I’ve been thinking about the topic for a while now, ever since I read a story about a five-year-old girl supposedly dressed ‘too sexy’ for her kindergarten in a long dress with bare shoulders and spaghetti straps. I found that outrageous, because I can remember wearing that kind of summer dress myself, in kindergarten and elementary school. And because she and the other kids in kindergarten were FIVE YEARS old. At five, most kids can hardly understand the difference between ‘boy’ and ‘girl.’ Then I stumbled onto the story of Woodford Country High School (which is probably just one of many high schools with similar dress codes). If you have about half an hour, be sure to watch the student-made documentary linked to in the article.
In western civilisations, we have a basic agreement that primary sexual organs of both men and women should be covered outside our own homes. Women should also cover her secondary sexual organs (mammaries, breasts, or boobs, depending on your level of education and/or mental maturity). I learned recently it’s actually legal for women to go topless in NYC, but that’s beside the point. A bathing short for a man (even a tight, European style one) and a bikini for a woman are already enough to meet those basic requirements.
Above that, clothing follows the rules of both fashion and common sense. When I was in school, dress code could pretty much be summed up by ‘don’t wear to school what you wouldn’t wear in the company of your dear granny.’ Or, with more common sense thrown in: wear something comfortable you can learn in. It usually translated to jeans and sweatshirts in winter and shorts or skirts and t-shirts in summer. Yes, sometimes those shorts were short in every sense of the word. Yes, often those skirts ended well above the knee (we are talking about the 1980 - mini-skirts were all the rage then). T-shirts didn’t always possess sleeves and quite some of them had a V-neck or another low-cut neck. Which means all the girls I went to school with - including me - would have been sent to the headmaster constantly at WCHS.
Why did any of the boys actually manage to successfully finish school? I mean, the poor things were constantly plagued by rows and rows of girls in short skirts or shorts and T-shirts displaying their collarbones and shoulders. Some girls even would show a hint of cleavage (depending how much cleavage was available for them).
What does a dress code like the one of WCHS (as mentioned only one of many schools with such a dress code) teach the children?
It teaches the girls to be even more worried about their looks than they are already, being teenagers. It teaches them propriety is more important than being comfortable (especially in summer when ‘lighter’ clothes are not only fashionable, but also healthy). It teaches them it’s their fault, if they ever get sexually assaulted (because they were dressed wrong). It teaches them to fear boys and, as a result of that, all men.
It teaches the boys that they are monsters deep down, forcing the girls to dress in a certain way to avoid being a victim. It teaches them it will always be the girl’s fault, if something should happen. It teaches them girls are worth less than boys (so they get regulated and the boys don’t). It teaches them to be ashamed of themselves for being hormone-driven monsters beyond their own control.
If boys really can’t learn with girls around who show a minimum of skin, then there would be some easy ways to solve the problem.
1.) Split children up again, teach the boys at one school and the girls at another. It would also solve the problem of girls not to participate in science topics. Participation of girls in science classes is much better in girls-only schools.
2.) Don’t punish the girls with dress codes, lock up boys until they’ve reached adulthood and are more or less capable of controlling their hormones. In some cases, that might mean lock them up until they’re 92, but so what?
3.) Be an honest school, create and enforce a school uniform (which will always be a dress code which is objective and can be measured). We’re not necessarily talking about plait skirts for girls and suits for boys here (although suits might prepare the boys for the corporate life), it could also be certain pants and certain shirts to go with them, for summer and winter. Girls could wear Capri pants during the summer at least (they end well below the knee).
Do not claim to prepare children for life with this. Dress codes might happen again in adult life, but then they often are coupled with some kind of uniform and much easier to adhere to.
You want to prepare boys for life among the scantily-dressed women? Teach them what a British granny taught a business man in the London underground recently: no matter what a woman wears or does not wear, it’s no invitation to criticise her or invade her private space or touch her without first obtaining permission. “And now fuck off to your bored wife,” as the nice granny said.
Boy can’t ‘not help it.’ By teaching them that, you do them a grave injustice. Boys could always help it in Germany in the 1980s when I went to school. Boys haven’t changed genetically since then - which means they still can help it, if they’re taught how to. Teach them how to keep under control, how to stare, perhaps, or keep the view in mind for the bathroom later, but not to touch, to invade, to harass, or to rape. If the guys I went to school could learn it, boys today can as well.
Dress code is another way to treat boys and girls differently at school, based on the very early (kindergarten, see above) sexualisation of women. A woman is a human, first and foremost, and she should be treated like that. So don’t objectify the girls by making them ‘cover up,’ challenge the boys by teaching them to learn how to control their raging hormones. It’s a first step away from the objectifying of women in our society.
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