While dress codes in school are important for keeping the school environment appropriate, they can discriminate against girls instead of fairly enforcing rules meant for both boys and girls.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with dress codes in schools. For the most part, they ensure that students are not indecently dressed for a school environment, and prohibit inappropriate articles of clothing. Additionally, they prepare students for workplaces that might have dress codes.
However, the problem is that girls are often unfairly targeted by the dress code.
Freshman Priya Thadkapalli says, “The dress code focuses on girls more, which is really unfair. Whether girls actually get in trouble for their outfits or not doesn’t matter; what matters is that they’re targeted in the first place.”
A common justification for stricter rules on what girls can wear to school is that boys would be unable to concentrate if girls wore revealing clothing to school. This sends the message that girls and their bodies may serve as distractions to boys, and that it is their fault.
In doing so, the dress code implies that only girls need to avoid wearing provocative clothing. This also contributes to the idea that what girls feel comfortable in might be detrimental to others’ concentration.
For example, one of the most well-known rules is that bra straps are not supposed to be visible. While showing them won’t result in getting dress-coded, girls can be still reprimanded for leaving them out.
This could result in embarrassment or resentment over being called out on what seems like a minor infraction. Even if undergarments should be concealed in school, receiving a punishment for accidentally showing a bra strap is excessive.
A common rule used in schools is the “fingertip length” rule, which states that shorts and skirts must be long enough to reach one’s fingertips if one extends his or her arm. However, girls often find it difficult to comply with this rule since stores usually sell shorts for girls that don’t meet this standard. This could make it difficult for girls to find clothes that they both feel comfortable in and are allowed to wear at school.
This displays one of the underlying issues in the dress code, which is that it can objectify girls and their bodies. Not allowing girls to dress in certain clothing could be considered body-shaming.
One reason that dress codes may body-shame girls is that depending on age or development, what may be modest for some girls could be revealing for others. Pointing this out by dress coding someone could cause girls to feel ashamed of their bodies and what they’re comfortable in.
Another point of contention is whether or not girl’s shoulders can be revealed. Boys’ tank tops are usually considered permissible, but girls can be told off for wearing camis or off-the-shoulder shirts.
One reason for this disparity is that there are more limitations on girls’s clothing than boys’ clothing. For example, the code of conduct prohibits jeans or sweatpants with potentially inappropriate phrases or graphics such as the phrase “naughty girl” or a picture of lips. While the dress code does not specify that girls are the ones forbidden from wearing these types of clothing, the rule is clearly targeted at them.
By limiting what girls can wear, more than their right to self-expression can be limited. Girls’ self-esteem could lower if they are told their clothing is immodest or inappropriate. Not being allow to wear what makes them feel good about their bodies could contribute to body-shaming.
Freshman Emma Germano says, “I think the dress code needs to be more equal. If the school makes it so it isn’t as targeted at girls as it is, the dress code would be much better than it is currently.”
Making the dress code more gender-neutral could help end discrimination against girls. By enforcing rules that apply to both girls and boys, schools can end discrimination against either gender.
What are some ways to make the dress code more neutral?