Dress code inhibits self expression and perpetuates sexism


Cael Baumgarten, Copy Editor

The school dress code not only vilifies self-expression in young people through primarily arbitrary and artificial standards of what is and is not acceptable, thus unjustly imposing those standards onto teenagers who might not agree with said standards, but it also submits to societal pressures of modesty that create a culture based on shunning and blaming women for men’s behaviors and actions. 

I say that these standards are primarily arbitrary and artificial knowing full well the intended purpose of the dress code: to eliminate any possible distractions in the classroom and to avoid upsetting or offending students or teachers. It is not with the ends of the dress code that I take issue; there is nothing wrong with creating a focused class environment, nor protecting students and faculty from overly contentious content that they do not, nor should they have to, expect at school. It is the means of the regulations that are problematic. Protection from profanity and vulgarity is unacceptable when what is profane and vulgar is defined solely by the school, and not the students that wear it or see it. This idea of “limiting distractions” becomes harmful when the distractions in question are women’s bodies. 

Let me preface this paragraph by clarifying that when I refer to “offensive clothing,” I mean clothes with curse words, violent themes, etc. I do not mean clothing that reveals skin, as to call that “offensive” would feed into the sexist rhetoric that the dress code perpetuates. More than once have I seen sweatshirts depicting anime characters with genital fluids in their mouths running about the building. I myself have put on a hoodie with the image of a skeleton holding an open bottle of alcohol on the back on at least twenty school mornings. In either scenario, there is no riot. There is no uproar. Nobody is upset or robbed of their innocence, and if they were, then by all means let them say so; I would gladly hang up the jacket, and I feel confident in saying that many students would do the same. If someone, even one person, takes issue with an offensive item of clothing for any reason beyond pointless rules, only then is it appropriate to address one’s dress. This is no more than common decency. But to enforce a blanketed mandate that some clothing is acceptable and some isn’t sends the wrong message to young people. High schoolers should not be senselessly told that what they want to wear is bad by default. 

Misogyny remains rampant in the world of today. Fortunately, the issue is increasingly addressed, or at least acknowledged, as the years go on. But no amount of discussion can make substantial differences in the systemic disadvantages and disrespect that women face. The problems often may be subtle, but are undeniable. The dress code’s disproportionate targeting of female students is not subtle. Whether policies are so irrational as to ban spaghetti straps or are lax enough to limit their taboos to midriff, it is evident just by reading the fine print who exactly the code of conduct is after. I have seen male students wear muscle tees that show off their shoulders, traps, and large portions of their chests. Nothing was done about it. If the perpetrator was a female, the story would have made local news. No faculty member is going to track down a male student because their shirt is too tight. There are no limitations on the length of men’s pants or skirts. The higher ups are only interested in censoring women’s bodies.

“Women must cover up so the boys don’t get distracted.” Such is the doctrine of thine holy student handbook which, I feel inclined to mention, cites vaping as deserving higher punishment than arson. It’s hard to believe that we, in the 21st century, still oblige to this irrational and toxic belief. In the 21st century, schools are still sexualizing young girls’ bodies and portraying young boys as depraved and without control. What’s worse is that in this skewed line of reasoning, the girls are at fault; the blame falls not upon the men that can’t keep their pants on but the women for daring to tempt the men. Read between the lines and you’re left with “boys will be boys;” male irresponsibility is simply a given and it is a woman’s job to circumvent their behavior. It is unforgivable that this oppressive dogma is reinforced in public schools of all places. In public schools, where safety and security are a top priority, women are led to believe that their bodies, their default existence, are sinful, and if they don’t make every effort to conceal that evil then they deserve repercussion. 

Men, too, deserve more respect than the student code of conduct affords them. Despite what the rules would imply, we are, in fact, developed human beings capable of restraint and common decency. No bare midriff will ever cause a commotion in the classroom. Males will not resort to a primal display of boulder tossing to impress the female with exposed shoulders. With more than 12 years of schooling experience on my resume, I have not seen a single person practice onanism to a skirt that cuts off past the fingertips during school hours. And, if such behavior, even to a lesser extent, was to take place, then it is clear who is the guilty and who is the innocent, and punishing that behavior would provide a much stronger precedent than the current guidelines offer.