad enough, but girls the administration sees in a certain way – are completely discriminative and unfair.
And the administration doing so makes it so much easier for boys and other girls to do so. High school is basically like a tidal pool of hormones, a training ground where kids pretend they know who they are, where they’re supposed to be taught how to be functioning humans. And the culture of high school teaches sexism, discrimination, slut-shaming, and the idea that its girls’ fault if men are distracted by their attraction to them. It completely supports victim-shaming – these are the same men that will go to college, where there is no dress code, and see women dress provocatively and find this an invitation. It honestly makes me sick to think of.
Look, an 18 year old in college can wear whatever she wants and the world doesn’t fall apart. Why can’t an 18 year old in high school do the same?