by Izzy Labbe
If you are or ever have been a teenager in America, you know this time of the year: it’s early June, and the countdown until the last day of school is becoming more and more intense. It’s so hot outside that you have absolutely no desire to get out of bed early and be productive. To put it simply: YOU WANT IT TO BE SUMMER.
A few weeks ago, the kids at my school (and many schools like mine) started experiencing changes in the weather, and, along with that, in school policy. The teachers and Vice Principal at my school started laying the smack-down when it came to the dress code. It’s common sense that when it’s 80 degrees outside and you’re spending all day in a school without air conditioning, you’re going to put on shorts and a tank top, right? But lots of teachers have made it their mission to enforce a ban on so-called “provocative” clothing in schools.
Now, what exactly is “provocative,” you ask? Well, in my school, a teacher can give you demerits for wearing shorts that are above the fingertips when your arms are at your sides, or when you wear a spaghetti-strap shirt, or when a bra strap is visible. You can get in trouble for showing cleavage or “too much skin.”
If that last part sounds vague, it’s because it is. All dress code enforcement is at a teacher’s discretion, which means it’s not enforced equally. The administration basically only targets girls, and not boys who have their pants too low and show their underwear or who wear loose tanktops with huge armholes that show their sides. My general viewpoint on what is “appropriate” when it comes to clothing is this: I understand that the school has to have certain rules about what is appropriate attire for school so that kids don’t come to class naked. But when it’s 95 degrees outside, girls shouldn’t be getting in trouble for wearing shorts.
I’ve also noticed that the teachers who take it upon themselves to crack down on girls wearing inappropriate clothing only target girls with curvier figures. There are girls at my school who are very, very skinny, and wear short-shorts all the time, but the teachers overlook this and go straight to the girl who fills out the shorts. When you look at it this way, girls aren’t getting in trouble for the length of their shorts. They’re getting in trouble for the way the shape of their bodies.
I’m pretty fed up with all of this, but I didn’t know if it was just me, so I talked to some of my classmates about it. I got into some pretty interesting conversations with the boys and girls that go to my school. One 14 year old female classmate said that she thinks the dress code is “kind of pointless, because why can you not show your shoulders? And like, as long as your butt’s not hanging out of your shorts, I think you should be able to wear them.” Fair enough.
Another female classmate said that even with the dress code, “people still wear short-shorts, and I don’t think there’s a problem with it.” When I asked her if she thought our school’s dress code and it’s uneven enforcement might be bordering slut-shaming behavior, and she nodded. “Yes. I do.”
Another classmate said she thought the code was “fair to a certain extent… but it doesn’t have to be so severe.”
I asked her if she knew what slut shaming is, and she gave me a pretty good explanation. When I asked her if she thought that our school dress code exhibited slut-shaming behavior she affirmed, and said, “It sort of says, instead of like saying that guys should respect girls, that girls should just take it… that we’re not allowed to wear certain shorts, we’re not allowed to wear certain kinds of tank tops that might show cleavage or anything like that, which I understand, but at the same time I think that they should also have rules for the boys, and also tell the boys to respect the girls. They don’t really have any rules for guys as far as clothing goes. They could pretty much wear anything as long as they’re wearing clothes, and it would be fine. Girls aren’t allowed to wear tank tops cut at the sides, and guys can.”
She certainly blazed through a lot of what was going inside my mind.
I also talked to some people who weren’t exactly thinking along the lines of what my friend over there and I were thinking. One girl responded that she was OK with larger girls being called out for their clothes, because “the tiny girls can wear short-shorts, and the bigger girls try it and it doesn’t work. Part of me says like, good for you, you think you can wear whatever you want and you feel pretty, and it’s just like, good for you! But on the other hand, it’s like, is that fair to all the people… like, no offense, but some people just don’t want to see that. And I feel bad for those girls, because they can’t help it, it’s not their fault. But the skinny girls can wear it. The dress code… they tried to make it fair, and girls took it too far, and it’s not working out.”
I’m not into this answer–to me, it sounds like we’re blaming girls for other people’s negative reactions to their bodies. That’s misogyny! And it’s a problem when it enters classrooms and girls’ bodies are treated–by the staff, by boys, and by each other–as dirty, ugly objects that must be covered.
If it’s hot outside, I’m going to wear shorts, or a skirt. Bodies are not offensive. It’s not unnatural for a girl to wear shorts on a hot day. What’s really unnatural is a girl being shamed into wearing pants against her wishes in summer, no matter what her body size is.
Also, can we throw that the phrase “provocative clothing” out the window, please? Saying that clothing is provocative insinuates that it provokes sexual assault or rape or harassment, which is totally false. Harassers harass and abusers abuse regardless of clothing choices.
So remember: As you venture into summer, don’t let anyone else mandate and dictate your body and what you wear. You shouldn’t be bound by someone else’s code. Your body is more than that. You are more than that.