Shame and Misplaced Blame: The Problems With a Girls-Only Dress Code

3 years ago

There's an article going around the internet right now about a sixth grade girl's outfit. A mother published on Slate after her daughter was made to wear an oversized t-shirt because her (mighty cute, may I add) blue jean shorts didn't pass the school's dress code which stated that all shorts and skirts must reach fingertip length or longer.

Who cares, right? Well, there's a big reason that you should:

By telling young girls that their bodies are distracting, we're telling them that it's their fault when a man (or boy, in this case) can't avert his eyes and focus on his studies. It's the girls' fault, and they should be ashamed and cover up. Or as it the article puts it, "Her school is normalizing the notion that girls’ bodies are distractions. That girls bear responsibility for boys’ reactions to their bodies."

Credit: moontan.

Well said and so true, which I can attest to as a former sixth grade girl with a real interest in fashion.

I was once a perpetual dress code violator. In fact, I was even given detention because of a short skirt. At my school, the teachers and administrators would stand in the hallway and monitor our behavior. Great for safety reasons, not great if you're a girl with shoulders.

Each time a teacher pulled me aside for violating the dress code, I would want to cry tears of anger and frustration. At the time, I couldn't express, articulate, or even really understand what exactly it was that made me so angry, but years later it's clear. As a young girl interested in fashion—an industry where I later made my career—I had to put aside my main form of self-expression in a time when self-expression is paramount because the boys in my class supposedly couldn't keep their eyes off of my, or any other female's, shoulders or lower thighs.

How incredibly unfair, and just plain embarrassing this is for a young girl.

I was a good student, never in trouble for anything, save for my scandalous clothing. The time I had detention for an oh-so-dangerous miniskirt, I had done nothing wrong outside of wearing a skirt. They treated me like a bad student, someone who had actually done something wrong, not just worn a common piece of clothing.

I realize that this might feel exaggerated and a little woe-is-me, but years later the misplaced blame and plain old unfairness still sits with me. When I was in school, not all that long ago, there were no stories like this going viral around the internet, so we do have a start.

In the meantime, young gals, I say keep wearing those sleeveless shirts and shorts. We'll show them.


I wrote about my struggle with feminism and fashion over on Bustle in How To Dress Like A Feminist. (I'm obsessed.) Read it for more insights on skirt length.

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