A few days ago, Jennifer Smith’s son brought home a permission slip from Rhoades Elementary in Indianapolis. The slip, which announced an end-of-the-year celebration pool party for his 6th grade class, seemed innocuous at first —on Monday, May 18th, the 6th grade class was invited to go to the Lynhurst Center to “reward [the children] for all of their hard work and good citizenship throughout the school year.” All sounded well and good and happy until Smith got to the pool party requirements, one of which read, “All girls must wear a non-white t-shirt over their swimsuit.” This immediately stopped Smith in her tracks.
“Being a feminist and seeing things through that filter, I was just kind of enraged by that. They’re saying little girls need to be ashamed of their bodies and cover themselves up,” Smith told The Huffington Post. And Smith has a really valid point here. To instruct girls to cover up their bodies is to perpetuate the idea that a female’s body is something sacredly sexual and must be protected, that it’s provocative and dirty, as well as a distraction. And that’s just not right.
Smith adds, “I have a little boy, I’m teaching him to think correctly, and this is contrary to what I’m teaching him.” So, she contacted the school and asked why this stipulation was included.
According to The Huffington Post, “the school explained that there had been inappropriate swimwear at past parties and that they wanted to help students who may be uncomfortable not covering themselves.” A spokesperson for the school district told Huffington Post directly, “We know that for many of our families, buying an extra [one-piece] swimsuit for their children would be a luxury they cannot afford. To address the issue of appropriate dress for the swim party, we believed asking the girls to wear T-shirts over their swimsuits was the solution that addressed the issue most sensitively.”
But this still doesn’t explain the reason why both girls AND boys weren’t asked to wear t-shirts. “Setting one standard for half of the student body only promotes the idea that girls bodies are naturally shameful,” Smith wrote the principal.
Furthermore, asking 6th grade girls to wear t-shirts over their swimsuits is unnecessarily sexualizing a bunch of 11 and 12 year-old girls and policing their bodies, and that’s just not OK.
Not that boys were completely off the hook. While the permission slip also states, “No Speedos,” arguably implicating that the school wants all of its students to dress appropriately for the pool, this still doesn’t negate the fact that girls are the only ones being asked to put on a shirt. Just because they also put some limitations on guys’ suits doesn’t make it irrelevant that they’re asking girls to wear t-shirts. If Rhoades Elementary wanted to truly treat female and male students equally in terms of dress code, they would have asked the boys to wear t-shirts as well.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. After Smith talked to the superintendent, the t-shirt rule was abolished, and girls were told shirts were optional. Hooray! According to HuffPost, Smith was happy with how the school handled the situation, that Rhoades’ ultimate decision will “help the girls in the class know that their bodies are not shameful and that they are not responsible for how others see them.” And guess what? No girls chose to wear t-shirts to the pool.
(Images via Huffington Post/Jennifer Smith)