Editorials

Muireall Brown: The Problem with Dress Code

By In

When it comes to high school dress codes, the time for beating around the bush, for whines of ‘it’s not fair‘ has long passed us by. Rather, it’s high time we started having serious conversations about why the dress code as an institution is not only arbitrary and archaic, but also highly problematic.

Today, more and more denunciations of and conversations about dress code are entering the national rhetoric–particularly where feminist organizations are concerned. While an unfortunate amount of this is chalked up to immature silliness by those who are in support of school dress codes, there are many legitimate reasons for this progressive trend.

Nevertheless, in 2011, the dress code was legitimized by the state senate, which has mandated that district schools adopt codes that “address appropriate dress”.

To be clear: this is not about schools prohibiting gang related attire, or other attire that might somehow endanger students. No, this is about the consistent and unrelenting practices of body shaming, slut shaming, and an adherence to a male-centric hetero normative model of culture–all things perpetuated by our society, all things that create a negative environment for everyone who is not a heterosexual male, and all things that school dress codes encourage.

Consider, if you will, the actual dress code and you will likely see my point. Who is the dress code geared predominantly toward? If you said girls, you are on the right track. Sure, there are a couple edicts that are intended to address the Western, male identifying (I say identifying because fashion is–for better or worse– highly dependent on gender identification) population of Leon: no sagging. Wear a shirt.

For girls we see a far more extensive array of prohibitions: things like no shorts shorter than the tips of your fingers (speaking of arbitrary…), and no excessive cleavage because in our culture breasts have become hyper sexualized and are incorrectly viewed as existing solely for male pleasure etc. etc. etc. And via dress code our school is actively supporting this highly problematic mentality.

But I digress.

These policies are intended to police expressions of sexuality according to Western cultural practices, and to prevent “distractions” in the learning environment. However, these codes fail in that they classify “distractions” as merely the display of excessive skin. Here’s a secret: there is much, much more to attraction–and distraction– than bare skin. Additionally, bare skin is not always presented sexually; our society has equated nudity with eroticism, and that is fallacious thinking indeed–in fact, in most other cultures, nonsexual nudity is alive and well–no need for artificially perpetuated “modesty”, for feeling ashamed of one’s naked form.

They assume that we are all so consumed by our budding adolescent sexualities that one look at a woman’s bare leg and we will all go mad with frenzied lust, completely disrupting the learning environment. Or something.  Nevertheless, as an openly bisexual female, I can maintain reasonable control of myself when presented with an attractive woman (or an attractive male, for that matter, though the dress code doesn’t seem to consider the heterosexual female libido a problem. Or perhaps is in denial of its existence, to which I say, recent studies have proven the female libido to be just as significant as the male, thank you very much.)– truly, any male is completely capable of doing the same and should be held to those standards.

The responsibility should NOT fall on women to cover their bodies when it is society at large that needs to stop viewing women as sexual objects.

My point here is that the human body is beautiful, that there is nothing inherently shameful about it. Leon High School is a cultural microcosm, and when it comes to cultural norms–e.g. customs of dress– such things are self regulating, if largely influenced by the outside world. There is no need for a desperate and artificial attempt to maintain anachronistic standards of “decorum” (a subjective term if ever there were one) by the administration, or the senate, or the powers that be, or whoever. It is high time that we stopped insisting that people cover up their bodies and started tackling the issues that make us think people need to do so in the first place.

 

  • Michael Mattox
    September 23, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    Not all males are horn dogs. Lets quit these hasty g’s against men. The point of having a dress code is not to promote some victim paradigm of oppressed females, but rather to encourage a professional environment where the priority is learning rather than freedom of expression.

  • Daniela Rodriguez
    September 23, 2014 at 7:42 PM

    I completely agree with you! I understand wanting to create a safe environment for students, but how is a shoulder or a thigh unsafe? I never understand why teachers see a boy sagging and can overlook that, but the second my dress is a tiny bit short, all hell breaks loose. Rather than teaching students to cover up for the opposite gender, we should be teaching BOTH sexes that objectifying and sexualizing other students is inappropriate and completely unacceptable, no matter where you are.

