(Image Source: Cult of Pedagogy)
I wore a tied-up shirt to school one day and my teacher dress-coded me, saying it was unprofessional. Eventually, I received a call home, where the principal informed my mother of me wearing the tied up shirt saying that because I was an student ambassador and represented the school, I shouldn’t wear clothes like that. Apparently, I wouldn’t be able to do my job assisting freshmen because I wore a crop top.
After ranting to some friends about the incident, they informed me that a male student wore a hoodie depicting a nearly nude and sexualized woman on it without getting the same discipline or so much as a comment from a teacher. My stomach was more of a distraction than blatantly sexual imagery.
In my time at SOAR High School, I’ve never seen or heard of my male classmates getting in trouble for violating the school dress code which prohibits tank tops, short shorts, crop tops, and any article of clothing with sexual, violent, or offensive symbols, references, and phrases— despite breaking it often.
Across the United States, where 55.9 percent of public schools have strict dress codes, male students go under the radar when it comes to disciplinary infractions. According to an Education Week article, a principal told female students not to show off their bodies because they may distract the male students. This is a problem because not only does this system directly target the female students, it also allows the males to know that they will see no consequences for their actions.
The dress code also adds unnecessary stress to students as well. Bayle Glosson-Harvey, a sophomore at SOAR High School, said, “it’s so frustrating for me to worry if the shirt I have on is ‘distracting.’” This stress is amplified with the consequences of being out of dress code, including a phone call home and disciplinary actions like detention, which disproportionately impact BIPOC girls.
“I’ve seen people get dress-coded for clothing that others get away with because of their body type,” said Gia Rogers, a senior at SOAR High School, “It is also critical of certain races... they just banned hair picks, which are generally popular [within] the Black community.”
In Girls Against Dress Codes, the author discusses a student who noticed that “girls’ bodies become objects of adult interest and surveillance.” This is a common pattern in the ways girls and their bodies are treated in school environments, crossing state and school boundaries. This shows how the dress code affects students on a much larger scale.
To improve school dress code policies, there must be fair enforcement regardless of racial identity, gender identity, and body type and gender neutral restrictions on what can and can’t be worn. Additionally, bans on articles of clothing that suggest or depict sexual, violent, or offensive messages, like the one depicted in my male colleague’s hoodie must be enforced to create an inclusive environment for all students.
However, these policy changes are not enough. We must start conversations on gender bias, cultural awareness and inclusion, and respect for all students while holding male students equally accountable. If these conversations go unheard, peaceful protests and demonstrations are one possible avenue for us to create change, and at the district level, attending board meetings is an amazing opportunity to raise concerns about discrimination in school dress code policies. Raising awareness on your social media platforms and speaking to friends and family about these issues and issues surrounding them are also great ways to get started.
Remember we are all in this together. Even if you are not on the receiving side of this discrimination, none of us are equal until all of us are equal!