Dress Code: A function of the patriarchy?

Basic dress code guidelines

Basic dress code guidelines

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What’s our school’s dress code, word for word?

To be honest, I don’t really know. But I do know the parts that are actually enforced – something about shorts length and spaghetti straps and midriff baring – and I do know they are all directed at women. I also know, that on my first day at Mountain View High two years ago, a teacher placed her hands on my body without my permission to move my bra strap beneath my shirt because it was “not respectable,” and then tried to pull my shorts down so they looked longer, in order to help enforce this aforementioned “dress code.” And I remember how I felt that day, like I was an object to be pushed around due to the clothes I decided to wear, and I remember looking to my sides and seeing dozens of other girls being put through the same humiliation. I also remember all the boys walking around campus without a care in the world because guys don’t really have a dress code. I remember, even now, because it was one of the many experiences in my life as a woman that questioned not only the rights I have to choose what to do with my body, but also my true nature as a human.

Depending on who you ask, the dress code is in place for different reasons, but usually the same one is quoted: so that the “other students” don’t get distracted by one’s dress. However, if the students in our school are so immature that a pair of legs that is attached to a body of a living, breathing, thinking human being is so distracting that they can’t finish their work, then we have more serious problems. Perhaps they need a very long time in an ethics class so they learn that women are more than bodies to be consumed.

School is an environment where we are supposed to learn to grow and guide ourselves into becoming the people we are supposed to be. The dress code doesn’t add to that goal, and may take away from it. In fact, all it’s really doing is preparing the hundreds of young women at our school for a life in a rape culture where they will be blamed for what others choose to do to them. Because really – when you think about it – what is the real purpose of a dress code? Why are we women supposed to change the way we dress so the “other students” (boys) can focus better? Why are we shaping hundreds of great young minds who should be worrying about bio labs and chem tests into spending their free time devising a route that will keep them from being forced to change into new clothes? And why are we humiliating young women in front of a room of their peers because they want to wear a cute pair of shorts? Us women live in a society that dehumanizes us – ads that sexualize our bodies, politicians that try to pass laws that ignore our autonomy over said bodies, men that feel that they have a right to these bodies with or without consent – and the fact is, instead of school being a safe haven from those images, the dress code is just another manifestation of it.

Simply put, the dress code is degrading and dehumanizing. It is literally turning us women into nothing more than hangers, valuing the clothes we wear as something more significant to others than our in-class achievements. It says our bodies are a communal property made to be consumed by the male population, and the choices we make on how to display them should be weighed in by a board of administrators. Why should we sexualize teenage girls like that?

Dress codes are a function of the patriarchy, and this school’s one has been in place for too long. Summer may be coming to an end, but it still is burning hot out today, and why should we be left to swelter in the classrooms while boys get to wear basketball shorts and paper thin t-shirts without having to worry about some teacher calling them out – in front of the class – about how inappropriate their dress is?

Last year, hundreds of students from Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan rose up in mass protest of their unfair dress code that looked surprisingly similar to ours – and it worked, the dress code was repealed. Here’s what I say: wear whatever you want for the next few days. Let’s take a cue from our brothers and sisters at Stuyvesant, and let’s erase this unfair dress code that’s just a remnant of the patriarchy. And I mean everyone, not just ladies, but boys too: help us out, stand in solidarity with your female friends, and let’s help to create a campus that treats the women on it as people instead of just bodies.