  • Emma Labbe
    September 23, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    Although I do believe that there should be a more relaxed dress code which accommodates seasonal changes (such as spring and summer), I do not agree with the idea that it is installed to oppress the female body. The Leon high school dress code is imposed to advocate an environment that focuses on the sole pursuit of knowledge, not on however we express ourselves with pieces of fabric. As wonderful and important as self-expression is, the vessel in which we do it (in a school environment) should be not be how we define and distinguish ourselves with clothes, rather, how we define and distinguish ourselves with the way we attain knowledge and make intellectual advancements with such tools. The fact of the matter is, if a person sees another person in class with an exposed chest and shorts so short that genitalia is almost, or completely, distinguishable, it is completely natural and expected that the other person becomes distracted, often times in quite a non-sexual way. We do not live in a culture that totally accepts and makes a normality of that sort of exposure or style and therefore a dogmatic ruling that tells us to simply “not look” is slightly irrational. Should we be teaching members of ALL genders not to objectify the other? Absolutely. But it is not within our cultural capacity to automatically flip a switch in which, all of a sudden, what we wear is utterly irrelevant, as much as I wish otherwise. This dress code is not used to promote a culture of objectification and suppression of women. What Leon asks is that our attire is appropriate for school. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Bennett Harrell
    September 23, 2014 at 9:43 PM

    I think it’s funny that a segment of this article is entirely reliant on how *other* cultures express their sexuality. As if that has any bearing whatsoever on how males in *our* particular culture will view body parts that said culture sexualizes.

    You can whine (entirely without citation) about how other cultures don’t fetishize nudity or the female form all you want. That doesn’t change the fact that ours does, and the risk of males being distracted by cleavage is not some imagined attempt to further oppress the no-doubt already horrible downtrodden American middle-class white female.

    What even is “objectifying” and why is it mutually exclusive with liking someone as a person? Can you not simultaneously appreciate someone for the aesthetic qualities of their body and the less tangible qualities that come with their intelligence? Or is that too difficult of a concept for the average radfem to get his or her head around?

  • Harrison Martin
    September 23, 2014 at 10:18 PM

    “The responsibility should NOT fall on women to cover their bodies…”
    That is why its a law and not a responsibilty.

  • anonymous
    September 23, 2014 at 10:42 PM

    >the responsibility should NOT fall on women to cover their bodies

    Well, who else should it fall on? The men?

    Human beings cannot control if or when they become aroused. Placing the responsibility on men to somehow ignore women in revealing clothing – to purposefully inhibit their own sexuality – would be sexism if the same responsibility was placed on women. If women should be able to freely express their sexuality, why shouldn’t men? This reeks of double standards and does nothing to improve feminism’s image.

    School is meant to be a professional environment dedicated to learning and free from distractions that would inhibit that purpose, and the current dress code is built with that in mind. Allowing women to wear revealing, sexualized clothing would – and this is not debatable (you can argue that it shouldn’t, but that’s merely wishful thinking and has no bearing on reality) – distract men. Until our culture changes sufficiently to where women are no longer sexualized it will continue to distract men. The responsibility of LCS and Leon High is to create a professional environment, and if freedom of expression through clothing (which, it should be noted, is not a right) is somewhat mildly limited in the process then so be it.

  • Spencer McArthur
    September 24, 2014 at 1:37 AM

    Although I don’t disagree with the general sentiment that there are numerous gender equality issues that need be addressed in society, frankly, school dress codes are not one of those. Furthermore, gender equality seems fairly extraneous to your argument and subsequently to my rebuttal.

    Upon examining the Dress Code section of the Leon High School Student Planner and Agenda Book, one will notice firstly that there is only one instance in which the code even bothers to specify that a rule applies to both male and female students. This is because the generalization “All students…” found at the beginning explicitly requires every student – implicitly, regardless of sex, gender, gender identity, sexual tendencies, genital status, skin color, muggle status, hair color, spirit animal, etc. – to adhere to the truly not-so-stringent (disregarding the frivolous cultural norm) policy set forth in the code. Any male student caught wearing a dress or skirt that is shorter than the policy allows would be subjected to the same punishment as a female in a similar situation. Granted, this does not occur often, but the dress code does not target anyone specifically, especially not an entire gender. The so-called arbitrary rules, like the length requirement for shorts and the safeguards against excessive cleavage, inarguably apply to both males and females. In the case of male students – being defined as students having one X and one Y chromosome each, regardless of how they identify – there is even a legitimate reason for requiring shorts at mid-thigh, as anything shorter could lead to unseemly situations for more generously equipped members of the sex. As far as male cleavage, the climbing obesity rates amongst American youth more than speak for themselves. Accordingly, it is the considerably broader range of the female wardrobe that lends itself to being statistically more often in violation of dress code policies, rather than the policies themselves, which consequently apply to students of both sexes, being too stringent or targeting female students.

