Earlier this month, two dozen Georgia middle school students were suspended with the hefty charge of making "terroristic threats" via Facebook. Their cause? Taking down the dress code.
This clash over the school's three-page code outlining items banned from its halls, including flip-flops and tank tops, is just one of many to have made national headlines in recent months. Administrators claim they are preparing their young scholars for "the real world," but students and parents question whether targeting female and LGBT students is legitimately helpful.
Few disagree that some clothing is not conducive to a classroom setting. But many students are hitting back at schools with incisive critiques over how their schools are failing them. Here, in the students' words, is what's wrong with their school dress codes.
"'Too distracting for boys' is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do."
In March, over 500 students at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois, signed a petition opposing what they'd been told was a full ban on leggings and yoga pants. Seventh grader Sophie Hasty explained to local news that teachers said the clothing was distracting for other students -- rather, the boys.
"We just want to be comfortable!" Hasty wrote to the Evanston Review in a letter that also included the above quote. Students at Wauwatosa West High School in Wisconsin voiced similar feelings. "I understand that girls shouldn't be coming to school with their butts or chests hanging out, but there has to be a happy medium," sophomore Elizabeth Kniffin told local news.
"It's almost teaching us that if any guys harass us, it's the girl's fault."
Anna Angrick, a student at Lawrence Central High School student in Indianapolis, Indiana, writes a column for her school's newspaper called "Own That Look," a photo of which recently went viral on social media and included the statement above. "Schools ... are neglecting to think in a more liberal way to teach boys to respect girls and control themselves around them," she wrote.
"We [female students] have all these restrictions on our clothing while boys didn't have to sit through it at all."
In April last year, an administrator at Kenilworth Junior High in Petaluma, California, gathered all the school's female students during their last class for a very important announcement: Girls were forbidden from wearing tight pants.
Student Brittany Kruljack gave the quote above to local news, and other students, like senior Jestine Langlas, who attends Wauwatosa West High School in Wisconsin, claimed that singling out girls for their sartorial choices blows the dress code issue out of proportion. "It makes a scene, and a spectacle of the girl," she said. "It makes it way bigger of a deal than it needs to be."
"The school is making [boys] out to be uncontrolled horny monsters."
In May, 30 female and male students were sent home after protesting the dress code at their school in Canada by wearing tank tops on a hot day. It was a teachable moment -- one student told the International Business Times that teachers used the incident to explain how boys can be distracted by just a bare shoulder.
Student Maddie Pynn disagreed, giving the quote above and saying that "a shoulder shouldn't make anyone uncomfortable, and if it does, you're the problem.
"[I was called out] because I had a different body type than my friend."
Lucy Shapiro, a student at Haven Middle School, described an incident in which she and a friend wore the same type of shorts that illustrated how girls aren't even treated equally among themselves at times. A teacher "dress-coded" Shapiro, but not the other girl. "With all the social expectations of being a girl, it’s already hard enough to pick an outfit," Shapiro told The Evanston Review.
"I’ve been told that even though my skirts were technically acceptable, they were still too short for me to wear."
In a protest at New York City's Stuyvesant High School in 2012, senior Lucinda Ventimiglia said that due to her curvy body type, "once it was suggested that I should follow a separate dress code" with longer hem requirements. Indeed, the Richmond, Virginia, student kicked out of her prom by a chaperone who said a group of dads had been ogling her at the dance followed all the dress code rules.
"I'm not responsible for some perverted 45-year-old dad lusting after me because I have a sparkly dress on and a big ass for a teenager," she wrote on her sister's blog. "And if you think I am, then maybe you're part of the problem."
#yesallwomen when was the last time you heard a mother say to her son "don't wear that outside of the house girls will get the wrong idea"
— Niall Horan Fans (@nialljameshoran) May 26, 2014
"I felt very attacked... and I wanted to tell them how I felt."
Some students complain administrators aren't willing (or perhaps able) to explain the reasoning behind the rules. After an embarrassing dress code check in one of her classes at Beaconsfield High School in Canada, eleventh grader Lindsay Stocker tried asking about the dress code. But "they didn’t really want to hear anything I had to say, and it was in front of my entire class," she said. "They don’t really care what guys wear. They just kind of target the girls first."
"I feel judged by what I’m wearing and what I do on Sundays."
Sophomore Kimberly Montoya expressed the above sentiment to the Salt Lake Tribune after her school's failure to properly communicate dress code expectations sparked an uproar. Administrators of Wasatch High School in Utah recently doctored yearbook photos to cover revealed skin -- without telling students. "It made us out to be something we weren't," Montoya said.
"Whenever the excuse 'boys will be boys' is used, it's just an exercise of male privilege."
Other times, dress code rationale simply isn't good enough. Marion Mayer, a junior at Lakeland Senior High in Lakeland, Florida, blasted her principal's use of the phrase "boys will be boys" in explaining the school's dress code in a recent blog post.
"If you are sexualizing me, you are the problem."
This phrase, written by one Tumblr user, is just one of the many examples showing how students are expressing their feelings. A search for "dress code" on Tumblr or Twitter will return countless text posts and photos with lines such as the one above. "I just got sent home because my skirt was a centimeter above my knees and if you don't think there's something wrong with that then wow [sic]," reads another.
When educators use shame as a tool to enforce a system of rules that singles out one group of individuals, they miss an opportunity to encourage positive self-image and equal respect for others. And while there's always room for healthy debate in a learning environment, it seems all the time that goes into squabbling over the dress code could be better spent, you know, actually learning.
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