Every so often, a picture of a girl in an outfit she wore to school will circulate around Facebook. The outfit has been discriminated against from a school's administration for being what they consider to be "immodest." Either a parent or the girl herself will write a long post about the absurdity of being taken out of school for showing too much knee or too much collarbone. While dress codes seem simple to those that enforce them, they have negative impacts that are hidden under the surface.
The real problem of school dress codes is not the fact that they exist, but the reasoning behind having them in the first place, as well as the administration that enforce it. The corruptive reasoning of dress codes has a lasting negative impact on both boys and girls, despite being intentional or not.
Whether or not an article of clothing is appropriate is completely subjective. An outfit may be viewed as modest to one teacher, but not to another. Parents will even approve of the child's outfit, but administration will disagree. The girl is punished for it regardless. She will be sent home for the day or forced to wait while a parent brings a change of clothes. She will bear the weight of embarrassment and shame all because the adults surrounding her cannot agree about an article of clothing. Meanwhile, a boy breaking dress code will almost always be overlooked.
The larger issue is how dress code violations are handled. A young girl can come to school feeling confident and on top of the world, but the opinion of one teacher can instantly bring her down. The self-confidence of a young girl is already so fragile without having someone that she looks up to shaming her to hide herself. She will be told that the outfit her mother bought for her makes her look like she is "going to the club."
In what world is it OK to tell a 12-year-old girl she looks as if she is going clubbing?
She will also be told that she must cover up that one extra exposed inch of knee so that boys are not distracting from their learning. Yes, because it makes perfect sense that showing once inch above your knee will cause a boy to be too distracted to learn. However, when they get to college and girls can wear whatever they want, boys are somehow able to pay attention to lecture. How does that make sense? You might as well point-blank say to a girl, "His education is more important than yours."
With all of this, there is an underlying impact that administrators do not even realize. Over time, it impacts the girls' self esteem so negatively that it can possibly lead to depression. It also shows them that their education is not as respected as that of a boy.
At the same time, it teaches boys that women are to be seen as objects. Pulling a girl out of class for a dress code violation shows them that if a girl is not covered up, then she is not to be respected as an equal since her exposed skin is distracting from their education. Teaching boys that their education is more important than a girls will contribute to sexism in the long run. If the administrators that these boys look up to don't respect these young girls, why should they?
My wish at the end of the day is for administrators to realize the larger impact that objectifying that one inch of knee makes. If the main reasoning for policing dress codes is to teach girls how to dress more professionally, then have a seminar about professional dress when they are in high school. Interrupting a girl's education over an inch of knee showing is not going to teach her how to dress professionally. It will crush her self-esteem and show that she is to be objectified instead of respected. It is up to school administrators to decide: is policing a simple dress code worth the long-lasting negative effects?