Down on dress codes: Why are girls treated as ‘mere distractions?’

Girls nationwide are arguing against dress codes in the “I am more than a distraction” campaign. (Facebook)

To borrow from Lord Tennyson, in the spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of shoulders, collar bones and knees. That’s apparently why schools are so intent on getting young women to cover them all up.

This Kentrucky student was sent home because this outfit exposed collarbone.

A Kentucky student was sent home because this outfit exposed her collarbone.

Sprung from North Face vests and American Eagle leggings by the warmer temperatures, girls are displaying arms, legs and shoulders and running afoul of school dress codes that hold female students responsible for distracting male classmates.

So schools are dispatching girls to in-school suspension or yanking them out of class to sit in the office and wait for mom to bring a change of clothing.

In one Texas school, a 5-year-old girl had to don a T-shirt and jeans because her beloved striped dress had spaghetti straps. Writing about his young daughter’s experience in the Houston Press, journalist Jef Rouner said:

Even this little girl was dress coded.

Even this little girl was dress coded.

Make no mistake; every school dress code that is not a set uniform is about policing girls and girls alone.

We still live in a country where someone can decide the shoulders of, and I can’t stress this enough, a 5-year-old girl are so distracting that they must be sent away and decently hidden. God knows what could possibly happen to her if not.

My local high school loosed a burst of dress code enforcement last week that prompted female students to gently protest. Girls wore signs asking, “Is the length of my shorts more important than my education?” And “Stop the sexualization of teenagers.” Some boys showed solidarity by rolling up their shorts or wearing tank tops.

This student was pulled from her class because a male administrator deemed her in violation of dress code.

This local student was pulled from her class because a male administrator deemed her in violation of dress code.

This photo shows one of the teens corralled in the local crackdown. Not even Sister Irene Margaret, the principal of my strict Catholic high school, would have winced at this simple tunic dress.

In fact, when the teen went to the office with the other offenders rounded up, cooler heads prevailed, deemed her in compliance and allowed her to go back to class. But not before she missed a lot of it.

This student’s experience illustrates the flaw in school dress codes; enforcement is random, inconsistent and inexplicable.

Dress codes almost exclusively speak to girls, and what they tell them is decidedly negative: You are responsible for what boys think and do. Yes, boys can wear shorts when it is 98 degrees but you better think twice about exposing your knees and legs.

This Idaho honors student was suspended on the last afternoon of her senior year for this dress.

This Idaho honors student was suspended on the last afternoon of her senior year for this dress.

It is not only students who chafe at irrational dress codes, but educators forced into the position of judging whether a student’s attire is too sexual. We are treated to news reports of male principals on their hands and knees measuring girls’ skirts.

A teacher friend said she noticed it was typically tall girls being cited for the length of their shorts or skirts. Almost 6 feet herself, the teacher said girls were penalized for their body types.

Writing about a well publicized British Columbia case of a girl sent home for a tank top, Shauna Pomerantz of Brock University said 15-year-old Marcia’s transgression was not that she wore anything outside of the norm at her school for girls. Her crime was her body type.

Speaking of the case, Pomerantz said, “She was punished for having the wrong kind of (“fat,” “messy”) body in an article of clothing that was not considered inappropriate on other kinds of (“thin,” “neat”) bodies.”

Author of the book “Girls, Style and School Identities: Dressing the Part,” Pomerantz writes:

Her duty, this discourse implies, was to patrol the borders of morality in the school, entailing among other things keeping male sexual urges in check. Her job was to be an example of control and will power…But more than a negation of a feminine duty to the school, this discourse signifies that the boys and men cannot be held responsible for their inability to concentrate and that it is the girls’ job to make sure the boys are not agitated, confused, or “horny.” One angry young woman, hearing this discourse in the news repeatedly, responded thus: “So let me get this straight. Men are physical human beings, and women are mere distractions?”

Good question. Anyone care to answer? (For another take on dress codes, look at this MyAJC.com story on uniform policies.)

To understand how girls feel, watch this student-created documentary on how dress codes shame young women:

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 1

165 comments
CARMS
CARMS

I thought it was only my local school that used the word "distraction."  It is so true.  Boys get away with everything in school.  Girls are being treated as objects.

Mre Ja Dor
Mre Ja Dor

Not about the clothes it's about discipline n education WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON?

James Silvis III
James Silvis III

We're Men! We will always be distracted by women! Why? Because we know what's under the clothes! You could be an Amish woman and we know about the Amusement park under your dress! :)

Bob Anderson
Bob Anderson

Can't remember the last time I checked out a hot collar bone!

Mildred Adolphus
Mildred Adolphus

School boards are tasked with educating students. Parents are responsible for clothing them. When will America stop playing school?

Laura Evans Majors
Laura Evans Majors

Teach your boys to behave, and the girls won't have any problems. Girls education is as important as the boys.

