Not OK: When Dress Code Policies Shame Young Women
On her third day at Oakleaf High School in Orange Park, Florida, Miranda Larkin was stopped by a teacher and sent to the nurse’s office. Once there, she was told to change out of the clothes she wore to school that day and put on the “dress-code-violation outfit.” Miranda was forced to wear the outfit—which consists of a neon yellow t-shirt with “DRESS CODE VIOLATION” printed across the front in big block letters and a pair off red sweatpants with the same message running down the leg—after wearing a skirt that didn’t reach her knees, violating the school’s dress code.
“The school has said, ‘This is to embarrass you,’” Miranda told ABC News. “It’s supposed to embarrass you so you don’t do it again,” she said. “I got really upset and asked if I could call my mom. She was really upset, as well.”
In Miranda’s mom, Dianna’s mind, the school’s actions were tantamount to bullying.
“She’s a good kid,” Dianna told ABC. “She actually has a perfect disciplinary record. I’m not a rescue mom. I really do believe in punishing my kids if they do something wrong, but this is not about punishing kids. This is about humiliation.”
In a statement to ABC News affiliate WJXX in Jacksonville, Florida, a school spokesperson stated that students who violate the dress code (skirts must be knee-length or longer) are given the options to stay in their clothes and have someone bring them a new outfit, serve suspension time or wear what’s being dubbed by media outlets as a “shame suit.” Miranda claims she wasn’t given any alternate options, according to ABC News.
Dress codes are, generally speaking, largely arbitrary. One school might require that skirts reach your kneecaps, while another might say that anything beyond the edges of someone’s arms at side fingertips meets code. One might have a “no cleavage” rule, while another might use arbitrary markers such as finger widths, palms, or some other odd unit of measurement to determine how low one’s top can be. Dress codes are disproportionately aimed at curbing young women from expressing themselves freely, and in their creation, often cite fears of distracted male students as their rationale.
Dress codes are often one of the first firm examples of body-shaming that young women face. Rather than instill a culture of respect, schools so very often tell these young women that it is their responsibility to not do something a male student might find distracting. In turn, this encourages a “boys will be boys” culture in which boys are provided excuses for ogling or otherwise sexually harassing their female classmates without repercussion.
Miranda had only moved to the area eight days before class began. She didn’t know that her skirt violated the school’s code. The puninshment doled out by the school served as the most public shaming of all — a scarlett letter, a cautionary tale, and a reminder that how a woman expresses herself through clothing or makeup will forever be used to blame her for the actions of someone else.
If there’s ever to be hope that the world will no longer be so fueled by sexism, society needs to start breaking down these walls. Rather than developing and enforcing sexist dress codes for fear of someone being distracted, address those distracted. Someone’s existence—which includes their personality, their body, their intelligence, and yes, the way they express themselves in terms of fashion—cannot, in itself, be distracting. Let’s strive for a world where girls don’t have to curb who they are.
(Image via ABC News)