Why So Skimpy?
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Politics and Activism

Why So Skimpy?

A look into the complexity of the high school dress code

Why So Skimpy?

“Students should not wear … apparel that is a distraction in the learning environment due to length or coverage.” (Park High School, 27, 28)

“Bare backs, bare shoulder(s), spaghetti straps, tight-fitting camisoles, and cropped tops will not be allowed.” (Park High School, 28)

“Shirts and blouses must touch the top of pants or a skirt waistband when standing.” (Park High School, 28)

“Racer-back tops are allowed as long as bra is not revealed and blouses should not dip below the middle of the breast bone.” (Park High School, 28)

In other words:

"No man will be made to feel sexually aroused in school. No woman will portray herself as a sexual human being (especially not while obtaining an education), nor will she allow her compatriots the confusion and mixed messages of bare shoulders or visible thighs. We will let our boys be boys. We will shame those girls who are asking for it. We will perpetuate rape culture without worry."

This is it: the twenty-first century. We live in the age of crop-tops, booty shorts, and leggings. We also live in the age of dress codes, and there is quite an abundance of them. Elementary schools and high schools across the nation have implemented new regulations on how girls may dress, adopting the role of omniscient social normalcy up-keeper. These dress codes are often lacking in any single, written motive, and the ridiculously vague and subjective concept of “dressing appropriately” is often thrown around in retort to high-schoolers in protest, those students asking for an explanation.

During my high school career, I was distraught, tired of these regulations that primarily targeted girls. I attempted to understand where those who’d written up this dress code were coming from.

I considered the dress code’s possible motive of professionalism. However, it became clear that this motive could not be the innocent and unassuming concept of professionalism given that there were little to no regulations for the way boys dress. In fact, I’ve watched guys walk down the hall with extremely offensive and sexist words and graphics adorning their shirts. I’ve seen guys wear naked and scantily clad women upon their shirts, but God forbid I show my own back. High school goers are also sometimes seen wearing pajama pants to school -- not exactly a suit and tie -- and there is not one dress code rule regulating girls’ clothing that does not relate to perceived sexuality. Because "professionalism" pertains to much more than simply the amount of skin a person reveals, it simply cannot be used to explain these rules.

My persistent quest for a true motive for dress codes might seem unnecessary. At the end of the day, we all know it’s just gross and uncomfortable to see too much cleavage, right?!

Well, no.

I seek so desperately for some substance and sound reasoning within dress codes because, as they are currently being implemented, these strict regulations do nothing but institutionalize rape culture. In the absence of a logical explanation for these dress codes, our nation’s public schools are teaching young women the default reasoning for such regulation: women are ultimately responsible for the actions of men.

Women must cover up their bodies in order to avoid distracting their male peers, and, of course, women must also cover up their bodies if they wish to avoid being sexually assaulted. Not only does the lack of reasoning behind dress codes perpetuate rape culture, but so does the blatant shaming of young women in high school who fail to follow the given dress code.

Rather than simply sending home the girls who have broken regulations and making them change -- which is, in itself, disruptive to their education -- these girls are often made to stand before the class as their peers are told to dissect the immorality of their clothing choices and, essentially, their body. Teachers are allowed to give these girls giant men’s button up shirts to cover up their immoral and overly sexual shoulders. These young women are often brought into an office and verbally attacked by multiple administrators.

None of this is necessary to enforce a dress code.

Although shaming and bullying alive within my high school as a result of the dress code was disturbing and disappointing, it was something I saw as a problem that pertained only to high school. However, that is not my stance on the subject anymore -- I discovered that a number of my good friends and acquaintances survived high school rapes. Rape is not an issue that is contained by a person’s high school years; you do not graduate and magically become set free of that torment. Sexual assault is one of those things that happens because of a culture, a mentality, and the acceptance of a group of people. Rape is undoubtedly an issue within my high school and many others, and it’s time we address the origin of such a horrifying problem.

There is no doubt in my mind that women’s and men’s fashion are vastly different. Women show much more skin, so in some sense, it makes perfect sense that women would be the target of the dress code. However, I’d like to think that, within a school setting, where students go to acquire knowledge and learn to exercise critical thought, we might realize that there is a reason women show up at school in short-shorts, skin-tight leggings, or with spaghetti straps. Or, perhaps, there are countless reasons women wear these rule-breaking clothing. Let’s start with availability.

Try this: walk through the aisles of target’s women’s clothing department, and take a copy of a current high school dress code. Go shopping for five or six summer outfits that follow that dress code.

Are they there?

Are they in fashion?

Will a sophomore girl be reenacting an episode of Mad Men, staring as Peggy Olson if she opts out of fashion and follows that dress code?

Will she shed her sexuality and her identity as a woman for an education?

Perhaps, but probably, she will not.

Now I ask this: why have her shorts gotten so damn short? My answer would be that we’re in the midst of a revolution, a revolution of women’s sexuality. We know that women are fully capable of being sexual human beings with intellect and an ability to empower others, and she might even whip up some mean cherry pie -- or she might not.

Meanwhile, we watch our new Republican presidential candidates wage a war on women. Women wake up in the morning to a patriarchy filled with too much misogyny. Thus, women fight for some rights, some understanding, some ability to wear those short-shorts and still be treated like a goddamn human being, because that should never be too much to ask for.

The relationship between women’s fashion and current dress codes is inevitably a complex beast to deal with for principals nation wide who anxiously strive to conform and handle these regulations with grace. This relationship is one worth thinking and conversing about, though. It’s worth the nation wide conversation that’s burgeoning, as more drastic regulations are implemented: no bare girl knees, no leggings, no skirts. This problem is less of an actual problem and more of a shifting mentality, a rebellion.

We will be seen as human beings.

We will be treated with respect.

We will not live lives of shame.

Works Cited:

Park High School. Park High School Student and Parent Handbook 2014-2015

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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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