Whether it’s a plaid uniform or a ban on open-toed shoes, dress codes have always existed to ensure some abstractly defined “order” amongst students. Making sleeveless tops impermissible is not unpopular, albeit arguably most questionable. The controversy over shoulders is age-old; how did this particular body part become so taboo?
Researching the question in any phrasing proves futile. While complaints against shoulders being a “distraction” occur in the thousands, explanations as to why are sparse, if there at all. There are religious reasons that I have no right to contest, but those aside, most attest to what they know to be fact: sexism is manifested in dress codes.
From senators being banned from wearing sleeveless tops to female tennis players being banned from wearing leggings, the implications are endless. Recently revealed regulations at San Benito High School in Hollister, California seemingly add to the list. On their first day, dozens of girls wore off-the-shoulder tops, and at least 50 of them were sent to the office for doing so. Students were further banned from exposing their shoulders in photos on picture day. The restriction came as a surprise; according to students, the dress code had never been so harshly enforced before. Male students arriving in their own off-the-shoulder tops to protest were an unexpected, but more-than-appropriate response.
One student, Andrei Vladimirov, commented “Not being able to wear a certain type of shirt may seem like a minor problem to some people, but it is representative of something much larger in society — the fact that women are still, today, being subjected to the dominance of male ideology.”
While the boys are hailed for showing solidarity so openly and with such adamance, Andrei clarifies that “A lot of people want to emphasize the male students' part in this protest, which I respect, but the purpose of this whole thing was to protest sexism against female students."
Unsurprisingly, administration has denied claims of the outfit regulations arising from sexism. Principal Adrian Ramirez claims “Students are saying that they were hearing that the reason [strapless and off-the-shoulder shirts] are not allowed is that it distracted the boys and that’s definitely not it at all. And they felt offended by that, and I completely agree that, if that was our stance, I would be offended too. Part of my job is to clarify the why behind the dress code. Whether you are a male or female student, it’s your own responsibility not to be distracted, regardless of your gender.”
In defense of the dress codes, Ramirez further explained “Our first goal is to prevent the possibility of any student from being a victim of any incident where they could intentionally or unintentionally be humiliated. These are clearly rare incidents, and our goal is to ensure every student is responsible to conduct themselves appropriately...Our second goal is to ensure we set expectations within our dress code that begin to prepare our students to seek and maintain employment, interview for a scholarship or pursue their career goals after high school.”
His refrain from detailing the “humiliating” incidents that he thinks students are subject to allude to the very sexism he denies. How does clothing affect how responsibly students conduct themselves? Moreover, as stated, colleges generally do not enforce dress codes, and students still maintain the ability to attain employment, receive scholarships, and pursue their career goals.
Vladimirov puts it best: “Women deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, and this entails being able to dress as one pleases. Women should be able to wear what they want without being systemically objectified — treated as if they have no personal sovereignty."
Rights to respect should not lie in our shoulders.