Two boys sit behind me in class, their chairs tilted back, laughing at something on the screens of their phones. Neither of them are paying attention to the teacher in front of the room telling us about the Gettysburg Address. I take notes, trying to ignore the outbursts of giggles behind me.
The phone rings, and the teacher tells me that I am being sent to the principal’s office. When I arrive, the male principal tells me that the straps of my tank top are a distraction to others’ (read: male) education. I am then dismissed to change into the sweaty t-shirt and shorts that I wore in gym class for the rest of the day. By taking me out of class, the principal was telling me that my education was less important than that of the boys behind me who weren’t paying attention. That the skin on my shoulders is more important than academics.
This is a situation that far too many young women have been put into in their high school years. For as long as dress codes have been implemented, male education has been prioritized over women’s. Dress codes often unfairly target women, listing rules such as no shorts shorter than your fingertips, no spaghetti straps, no shirts that reveal more than one credit card’s length of chest, no leggings or yoga pants, and the list goes on.
At that point, what can girls wear to school?
These dress codes enforce the idea that women’s bodies are inherently sexual and are objects for men to look at. Oftentimes, dress codes can also enforce gender norms. Many times when people wear clothes that are not typically associated with their assigned gender, those people get punished. This oppresses a person’s right to express themselves in any manner they choose to, a right every individual should be awarded.
High schools should be a place of learning, not a place where people feel scrutinized and judged. It is especially cruel to expect women to wear long sleeves and long pants in the warmer Spring and Summer months, while men are just not held to the same level of scrutiny.
This is a time in fashion where women are taught to embrace their bodies and be proud of who they are, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to buy clothing that fit the criteria of strict dress codes.
What does it say about the educational system that it teaches girls to avoid clothing that might incite sexual harassment and unwanted male attention instead of teaching people to respect each other? This educates males from a young age to object females, instead of teaching equality. Allowing misogyny to flourish in high schools only leads to rape culture in college, and further problems down the road.
Sexism is taught from a young age, it is not in our biology. Only by changing the rules that enforce prejudices will equality be obtained.