    So, what then is the purpose of the dress code? If not to altogether subjugate women in their plight for equal treatment, as evidently you believe, surely the purpose of having a dress code is to curb the unhampered sex drives of all the adolescent males who could never control themselves when exposed to more than what already tends to be a fair amount of skin. However, this gross generalization aside, the dress code serves a far less frivolous purpose than is acknowledged herein. You bring up the fact that “there is…more to attraction – and distraction – than bare skin,“ with which I agree. However, given that sight is the primary faculty through which human beings experience the world, something that is visually stimulating can easily serve as a distraction to those who have the capacity thereof, and subsequently, in some cases, sexual arousal. From this fact spring social norms, which – although not always forgiving – in this case exist not arbitrarily, but for a legitimate reason: to minimize distractions in a place where education, rather than freedom of expression, is a priority. Regardless of whether bare skin is presented sexually, the fact remains that humans are inherently sexual – especially during adolescence – and that exposure to nudity – partial or whole – is conducive to sexual thoughts. This means that the responsibility does indeed fall on women to cover their bodies, just as it likewise falls on everyone. This does not indicate that “society at large…[views] women as sexual objects,” but rather acknowledges the fact that deviance from the social norm known colloquially as modesty could serve as a distraction for all students, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation. This could be detrimental in a setting that determines key aspects of a student’s future.

    No one has, in establishing a dress code, rejected that “the human body is beautiful” and “there is nothing inherently shameful about it,” as the aim of a dress code is not to detract from the inherent beauty of the human form. I reject the main premise of your argument, which consequently is equally as arbitrary as it claims the dress code to be, on the bases that dress codes are no indication of the centrality of culture on males, nor do they specifically target one gender group or another. Organization aside, your argument is largely unsupported by the evidence you give – that is to say, none. In an idealistic, pansexual society, surely the type of tolerance you advocate would be convention. However, in a realistic, functioning school setting made up of individuals under the influence of abundantly high levels of reproductive hormones, the most realistic way of minimizing distractions in order to maximize learning potential is to have everyone – again, one last time, regardless of gender – adhere to certain rules of “decorum,” as you most indignantly put it.

  • Max Brey
    September 24, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    What I want to know is why there really isn’t any evidence or support for the thesis. The article is filled with parenthetical statements that introduce other issues that Brown is concerned about, but are so scattered and not focused on the dress code issue.

  • Max Brey
    September 24, 2014 at 9:28 AM

    I also feel that, in an America where there are tangible, damaging, and solvable women’s issues, a la pay gap, the focus of feminism as a movement should be on these issues, and not creating an imaginary bias where there isn’t one. The key to change, in all aspects of liberal activism today, is voting and political activity, not protesting private businesses and taking frivolous stances like the dress code or the word “bossy.”

  • Michael
    September 24, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    What about the part of dress code that says shoes are required? How does that stop you from expressing your sexuality or individuality?

  • Devon
    September 24, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    This is the dumbest thing I have ever layed eyes on.

  • Coon
    September 24, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    Hey look I am on the internet.
    Hello, fellow comment reader. I have noticed that this issue cannot be solved via a series of one sided comment thread interactions, so I don’t really have anything worthwhile to say. Except that we can all agree that apple juice is CLEARLY superior, in every aspect, to orange juice.

  • Chris Christie
    September 24, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    I am simply outraged with this article. And with dress code. Human bodies are disgusting, revolting things. They are unnatural things that we must hide from society, lest one of our young and impressionable children figure out that, in fact, they have a human body. Because that would be unacceptably reasonable. Honesty with what we are is almost as revolting as seeing a man’s upper thigh unexposed by those notoriously negligible shorts. Honestly, what really gets me is freckles. I just can’t look at them. They really harm my school work, thus I move to strike out any ginger-biased code from THE code, replacing it with automatic suspension for showing one freckle, with additional days of OSS for every additional freckle. That would be acceptable. I like to live in my pleasant world of pretending in which none of us, none of us, have freckles. And I expect the school to indulge in my fantasy.

  • Muireall
    September 24, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    Oh goodness. I am about to break the number one internet rule for the retention of one’s own sanity (as well as to ignore Coon’s sound observation) and engage with internet commenters. Maybe I’ll learn one day. *Cracks knuckles*. Here we go.

    First and foremost, I would address Michael’s astute observation that “not all males are horn dogs”: perhaps surprisingly, it would seem that we are in complete agreement on that point–in fact, I count quite a few such people as close friends. Which is why I argue that, in the words of a good friend, “Let me make this very clear. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is capable of looking at others in a non-sexual manner. And everyone is able to control sexual urges that may be there. Regardless of gender. This is not a ‘man-hating man-blaming post’, nor is it condemning men as ‘horn dogs'”. All this post is attempting to do is to bash the idea that the stigmatization of bodies due to a (quite unfortunate)fear of sexuality is legitimate–and, sorry, but women are most often the recipients of these stigmas. Furthermore, I reject the idea that learning and the freedom of self expression do not go hand in hand: in fact, I would argue that to cripple self expression is to stunt opportunities for learning. Accepting diversity–even accepting our own BODIES–is something that Western culture is really, REALLY sh**ty at. Quite unfortunately so, I say.

