A sixth-grade student in Portland, Maine, is fighting back against sexist dress codes at her school.
King Middle School student Molly Neuner was not happy when a teacher had Molly and another female student measure their tank top straps and the inseam of their shorts — in front of their entire class — because the teacher felt the girls were “a distraction” to the boys.
Hey, you know what’s really distracting? Having class interrupted by a teacher who insists that everyone stare at two girls and shame them for what they’re wearing.
“She made us feel really uncomfortable,” Molly said. “It was really uncomfortable and weird.” We hear you, Molly. You are not Hester Prynne, and last we checked, a scarlet A was not part of your school uniform.
The teacher decided that Molly’s tank top straps weren’t two-fingers wide (is that in the Bible somewhere? Thou shalt not wear tank tops if the straps are not verily two fingers wide?) and Molly was a harlot. OK, the teacher didn’t call her a harlot. But she did warn Molly that her next infraction would get her a detention.
And yes, you can see the tank top in question by clicking through to the Portland Press Herald, which first covered this story.
Molly wasn’t having any of this crap, so on Wednesday, she deliberately went against the archaic dress code and wore another tank top to school. On her arm she wrote “#IAmNotADistraction” — a hashtag growing in popularity to oppose absurd misogynist dress codes at schools.
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This girl… I have no words for her bravery… Today has been quite a day. We woke up to our strong, brave, beautiful girl on the front page of the paper. When we agreed to be part of the article, I thought that the article would be tucked in the back page of the opinion section. But instead, there she was, front and center standing up for herself for all to see. Some may read this and think it’s “just a strap” or that “rules were meant to be followed” or that “girls should cover up” or (my personal favorite) “it’s a distraction to boys.” But my question to you is, why? Why do you feel like this? Why do you jump to those conclusions? It’s because of what we are taught. We have been taught to mask our own feelings and stay small and not make waves. We are taught that our bodies are inherently sexual objects that WE need to cover so WE stay safe. Well, no longer my friends. We need to stand up for ourselves and our for children. We need to teach our beautiful, young, innocent daughters that their bodies are beautiful and powerful and their own to display or portray in any way they wish WITHOUT consequence. And we need to teach our young, kind, brave sons that they are smart and strong and capable of controlling their own bodies. And don’t even get me started on the issues of the LGBTQ kids who are completely overlooked on this issue. The other piece that this amazing story left out is that last week, the students in my daughter's class had a meeting to review dress code. In that meeting there were many questions about the girls rules and when one of the students asked why the girls had so many rule they were told that it was because they were a distraction to the boys… I’ll let that sink in for a minute… And maybe you need another minute… It is 2017 after all. And while the school has assured us that this is not the opinion of the school, the dress code still stands in place until the end of the year. This is not just about a tank top, it’s about years of underlying messages of shame to our girls that MUST stop. #mybodymybusiness #iamnotadistraction #iammorethanadistraction
Molly’s mother, Christina Neuner, supported her daughter 100 percent. Christina posted a photo of her daughter’s outfit on Instagram and discussed why the issue matters to their family.
“It was so cool to see everyone doing it,” Molly said. And it wasn’t just her fellow students — even teachers were on board.
“My social studies teacher told us that it was super cool we were doing it, and that we were right, that we aren’t distractions,” Molly said. “She was super supportive of it, and our teachers were all super supportive. Then the principal called me into her office and we talked, and she said they would review the dress code at the end of the year.”
It wasn’t just empty talk. The school’s principal, Caitlin LeClair, has announced the school will indeed review and possibly amend the dress code at the end of the year.
“We plan to take this feedback and use it as an opportunity to have some students’ and parents’ input,” LeClair said.
Molly, however, says she will believe it when she sees it. “I’m happy they’re going to look at it, but I want to make sure they really do it,” she said.
We do too. We’ll be keeping an eye on this story — at Molly’s school and in schools across the U.S.