School Dress Codes: Pros And Contras
Girls all around the world are targeted for the way they dress, especially in school. Dress codes are put into place to create a ‘serious’ environment, but at what point do they take things too far? In 2015, Evette Reay attended her last day of high school wearing a knee length dress only to be suspended for dress code violation and threatened with her own graduation. Cameron Boland lost her title in National Honor Society for breaking dress code without warning. Stephanie Hughes was sent home from classes from her exposed collar bones (Orenstein). There are countless stories of dress code violations that are seemingly unfair to both students and parents. Detention is being given for shoulders showing, skirts are being banned, dresses considered to be too provocative, and leggings deemed too distracting. This is more than just a fashion issue, it’s a societal problem.
School dress codes have always been around and are meant to promote a safe and professional environment. Many people are led to believe that sexism within the system is a thing of the past, but as shown, this is far from the truth. When problems like racism, rape, and suicide are at dangerously high rates, no one stops to consider the harmful contributions school dress codes are making towards these issues. Dress codes may be necessary, but these rules should be reevaluated in order to create an effective and impactful dress code. It is important to understand the flaws in the system before making meaningful changes. The current strict dress codes are harmful because they discriminate race, promote rape culture, and sexualize young girls.
Although dress codes make sense in theory, an aspect many people fail to see is the racial discrimination written into them. A few years ago, a white referee at a high school wrestling match gave a black athlete the ultimatum to cut his hair or lose the match. The teen was under no violation of the rules (Strauss). This situation is one of many and goes to show that dress code targets nonconformity. “Anti-black hair sentiment in the U.S. has existed for centuries, with Eurocentric norms of beauty taking main stage” (Alvarez). Clearly this is not a hair problem, it’s a race issue. Hair is not only a problem for people of color but also bodies. Kira Barrett wrote that for a high school in Baltimore, it’s the black girls who are dress coded most often. When the issue was brought up to an administrator at the school, he said “white girls don’t have as much to show” (Barrett).
High School should be a time for learning, but when dress codes target girls for ‘distracting’ clothing, the main lesson being taught is that harassment is the victim’s fault. Males are constantly being prioritized in school settings, not only is this sexist but dangerous. When a girl is sent home for an outfit deemed provocative, the boy’s education becomes more important and the girl is sent a message that she is responsible for his actions. Schools punish girls for boys’ inappropriate behavior. All of this sends the dangerous idea that assault and harassment are normal, and the victim is partially to blame. When talking about the dress code, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project says, “It teaches our children that girls’ bodies are dangerous … and that boys are biologically programmed to objectify and harass them. It prepares them for college life, where as many as one in five women is sexually assaulted but society will blame and question and silence them, while perpetrators are rarely disciplined” (Bates).
Often times certain girls end up dress coded more than others for things they can’t change. When at school, girls should be able to feel confident about their clothes instead they are met with the burden of other people’s sexualization and social stigmas. The American Psychological Association says that sexualization occurs when a person’s value comes from their sex appeal, a person is held to a standard of attractiveness, someone is objectified sexually, and/or sexuality is forced onto someone (Harbach 1041). All of these frequently occur in a school setting to girls everywhere. Sexualization in schools also applies to boys, they’ve been banned for long hair and ‘feminine’ clothing. Often times, teachers project a sexual perception onto an outfit or body that the student didn’t intend on the first place causing students to feel shamed for their attire (Bates). Some schools even go as far as to include “shame suits” as punishment. They are used to humiliate and scare girls into conforming to dress code standards (Harbach 1038-1039).
Current dress codes are harmful to girls and societal norms as a whole but with revision they can be free of their negative social stigma. There are many changes schools can make but the first change should be priorities. Right now, girls are being sent out of their classes because of ‘distracting’ clothing and miss out on classes. It also creates a bigger distraction by sending girls out of the room. Education should be the priority rather than dress code. Teachers and administrators should stop to consider what actually deserves a warning, then decide if any further action is necessary. Instead of going after girls’ bodies, the dress code should focus on negative clothing such as gang related, substance related, violence promoting, racist, etc. Finally, schools should shift their scrutiny from mainly girls to all students. Girls and boys should have the same rules, nothing gender specific. On top of that, boys (and girls if necessary) should be punished for predatory behavior.
The dress codes we have in our so called “modern” society do not work. They are based off outdated morals and social stigmas which are unfair to girls and other minorities. Because dress codes are supposedly in place to benefit the students, schools should revisit their standing rules and create a better more proactive system. With all the current tragedies involving schools, a change to make rules that have a positive connotation instead of a shameful one could be refreshing. Schools should focus on uplifting and educating students. If schools can realize the harmful effects of dress codes written from obsolete standards, a new and meaningful dress code can be beneficial to students and society.
- Alvarez, Brenda J. “When Natural Hair Wins, Discrimination in School Loses.” NEA Today, 18 Sept. 2019, neatoday.org/2019/09/17/banning-black-hair-discrimination/. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.
- Bates, Laura. “Everyday Sexism Project: Dress Codes and Rape Culture.” Time, Time, 22 May 2015, time.com/3892965/everydaysexism-school-dress-codes-rape-culture/. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.
- Barrett, Kira. “When School Dress Codes Discriminate.” NEA Today, 24 July 2018, neatoday.org/2018/07/24/when-school-dress-codes-discriminate/. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.
- Harbach, Meredith J. “Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes.” University of Richmond UR Scholarship Repository, 3 May, 2017 scholarship.richmond.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2275&context=law-faculty-publications. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.
- Orenstein, Hannah. “14 Most Outrageous Dress Code Scandals.” Seventeen, 12 Apr. 2018, www.seventeen.com/life/school/a36027/most-shocking-dress-code-scandals-of-2015/. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.
- Strauss, Valerie. “Perspective | When School Dress Codes Depend on the Color of Your Skin.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 10 Feb. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/02/08/when-school-dress-codes-depend-color-your-skin/. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.