I’m no stranger to strict dress codes; I grew up in a small Alabama town and went to a small religious school, where girls were not allowed to wear shorts, tank tops, or anything other than a dress on Wednesdays . It seemed normal at the time and the school has long since abandoned its “girls can’t wear shorts” rule—but the point is: they recognized the archaic dress code as being unnecessary, sexist, and impractical.
Unfortunately, not everyone has followed suit. Schools all over the country still sporadically make the news when they ban girls from wearing perfectly reasonable clothing to school functions. Their rationalization is always the same: it might cause boys to think “impure thoughts.” Seriously. That bums us out.
Last weekend, Utah high school student Gabi Finlayson was asked during a school dance to wear a coat over her dress—for the entire duration of the dance. Why? Her dress was showing too much shoulder, according to reports. “Somehow my shoulders are sexualized,” Finlayson told KUTV News, “like it’s my responsibility to make sure the boys’ thoughts are not unclean.”
Finlayson was excited about the dress she bought for the dance, and found it while on a trip to Paris. She loved it because it reminded her of the classic, elegant style of her idol, Audrey Hepburn.
There’s nothing offensive about this dress—and Finlayson says there’s no way it breaks the the school’s dress code, which states, “formals, backless dresses and/or tops may not extend beyond the bottom of the shoulder blades. Girls’ dresses and tops must have a 2″ minimum strap on each shoulder. Shawls, boleros and other shrugs are acceptable if worn over the dress at all times. Cleavage covered.”
Finlayson says that there were definitely people testing the dress code at the dance, and “were a lot of dresses that were very short, very tight, a lot more exposing or revealing than mine,” she told the news station. Her mom is livid with the school saying, “the message that sends to girls is really troubling and damaging and they’ve already got so many other damaging messages that are being sent to them…how have we gotten to the point that we look at shoulders as if they’re somehow pornographic? As if they are this shameful thing.”
Despite the fact that we’re making progress with gender equality, many schools still maintain a shaming stance when it comes to young women and their clothing, ultimately teaching girls to be ashamed of their bodies and blaming them for other people’s reactions. It’s still happening all over. Girls are shut out from prom because of the length of their dresses, others have had to “parade” around male administrators who decide whether their dresses fit properly. At one school, a female student was punished and forced to wear a “shame shirt” for breaking the dress code.
The solution here is a simple one, and no one sums it up better than Finalyson herself, saying, “maybe instead of teaching girls that they should cover themselves up, we should be teaching boys that we’re not sex objects that they can look at.”