An Open Letter To Principals Enforcing Sexist Dress Codes
To My Middle School Principal (And to School Administrators Alike),
I've observed from afar, with horror and disgust, as you've punished young girls for their school attire. Nearly every day my little brother comes home and shares that another girl has been interrupted, pulled out of class, and sent to the office only to be reprimanded for her clothing. While I understand the attempt to maintain a "serious academic environment," you are completely butchering your execution of this goal.
Creating a focused, educational environment is a vision that is contingent upon the comfort and inclusion of all students. A truly thriving educational community is an inclusive community, which requires the full embrace of every member's whole self. By demonizing developing girls and their bodies, you effectively reduce girls to roadblocks in boys' paths to education and success. If boys are distracted by girls' bodies in their fabulous shorts or incredibly comfortable leggings, you should address the fact that boys are demonstrating an inability to focus on their school work. Teach boys that they are accountable for their own sexual desire.
Instead, you expect young women to change themselves and their bodies for men's benefit. But girls' bodies are not the problem. Your failure to guide young girls and celebrate their blooming bodies as they enter into adolescence is the problem. Your lectures and reprimands teach girls to enter the unspeakably painful process of separating our own selves from our bodies. We learn to deny ourselves wholeness. We learn to be ashamed of our flesh. We learn that our bodies are not our own. We learn that we exist only in relation to men — as appendages, as roadblocks, as objects. This horrifying lesson ultimately teaches us all that young boys' bodies are worth much more than girls’ and women’s bodies.
And while girls are over-policed for their bodies' mere existence, boys are ignored for their active exploitation of those girls' bodies. Boys in my brother's middle school have already begun to mass-distribute young girls’ nude photos without their consent. Where are the school assemblies that teach young boys not to commodify and exploit young women’s bodies? Why aren’t you pulling boys out of class who have coerced young girls into sending those pictures, then packaged and sold them to the rest of their grade? Your silence on this issue, again, teaches the girls in your school that their bodies are inherently sexual and deviant. Furthermore, this refusal to hold boys accountable makes what could be a crucial act of self love and realization for girls, instead, feel quite shameful. In fact, photographing oneself can be an immensely powerful way for a girl to begin to discover the beauty of her body in a world that insists upon the constant denial of her physical self.
So, what can schools do to address these pervasive, unspeakably harmful, gender-based discrimination? Create space. Instead of telling students what is acceptable for “girls” and “boys” to wear — which upholds the gender binary and erases the experiences of gender non-conforming and trans students — schools should instead allow students to wear whatever they find comfortable. Not everyone’s comfort looks the same. I repeat, not everyone’s comfort looks even remotely similar. While some students feel comfortable wearing crop tops and leggings, others feel more comfortable in jeans and long-sleeves. Ultimately, students are in school to learn, not to be made uncomfortable and fear that they will be demonized by teachers and students alike for the clothing that they feel most confident in.
Instead of wasting school assemblies on lessons that uphold patriarchal, oppressive standards of respectability, teach students to celebrate and respect physical appearances that fall on a vast spectrum of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, etc. In short, stop traumatizing developing adolescents and start teaching them how to be inclusive of one another’s bodies and whole selves.
More articles by Category: Body image and body standards, Feminism, Girls
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, High school, Sexuality, Discrimination