Parker Molloy
Updated Oct 02, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

At the outset of the school year, Devils Lake, N.D.,’s public school system has instituted a new dress policy aimed at restricting the style of clothes girls are able to wear. While Devils Lake School District is far from the first district to take such steps—banning leggings, jeggings, and even “skinny jeans”—comments from an assistant principal have thrust the small town into the national spotlight.

According to Valley News Live, an assistant principal forced the schools’ girls to watch clips from the movie Pretty Woman, a film in which Julia Roberts portrays a sex worker, to teach them about the dress code. (Huh?) An English teacher added to the mess, making reference to the “girls looking like prostitutes walking the streets.”

The assistant principal clarified, “This policy is not meant to objectify girls, but to stop boys from focusing on something other than class work,” and that the dress code is “a way to prevent [female students] from distracting teachers and other students.”

Senior Mariah Fixen says that the banned items are “all everybody wears, that’s their whole wardrobe,” explaining that many students will be forced to wear sweatpants.

As we’ve written before, the need for such restrictive dress codes rely on two assumptions. The first of these assumptions is that the school’s female students and their parents are unable to make reasonable decisions about dressing for school. The second assumption hinges on a belief that teenage boys are out of control and not responsible for their own actions. Neither of these assumptions are fair.

A common response to those who push back against dress codes is to state that school is for learning, and should not be treated as a place to showcase one’s self-expression. Another is to suggest that the simple act of following rules—even the ones we don’t understand or don’t believe are justified—is in itself a life lesson, preparing these young women for the rest of their lives. Both points of view have some merit, but what are we saying when we’re accusing girls of being “distractions” for boys?

By placing so much importance on girls’ attire, we’re putting a microscope on their bodies, and diminishing the importance of their own learning experience. What does it mean that we’re compromising girls’ comfort for the sake of boys’ education? The “distraction” argument objectifies young women, and sends the message to young men that girls are responsible for male impulses.

Let’s also remember, we’re talking about girls wearing jeggings and yoga pants, here.

Devils Lake, N.D., with its population of less than 8,000 individuals, is a microcosm of the sexism women face worldwide. If there’s ever hope to move past the days where a woman’s appearance is treated as her sole source of value, then we need to come together to collectively start teaching future generations to be better than our own.

Sexism will not be solved by sweatpants. Rape culture can’t be eradicated by a dress code. The more we police the appearances of women, the more we’re shaming them—and sending the wrong messages to both sexes.

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