Muireall Brown: The Problem with Dress Code
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.