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Do High School Dress Codes Discriminate Against Girls?

By Arlett Ramirez
Web Content Contributor

“Those shorts are not fingertip length!”

“Leggings are not allowed!”

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 degrees outside, no tank tops!”

Does any of that sound familiar? If you’re a girl, you’re probably remembering the awful high school days where teachers and administrators would enforce a strict dress code. Let me share some details of my dress code from my high school.

Girls were not allowed to wear dresses or tops that were sheer, low cut (front or back) or excessively tight. Tops had to be long enough so the midsection and back were covered at all times. Dresses and shorts had to be fingertip length while standing or walking. If a girl wanted to wear leggings, a shirt had to be long enough to cover her butt and be fingertip length. There was even a time where certain administrators wanted to ban Miss Me jeans because of the bedazzled back pockets causing ‘distractions in the classroom’. I’m sure other schools had stricter dress codes than mine, but it seems like dress codes are being used to discriminate against female students with so many restrictions and limitations.

I recently read an article about a school in North Carolina (K-8) who will no longer require female students to wear skirts as part of their uniform. A federal judge said that by requiring girls to wear skirts their mobility is limited, distracts them from learning, and subjects them to cold temperatures on their legs.

Living in Texas where temperatures can reach over 100 degrees, there are times where girls would like to wear tops that expose shoulders, collarbones or midriffs just to beat the extreme heat. My high school made it very clear that shoulders and midriffs had to be covered at all times – no exceptions.

If girls were caught in violation of the dress code, they couldn’t cover up the “offensive” item with a sweater. No, they were sent to the office where they were forced to change into a baggy shirt or sweatshirt. If shorts weren’t fingertip length girls were forced to change into large sweatpants. Also, it was obvious when a girl had been caught for violating the dress code, because she was wearing something baggy and ill-fitting. It was almost as if they were publicly shaming them for violating the dress code. Most of us had to read “The Scarlet Letter” in high school. Well instead of a red “A” for the crime of adultery, baggy sweatpants or sweatshirts represented the punishment for dress code violation.

However, not every girl was allowed to changed into sweats. If girls didn’t want to cover up they were sent home. Meanwhile, boys in violation of dress code were offered a shirt to change into or a razor to shave facial hair. It seemed like schools weren’t bothered to send female students home, but they tried to keep male students in school at all costs. Does that mean that the school system values boys’ education more than girls’? It sure seems that way if they’re willing to send girls home over minor dress code violations.

One thing that dress codes always alludes to is that students can’t wear anything that disrupts the classroom environment. Shoulders always seem to be thing that disrupts a classroom. I remember hearing teachers say that shoulders would distract boys from learning. Are shoulders really that erotic? Do administrators think that boys have never seen a woman’s shoulder? I don’t think so, but the school system has other ideas.

Most school systems want to promote “traditional values” where boys and girls can respect each other. Last time I checked we weren’t living in Puritan times. Schools act like a girl’s bare shoulder or even a bra strap will make a boy go wild or be incredibly distracted. It can teach boys that if a women is showing skin, she’s looking for sex when that is further than the truth. There’s a misconception in society that a woman is asking for sex if she wears something revealing. To prevent the sexualizing of young women in school, boys should be taught that women aren’t sexual beings and are rather their peers and equals.

I’m thankful that in college dress code isn’t such a large factor. Anyone can wear what they want to class and professors won’t report you to the Dean of Students. Girls are allowed to wear shorts and shirts to beat the hot weather with no consequences. Shoulders can be exposed and get this, none of the boys are distracted in class!

Featured illustration by Arlett Ramirez

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