This is a submission from our Leaders 4SC Middle School Camp.
Dress codes and clothing expectations add to the objectification and dehumanization of girls. Although it may seem like it’s preventing them from wearing inappropriate clothes or that it’s protecting them, it actually prevents girls from being themselves and being comfortable, reinforces the idea that what they wear is the most important thing about them and that they are only there for serving men, and contributes to rape culture.
People say that dress codes help keep clothes from being distracting and prevents girls from getting hurt by either bullying or sexual harassment. For example, Bonneville Academy says that dress codes “limits the amount of mocking that occurs,” “limits the distractions that may arise in the classroom,” and can “drastically limit acts of violence.” They say this because kids often can get bullied for what they wear, so dress codes can create a sense of equality among the children. They also say that as kids get older they can begin to show-off more of their body that can be distracting to other students. In addition, they say implementing dress codes, it prevents acts of violence, an example being sexual harassment. Preventing bullying, violence, and distractions are the main reasons why people believe that dress codes are a good thing. While the reasons for dress codes are good, using dress codes to prevent them isn’t the way to go because it sexualizes and objectifys girls.
One reason why dress codes add to the oppression of girls is they prevent girls from being themselves or being comfortable. The National Youth Rights Association says that schools have “punished female students wearing clothes that allow them to feel comfortable and concentrate in extremely hot weather.” Also, an article from CNN states that schools’ dress codes encourage body-shaming/slut-shaming, although it’s unintentional. By telling girls they can’t wear clothes like shorts or tank-tops they are unable to be comfortable. Also, by telling them that the clothes they wear are not appropriate it can cause them to get negative ideas about their own bodies (that they shouldn’t show a part of their body because it looks bad), and what is acceptable for them to wear.
Another reason why dress codes dehumanize girls is they reinforce the idea that what they wear is the most important thing about them and that they are only there for the purpose of serving men. According to an article from The Atlantic, a girl named Maggie Sunseri found that what they wear was more regulated than what the boys wore, with one of the main reasons being it ‘distracts the boys’. Sometimes, girls are even sent home because of their clothes, when they are actually just showing a bit of their shoulders (which boys are not penalized for). Since girls are told that their clothing is distracting for the boys, it reinforces the idea that they are only there for serving men, instead of just being allowed to wear what is comfortable. Also, the fact that they are sent home because of what they wear, says that girls clothes are more important than things like their education. Since girls are told things like this in response to what they are wearing, it adds to girls being objectified and dehumanized by society.
Finally, dress codes add to the objectification of girls by contributing to rape culture. Girls’ clothes are often penalized for being too sexual or provocative, and risk ‘exciting’ the boys. An article from Time describes that girls are told to not wear certain clothes so they don’t risk making the male teachers uncomfortable or for boys to harass them for it. Blaming what girls are wearing for boys coming on to them adds to rape culture. Teaching children that girls clothes are responsible for harassment blames the victims instead of the harasser.
Clearly, dress codes are not something that should be in schools because it prevents girls from being themselves and being comfortable, reinforces the idea that what they wear is the most important thing about them and that they are only there for serving men, and contributes to rape culture. Although the reasons for them are preventing bullying, distractions, and harassment, there are other ways to do that by teaching children to not bully, sexualize, or harass girls for what they are wearing. These are much better solutions instead of objectifying and dehumanizing girls.
Written by Leaders 4SC 2020 Student, Navya B.