    Now, Bennett Harrell, oh, dear. Where do I even begin?

    First of all, I apologize profusely for bringing a brief allusion to multicultural views on sexuality into your comfortable “American” world view: how rude it was of me to point out the fact that other cultures have far less damaging ways of dealing with nudity. How will you ever forgive me?
    When I didn’t provide those citations, I simply assumed that you have some modicum of knowledge about the world around you–or access to a search engine. Alas, clearly I was mistaken.

    As for the situation of the “downtrodden “American” middle-class white female”, sure, there are many, many groups that have it worse. And that’s horrible. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that women are obligated to put up with this bullsh*t because others are more oppressed. It’s not a friggin’ contest.

    If you can’t understand what objectification is, that’s not my problem. The topic’s been covered extensively: Google it, if you can figure out that pesky old search engine.

    Finally, oh, finally: of course you can appreciate the aesthetics of the body along with the more amorphous qualities of the mind. The issue, my dear Bennett, is that the dress code seems to operate under the assumption that this fairly simple task is impossible–that one glimpse of cleavage and all academic endeavors will be interrupted. I would urge you to brush up on your reading comprehension, what with the SATs coming up. Good luck!

    Though I would love to reply to everyone’s two cents, alas, that’s simply not happening.

    A final note: Kudos to Spencer McArthur for an excellent rebuttal! While I, of course, fundamentally disagree, I totally respect your position and am happy to have read it. Thanks!

  • Muireall
    September 24, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    Also, Chris Christie, you crack me up. Thanks.

  • Bennett Harrell
    September 24, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    >First of all, I apologize profusely for bringing a brief allusion to multicultural views on sexuality into your comfortable “American” world view: how rude it was of me to point out the fact that other cultures have far less damaging ways of dealing with nudity. How will you ever forgive me?

    When did having to wear clothes that don’t show your boobs become “damaging”? It’s symptomatic of the ridiculous excesses to which modern feminism has gone when special snowflakes consider themselves “damaged” because they have to wear clothes. Oh, you poor dears.

    That aside, you’re missing the point: alluding to other cultures’ views on dress and the female form has nothing whatsoever to do with your argument on the distraction that revealing clothes cause at a high school in the friggin’ United States. We’re talking about Tallahassee, not Jakarta. It’s unrelated to the actual argument and does nothing to support it.

    >When I didn’t provide those citations, I simply assumed that you have some modicum of knowledge about the world around you–or access to a search engine. Alas, clearly I was mistaken.

    I have plenty of knowledge about the world around me. It still makes no difference to my original argument. Point out to me where I said that you were wrong about other cultures not fetishizing the female form? It’s debatable, but it’s not the debate we’re having. My point was not that other cultures don’t fetishize the female form, it was that our culture does, and this is the reason that a professional dress code is necessary – to prevent distractions.

    It’s ironic that you attack me for my supposed lack of reading comprehension while completely talking your way around every single point I’m making instead of directly addressing them. Over-used and unoriginal buzzwords that you picked up from browsing blogs on Tumblr do not a successful argument make.

    >If you can’t understand what objectification is, that’s not my problem. The topic’s been covered extensively: Google it, if you can figure out that pesky old search engine.

    Ah, “educate yourself” – this is classic. When the other guy disagrees and you don’t have a rebuttal, tell him it’s not your responsibility to prove that he’s wrong.

    Anyway, I somehow managed to figure out how to work that “pesky search engine” you keep referring to, and it seems that objectification refers to treating a person like an object. Fine, sure, I think we can all agree that’s bad. But how does

    >The responsibility should NOT fall on women to cover their bodies when it is society at large that needs to stop viewing women as sexual objects.

    this sentence make any sense? I’d like to reference anonymous’ comment here:

    “Human beings cannot control if or when they become aroused. Placing the responsibility on men to somehow ignore women in revealing clothing – to purposefully inhibit their own sexuality – would be sexism if the same responsibility was placed on women. If women should be able to freely express their sexuality, why shouldn’t men? This reeks of double standards and does nothing to improve feminism’s image.

