There are plenty of reasons a student might be pulled out of class for distracting other students. Making a lot of noise, throwing school supplies, picking fights… Wearing a modest pair of leggings with a long shirt, however, does not belong on that list.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened to Deanna Wolf’s daughter, who showed up at her high school in Huntsville wearing an eminently modest outfit that got her yanked out of class for a “dress code violation.”
Wolf posted a photograph of her daughter’s clothing to Facebook as part of a complaint against the school’s behavior:
Wolf is right that her daughter learned a lesson today, and that lesson probably wasn’t the one the school administrators intended when they sent the girl out of class. First of all, this girl is pretty thoroughly covered to any reasonable eye — not that that should matter. What matters is that a girl got kicked out of class because of the miniscule chance a stray breeze rippling through her geometry or literature classroom could expose the vague outline of her backside to her fellow students. And apparently the right of those (male) students to a totally distraction-free education trumps the right of Wolf’s daughter to have any education at all.
What we’re telling kids when we pull girls out of class for dress code violations that expose knees or collarbones or those oh-so-erotic shoulder blades is that their opportunity to learn matters less than it does for a male student. We’re telling them that the expectations for boys (don’t ogle, pay attention in class) are miles and miles lower than what we want from girls (you are responsible for ensuring your male classmates are able to pay attention in class). And we’re telling them that we’d prefer to remove them from a learning situation than to say, “Eyes on the blackboard, boys,” once or twice during a lecture.
It can be hard to tackle this kind of issue as a parent, because it can bring more unwanted attention to a child already embarrassed by being pulled from class. It can invite some unwanted pushback from the community too, because people are highly invested in the idea that girls’ bodies are in need of being controlled. But here are some tactics you can bust out if your daughter comes home with a dress code detention slip in hand.
- Tell school officials to stop punishing girls for having bodies instead of punishing boys for ogling them. Wearing a sleeveless shirt is not consent to be slavered over; it’s consent to not melt like the Wicked Witch of the West in a 60-year-old school with no AC.
- Offer alternative suggestions. For example, if the boys are so distractable, do they need their own distraction-free learning zone? Instead of pulling girls out of class (where there are tons of other distractions besides the clothing of female students: windows with birds flying by, announcements from the PA system, shuffling papers and coughs and gum cracking), would the boys be better served by sitting in the gym with a workbook on their laps and some carefully placed blinders and white noise headphones? If not, then what’s so special about the distraction afforded by a teenage girl’s bare shoulder?
- Point out the studies that show the disproportionate impact on girls’ education dress codes have: especially overweight girls or those who developed breasts earlier in puberty. How many hours should a girl student have to miss before it’s an even trade with the two minutes of staring a boy student would have done had she come to class in her original outfit?
It’s not a fun fight, and not a pretty one, but it’s one our daughters deserve to have us fight on their behalf. Otherwise, the only thing we’re teaching them about their education is that they don’t really deserve one.