Why More Students Are Protesting Sexist School Dress Codes

It’s hard enough getting dressed for school without having to worry that your outfit will be scrutinized by your teachers. Rigid, gender-oriented dress codes have long been a problem in schools, but these days, some students have had enough and are calling out the administration for enforcing sexist policies.

At Tottenville High School, in Staten Island, N.Y, students have started protesting what they deem as disproportionately stringent dress code rules for female students.

It all started the first week of school, an especially hot day, when many girls optioned for shorts, short skirts, tank tops, and other warm-weather clothing. But, as of the start of the year, those types of clothing were banned by administrators, leaving students with the option of wearing clothes likely to result in increased exposure to the heat or face punishment from the school for violating its dress code.

Almost immediately, students were hit with disciplinary action in droves, with little to no consideration being given to the fact that the temperature inside the school had risen to near-dangerous levels.

In protest, many Tottenville students began intentionally violating the dress code, drawing national attention to its arbitrary nature. By the time Mic reported on the action, more than 200 students had received detention—around 90 percent of those students were girls.

Parents and male students are also speaking out against the dress code policies, with one parent considering a class-action suit and several boys tweeting their opposition to the school’s new rules.

“Personally, I think it’s biased against girls,” one male student told the Staten Island Advance. “I get that they want to teach us to respect ourselves and others, and that they want us to dress for success, but if you’re comfortable and relaxed in class — not sweltering or fearful you’re going to get pulled aside — you can pay attention better and learn.”

Student dress codes often all but single out girls and women for punishment. In Tottenville’s case, the arbitrary standards set for the length of shorts and skirts disproportionately impact female students. While boys’ shorts are not typically styled in a way that put the wearer at risk of not reaching “relaxed hand-level,” a large number of girls’ shorts happen to not reach that benchmark.

Earlier this year, Canadian teen Lindsey Stocker launched a protest against her school after administrators came into her classroom and informed her that her shorts were too short in front of the whole class.

“In front of all my peers and my teacher they said I had to change,” Stocker told The National Post. “When I said no, they said I was making a bad choice. They kept shaking their heads. In front of everybody.”

Stocker responded by posting fliers around the school that read, “Don’t humiliate her because she’s wearing shorts. It’s hot outside. Instead of shaming girls for their bodies, teach boys that girls are not sexual objects.”

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Marion Mayer responded to a discussion in which her school’s principal Arthur Martinez discussed the dress code using the phrases “Modest is hottest” and “Boys will be boys” by posting a picture of her in a bikini top holding a sign reading, “It’s alright. You’re a boy” to her Tumblr account. Principal Martinez confronted Mayer about the post.

In a written account after the fact, Mayer writes, “When I asked him, in general, what the difference is between girls and boys, he said that boys ‘misbehave more’ and are ‘outgoing.’ He said that girls are ‘reserved.’” She added, “I explained to him that by using the phrase ‘Boys will be boys,’ he is excusing and condoning bad behavior from boys, such as sexual harassment and rape. ‘But that’s not reality; that’s your opinion.’ he said.”

Earlier this month, one Florida student was forced to wear what has been called a “shame suit” after inadvertently violating her school’s dress code. Her story became national news, and highlighted the level of body-shaming that is inherently a part of these dress codes.

It’s rare that a male student will be cited for violating a school’s dress code. It’s not that boys are any more conservative than girls in terms of clothing, but rather, that these policies are often crafted in a way that specifically target female students.

As was the case in Mayer’s situation, many schools adopt these dress codes as a means to avoid causing a “distraction” believed to set off the raging hormones of male classmates. This approach is not only insulting to girls, but should be viewed as insulting to boys, who are being treated as testosterone-fueled animals that can’t help but ogle, grab, or assault their female classmates. These dress codes instill at an early age the idea that if a boy does ogle, grab, or assault a girl, she is at least partially to blame. That’s not cool.

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