​The Six-Inches Above The Knee Rule And Other Horror Stories
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​The Six-Inches Above The Knee Rule And Other Horror Stories

Where did school dress codes go wrong?

​The Six-Inches Above The Knee Rule And Other Horror Stories
Huffington Post

As we march out of women’s history month and into the rest of the year, let’s not forget the lessons we (hopefully) learned.

The dawn of spring brings the promise of sunshine, warm weather, summer clothes, and – if you’re a girl going to school – teachers giving stern lectures about the Six Inches Above the Knee rule and other policies regarding how tempting our bodies are. The way dress codes are enforced reeks of rape culture and encourages women to pick each other apart instead of supporting each other.

How have our schools gone so wrong with a simple dress code that was supposed to establish a standard etiquette and create a positive space for students? During my first week of middle school, the teachers called an assembly to discuss the dress code. Years later, I reflected on the lessons that were taught and concluded that there needs to be a massive change in the way we talk about bodies.

To begin the assembly, the teachers corralled all the boys and girls in separate rooms for a talk about the dress code and sexual harassment.

Error 1: Associating dress code violations with sexual harassment.

The dress code should be taught like any other school rule. If schools want some degree of formal presentation from their students, that’s fine, but that has nothing to do with sexual harassment. Putting the two together perpetuates the myth that wearing certain clothes is the cause of harassment, rather than rightfully putting the blame on the harasser. Additionally, bringing sexual harassment down to the same level as a dress code violation gives leeway to perpetrators, who think they can get away with harassment as if it were just like running in the hallway or forgetting homework.

Error 2: Separating boys and girls.

Do the school rules differ based on your gender? No. Giving men and women different standards of conduct in the classroom creates a barrier during a time of their lives when developing close friendships and having open conversations is a key part of emotional development.

The assembly continued with a math teacher glaring at all the girls over her horn-rimmed glasses and stating, “We know you young ladies like to push the limits of the dress code with your short-shorts and low-cut shirts...” I had never intentionally broken the school dress code, but I felt I had already done something wrong. My own teachers looked down at my peers and I like our only goal at school was to distract those “hormonal teenage boys,” and preemptively shamed us for conforming with popular clothing trends. Had I known what victim blaming was at age 13, I would have been angry instead of embarrassed and confused.

Error 3: Victim blaming starts before there are even victims to blame.

This culture of seeing young women as “guilty until proven innocent” starts at a young age. Girls do it to each other because it is imposed on them by the media, their male peers, and even teachers. They are told, quite patronizingly, to refrain from any sexual activity or flirting, because once she does, it’s her fault if a man makes her uncomfortable. And girls feeling this pressure often have trouble going to their peers for support, because their fellow classmates also shame girls who dress a certain way.

The more I learned about my middle school dress code, the worse it became. Low-cut tops and short shorts and skirts were all banned. It was the girl’s jobs to be conscientious of how much her skirt would show from below while walking up the stairs. This, of course, was because—and yes, my teacher really did say this — we could only expect boys to look up our skirts if we were irresponsible enough to wear them.

Error 4: “You’re asking for it.”

Does this need further explanation? Of course girls in middle school and high school get a reputation for being mean; this message has been ingrained into our minds from before puberty, and that creates an enormous amount of pressure and fear that causes kids to lash out at each other.

She proceeded to tell us we needed to bend down in the mirror to make sure our shirts didn’t hang too low and show any cleavage before coming to school, because if we were to bend over our schoolwork or to unlock our lockers, boys would certainly look down our shirts.

Error 5: Equating fashion mishaps to acts of evil.

Any wardrobe malfunctions were not simply allowed to be as just that. The way the dress code was introduced to us, any outfit that revealed unexpected skin was branded as a malicious act, meant to lure helpless hormonal teenage boys into the deadly world of sex. Girls are already in a vulnerable place during puberty. Figuring out how clothes fit on a changing body, how to layer a new set of undergarments, and what to wear when we become teenagers and fashion suddenly matters in school are all challenging and often embarrassing hurdles to clear. School should be a place to figure it out and gain confidence, not being shamed for every choice you make until you fear your own peers.

The assembly was finally over, but the nonsense continued. Later that year, the vice principal would appear constantly on the intercom to remind us of the Six-Inches Rule. If your shorts or skirt violated the rule, you would have to change into a pair of ugly gym shorts. Furthermore, to test the code, she would walk around with a wooden hand cutout that measured exactly six inches and hold it up to students’ thighs. She chose not to use a ruler—she insisted on using the hand to hold up to a 12-year-old’s thigh to put outfits in question to the test. This suggests that girls who “violate” the dress code want men to touch them. The way this dress code was enforced went above and beyond to hypersexualize 12-year-old girls in their first days of middle school.

Error 6: Public humiliation and sexualizing children’s bodies.

It took years to overcome my own internalized misogyny. I spent much of my early teenage years thinking that other girls were out to get me, that anyone who showed more skin than me was looking to get attention. I eventually stopped judging other women for their choice of clothing, and after even more time, I felt comfortable in my own body.

We live in a culture where it is assumed far too often that our most innocuous actions have a sexual motive. This mindset is both a cause of and is exasperated by dress codes that target young women. For a society that supposedly values self-expression so much, it’s about time to understand what that means. Stop making other people's fashion choices about you.
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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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