What my school dress code taught me about shame

Audrey Batholomew, Staff Writer

Rule number one, first and foremost, never show the skin you were brought into this world with. Unless, of course, you’re a boy. In that birthright exception, muscle tees, shorts and V-necks will never receive a second look.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 60 percent of schools enforce a strict dress code in their 2014 findings, with rules varying from school to school. So, what does this mean for students?

For me, it meant wearing jackets in my non-air-conditioned middle school in early June, due to the cutouts on my oversized t-shirt. A trip to my locker without my windbreaker caused my homeroom teacher to peer out of her classroom and tell me not to let her see me without it again, unless, of course, I wanted to change into my gym uniform. It meant shrugging my shorts down in the science wing for fourth period.

But most importantly, my school dress code taught me how to be shameful of my body and that I should expect constant criticism for attempting to be comfortable.

These ancient policies do nothing besides singling out an entire gender to cover up and impede on productivity. Education will be for everyone once we stop pegging girls as distractions and sending them out of class to change. If I were to walk up to my math teacher tomorrow, complain that the football player sitting across from me prevented me from completing my algebra test because his beautiful muscles outlined by his t-shirt were distracting me, she would laugh in my face and tell me that it’s my own problem.

School districts mask these policies as a means to teach dressing appropriately for the working world. If you’re forcing girls out of class and into ill-fitting gym uniforms, call it for what it is. This isn’t professionalism. This is oppression.

The problem with this justification is that it assumes that there are uniform rules and dress code standards in all workplaces. With working from home growing in popularity, and more offices prioritizing the quality of their employees’ work, preparing to dress for the workplace in schools is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Not to mention, commenting on an adult’s body and what they’re wearing in any office or other establishment is an immediate Human Resources violation, it’s completely inappropriate. So why does doing this to children suddenly make it acceptable, most notably, young girls?

The other grasp at a reasonable argument is that implementing dress codes promotes school unity—nobody stands out. In order for a student to become truly well-rounded, they must be exposed to a diverse and varied group of people. This melting pot of students and experiences can best be expressed through one thing: clothing. Forcing students to dress in a manner which bares self-expression and identity causes students to lack their sense of self.

Dress codes will never be consistent and end up perpetuating something much darker than inequality of the sexes. The “asking for it” mindset is based entirely around the idea that clothing implies consent. We are taught that clothing encompasses promiscuity as children.

A set of rules cannot be enforced fairly if the parameters differ based upon gender and body type. Teacher in a bad mood? Better hope that you have time to adjust your tank top straps or find an invisible cloak to disappear into the crowd. My middle school went by the fingertip rule, long arms forced into Bermuda shorts. Those who had short arms won the genetic lottery, weaseling their way out of a disastrous dress code. That’s exactly what’s wrong with this failing, nationwide system. Not once over the course of those three years did I ever see a boy get sent home or pulled out of class for violating the dress codes. Everything is fair game for the opposite sex as long as there aren’t drugs, sex, or gang symbols depicted.

School administrators, respect your students. The solution is simple, do away with the dress code that sucks the life and self-expression out of your students. Life will go on, I promise. Acknowledge that every young girl you pull aside and every student you deem a distraction relies on you for their education. Recognizing consent begins in the classroom. Maximize the minds of every person that walks through your halls. There are things more important than your perceived ideas of modesty and professionalism.