Mark Schieber
Mark Schieber

Well what right-minded Kentucky man can resist him some COLLAR BONE

DawgVoiceofReason
DawgVoiceofReason

The "Shame" documentary is way longer than I'm willing to watch with too many details that don't clarify the issue.  It also sounds like propaganda rather than a fact-based review (maybe that's expecting too much; the students could have used a good editor).  I could have guessed that from the title.  What I gathered from the first few minutes is that one school district somewhere in the country made some questionable decisions with their dress-code that made it somewhat difficult for some of the girls.  Fix the code in that one district.  There, problem solved. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Please take the time to read this op-ed by NY Times conservative columnist, David Brooks - an enlightened man as to sexism - regarding the existence of sexism in America, and especially as touted through the Trump campaign:


http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/29/opinion/the-sexual-politics-of-2016.html?rref=collection/column/david-brooks&action=click&contentCollection=opinion®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0


Brooks' final paragraph regarding today's sexism:


"But in the realm of cultural politics, Trump voters do need to be held to account. They are participating in a descent into darkness. They are supporting a degrading wrong. This is the world your daughters are going to grow up in."


Kim Briggs
Kim Briggs

If this is all happening like the media says, then things have changed a lot since I graduated high school mid-90s. At my private middle school, there was a reasonable dress code.. I remember being told my skirt was a little too short once, but it wasn't national news and I don't recall anyone ever being sent home. In high school, at a public school, the boys had it worse than the girls. We could wear hats and tank tops - they couldn't. The sensationalism of everything is making it all worse, not better. I'm a feminist, but this isn't feminism.

newsphile
newsphile

For the record, I have more granddaughters than grandsons, and here's what I'm observing.  It's sad that many very young girls try to be sexy, imitating some star they idolize.  It's sad that some of them believe they have to wear revealing outfits in order to be liked.  It's sad that some parents fight any and all rules for their kids, wanting them to do exactly as they please.  It's sad when parents justify why they can't find appropriate clothing for kids; perhaps they are shopping in the wrong stores.  It's sad that parents no longer say "just because others are wearing it doesn't mean you're going to do so".  While I know that teachers sometimes make irrational calls about improper clothing, I have witnessed it's usually when someone keeps pushing the envelope.  Even if one doesn't agree with the dress code, it serves the kid well for the parent to use it as a teaching moment.  There will always be rules and laws with which you do not agree.  That's life.  The sooner you learn to not sweat the small stuff, the more pleasure you will find in life.  Dress codes are small stuff.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I note that my mother, who graduated from a women's college (as did my daughters), had to wear a long RAINCOAT over her gym suit when crossing campus on her way to PE.  In the 1940's, even with no men except employees on campus, it was thought inappropriate to walk around in a (very modest) gym suit.

cbclark
cbclark

We have always had dress codes, and considering the way folks are dressing, we still need them now - FOR BOTH SEXES. The parents are also at fault for not monitoring the clothes. Should be neat; clean; no deliberate holes; boobs, bottoms, and stomachs covered. Tank tops or short-shorts -no. Hightop sleeveless dress or shirt ok. Some semblance of decorum, self-respect, and respect for others needs to be taught to the kids.

Peter Guertin
Peter Guertin

She has the body shape of a pear, she's not distracting anyone. Although dress code should still be enforced equally.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Why not a uniform of a polo and slacks or shorts with socks and shoes? Seeing some of the young girls and boys standing at the bus stop makes me think they'll have a future career as hookers. And most of the time you should blame the parents for letting their kids leave home looking like that.  Many lack their shirt tail tucked in, coats or sweaters on cold or rainy days. Show respect and you get shown respect.


My sisters wore a uniform with a skirt in Catholic school. They would roll up the waist band to shorten the skirt. If inappropriate the nun at the front door would challenge them. And it was an all girl High School!


As for work, we didn't have a business wide code, but I explained what I thought was a respectful requirement: No messages on the shirt, no sweat pants,no nightwear. Business casual. Once in a meeting with my managers, a women from the mail room came to the office. All heads turned. I made the comment I didn't know we had a disco in the basement. They all laughed. Never had a problem after that!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@RoadScholar At the elementary school where I taught, we had a female teacher who dressed and did her makeup and hair like Dolly Parton every day.  It was terrible.  The fifth grade boys drooled, but the rest of us were offended--it was just over the (massive) top!  Eventually the principal took action, and she toned it down a little.

Linda J. Mansfield
Linda J. Mansfield

My classroom dress rules were relatively simple: I don't want to see boobs, bellies or bum cracks!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Most men are pigs and most women realize that fact - and like it.  How else can you explain the woman driving down the interstate at 70 mph and nearly running me over because she's putting makeup on?