    School is meant to be a professional environment dedicated to learning and free from distractions that would inhibit that purpose, and the current dress code is built with that in mind. Allowing women to wear revealing, sexualized clothing would – and this is not debatable (you can argue that it shouldn’t, but that’s merely wishful thinking and has no bearing on reality) – distract men. Until our culture changes sufficiently to where women are no longer sexualized it will continue to distract men. The responsibility of LCS and Leon High is to create a professional environment, and if freedom of expression through clothing (which, it should be noted, is not a right) is somewhat mildly limited in the process then so be it.”

    Should men limit their own sexuality? Stop viewing women sexually? How do you suggest we do this? At what point does becoming distracted by cleavage, or butts, or nudity cross over from healthy expressions of sexuality to objectification? If it’s a healthy expression of sexuality, then it’s nothing men need to fix, but it’s still a distraction and should not be allowed in a professional environment. If you want to call it purely objectification, then you’re both limiting men’s sexuality (which would cause a massive outcry were the genders flipped) and it’s *still* a distraction.

    >Finally, oh, finally: of course you can appreciate the aesthetics of the body along with the more amorphous qualities of the mind. The issue, my dear Bennett, is that the dress code seems to operate under the assumption that this fairly simple task is impossible–that one glimpse of cleavage and all academic endeavors will be interrupted.

    The statements “one can appreciate the body and the mind” and “academic endeavors will be interrupted by once glimpse of cleavage” are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they make perfect sense. If men are allowed to appreciate women’s bodies, then of course they have a very good chance of being distracted by cleavage – regardless of whether or not they appreciate their minds as well.

    > I would urge you to brush up on your reading comprehension, what with the SATs coming up. Good luck!

    I’m not too worried about my reading comprehension. I took the SAT already and the results have given me no cause for concern. You, on the other hand, have managed to misread and misinterpret my arguments several times. You’re clearly an intelligent person, and I won’t deny that – but perhaps you should pull yourself out of the ridiculous victim complex that tumblr, or reddit, or whatever feminist community you’ve been frequenting has trapped you in. Your call, of course. I think we can both agree that this is a waste of time.

  • Anonymous
    September 24, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    I think everyone’s forgetting the meaning behind the dress code; professionalism. You wouldn’t walk into court as a lawyer wearing shorts that had your buttcheeks hanging out, would you? No, you wouldn’t. The funny thing is, people who get up and go to work every day don’t complain about how they have to dress in a professional manner, because they’re mature enough to understand the meaning behind dress codes.

    This is just another perfect case of the entitled generation taking over. This generation is entitled to an education, entitled to clothing, and entitled to an apology. While people take on the “woe is me” attitude on not being allowed to come to school scantily clad, other kids all around the world would gladly follow the dress code to get an education.

    Also, if there was no dress code, and there was school uniforms instead, people would be writing blog posts about that being oppressive. There really is no pleasing people.

  • Coon
    September 24, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    Wow, I am still on the internet.
    Golly, this is certainly a coontested issue, and despite several more rebuttals and comments written, we are still as far away from a definitive agreement as always. I take solace only in the solid and unflinching coonsensus over the coonparison of apple versus orange juices. It is only the coonclusion- no, the fact- that apple is an unfathomably superior juice to apple, that unites us as one, and that is something to be proud of. Let this be a stepping stone to lasting peace negotiations between these two warring factions.

  • Michael Mello
    September 24, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    Obviously you haven’t read any of the comments above.

  • […] In response to Muireall’s blog. […]

  • Cassie
    September 26, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    While I admire your use of asterisks to cleverly disguise a word that no one would otherwise recognize, I find your use of profanity in your rebuttal to be highly unprofessional. Though I understand your need to argue your point, I don’t think that the school newspaper is the place for this kind of language. It is obviously difficult to deal with opinions that are not your own, I find that your use of profanity lowers your credibility and makes people less likely to side with you. If you want to argue with these people for intelligently refuting your earlier claim, feel free. However, to those of us who are reading these exchanges, your use of profanity in your reply automatically discounts your entire argument.

  • Muireall
    September 26, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    Cassie: I reject the premise of professionalism. Though I realize that it is will be necessary to conform to those standards should I wish to get along in the “civilized world” I think “professionalism” is a bunch of pretentious bullsh*t (using an asterisk here so–and ONLY so–my comment doesn’t get booted.)
    I feel that my use of offensive coloquialisms are not sufficient to distract a competent reader over the age of thirteen from the substance or –some would argue–lack thereof within my comment.

    BUT if I’m ever trying to be “professional” I will certainly keep your advice in mind 😀

  • Muireall
    September 26, 2014 at 3:12 PM

    Also while I doubt that anyone beside me is still looking at these comments I would highly recommend reading Maxx Marshall’s piece. Stunning!