Dress codes have been around for decades and they will be around years from now.  And it is not just in the schools.  My company implemented a dress code a few years ago.  I guess the sight of the 300# black woman in red sweatpants with "Juicy" emblazoned on the rump was too much for management to bear.  (Just kidding, she probably didn't weigh an ounce over 280)

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lee_CPA2 

I would never "like" a man who is a "pig."

Your post proves that racists are, also, often sexists. 

I will let you and others ponder as to why this is often true.  I have my own thoughts about this, which I have carefully weighed for decades.

My purpose here is only to bring this fact to light for readers who may be unaware of the prevalence of this destructive combination of biases.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@MaryElizabethSings @Lee_CPA2

Yeah, you let a hardbody female walk by in a skimpy outfit and just about every male from 17 to 70 is going to look.  And don't kid yourself, the females enjoy getting that response.  It's the animal instinct that has been ingrained in us over thousands of years of evolution.

Rebecca Johnson
Rebecca Johnson

Wouldn't it be nice if the young women AND young men of our society had such self-respect and dignity that they chose for themselves to dress in a modest and beautiful way? If that were the case, there would be no need for dress codes.

Kerri Johnson Fragoulias
Kerri Johnson Fragoulias

Uniforms. Make them all wear uniforms. No "distraction" \U0001f644, no competition over clothes, easy on parents. I wore a uniform for 13 years.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

The pictures of suspended/sent home girls just lead to the conclusion that many educators lack the judgement to be trusted to run schools!  Seems kind of contrary to Maureen's normal themes that educators should be given blank checks  (hey, I couldn't resist-this was such a setup!).

Christopher Jay Campbell
Christopher Jay Campbell

So, your argument is that if a girl goes to school stark naked she is not responsible for how boys react to that? Boys don't dress like that. You don't see boys in short shorts, bare midriffs, or see-through shirts. If you did, you can bet they would be sent home. Perhaps the real investigation should be into why the fashion industry has made billions from selling sex to children and how they have made girls feel inadequate unless they dress sexily.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

My wife, other than jeans, has a hard time finding appropriate clothes for my young teen daughter (who would be fine with jeans and T-shirts most of the time).

Ran Fin
Ran Fin

Yes, I believe that's a fair argument. As men, we should be able to keep our hands and comments to ourselves, no matter how a woman is dressed.

Christopher Jay Campbell
Christopher Jay Campbell

Ran Fin I don't think the question was whether men should keep their hands to themselves, but whether they should cease to be men.

CARMS
CARMS

You're wrong.  You don't spend time in school, and you haven't a clue.  I see it every day, AND the word distraction is used.  

SamAlexander
SamAlexander

This is why the burka, people. The same concept. Men just can't control themselves when they see any female flesh. And the women are considered to blame for this. Perhaps we should start swatting these girls who break the rules with old car antennas like in certain middle eastern countries. It's a way to keep women "under control". But seriously, if dress codes are such a big deal, have school uniforms. 


Julie Johnson
Julie Johnson

between this crap and common core math it's no wonder our kids are failing

Lynn Johnson
Lynn Johnson

The guys have dress codes also. As a teacher, I did not want to stand in the front of the room and be able to see all the way to anyone's naval. I don't understand why you think kids should be able to come to school dressed however they want.

CARMS
CARMS

Garbage!  The boys have minimal dress code compared to girls. Why can boys wear short shorts and tank tops?

Magnolia Allen
Magnolia Allen

Not alone...Kids get sent to the office for shredded holes in jeans.

Belinda Bowers
Belinda Bowers

why not worry about what the teachers are wearing!

Pasha Mayo
Pasha Mayo

If they are talking about the dress in the picture I see absolutely nothing wrong with it!!

DawgVoiceofReason
DawgVoiceofReason

Hmmmm.  There seems to be a lack of appreciation for how boys are different from girls.  Boys are more easily distracted, if that's the right word, by visual cues, such as revealing (however that's defined) clothing, than girls are.  Let's also acknowledge that boys DO show self-control (in most cases), but that doesn't mean their attention is not drawn to the girls who dress provocatively. Both genders need to have and follow an appropriate dress code in school although it may be slightly more of a burden on girls and their families. There will always be those, of both genders, who push the limits and those cases need to be dealt with.  Why is any of this controversial?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@DawgVoiceofReason


"Why is any of this controversial?"

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Study patterns of sexism and gender discrimination with more depth, and you will know why this is a controversial issue.

DawgVoiceofReason
DawgVoiceofReason

@MaryElizabethSings @DawgVoiceofReason 

That was worthless:  a link to a bunch of US News articles on sexism. How about indicating a specific article that represents or presents your argument?  I could have obviously googled random articles. That is as pointless as your telling me to "study patterns of sexism and gender discrimination".  Tell you what, never mind.