There are so many problems with school enforced dress codes and how they are implemented. I've always known this. I've never had to deal with much of anything regarding dress code violations with my boys other than they forgot their belt. My daughter and other girls at her school are policed every single day, even with a uniform policy in place.
What prompted me to write this letter (which I did send) was a special once a month thing the district has called "Dress for Success" which requires kids to dress professionally and perhaps be chosen to be given job interviews.
There is obviously other things wrong with this other than the blatant sexism outlined here, like how it's classist and how the guidelines are not really professional but more like conservative dress. But the biggest issue is absolutely the sexism.
To the Administrators and Superintendent :
I am writing to you today to speak with you about the Dress For Success day that the district has implemented on a monthly basis and some other concerns surrounding the dress code. My daughter is a student at your Middle School. She’s never been in trouble and is greatly loved by her teachers. I also have 2 other children, both boys, that attend the High School. My daughter has always enjoyed participating in all the extra activities that happen at school and she was extremely excited about Dress for Success.
I was called by my daughter on Thursday morning (11/5/2015) to bring her change of clothes because she was told her outfit violated the dress code. She told me that in the meantime she was sent to ISI to wait on me. She was not the only girl sent to ISI on this occasion, as a matter of fact many female students were sent. She was told by the attendance officer she had to go to ISI, not because she was “bad” but so the boys wouldn’t mess with her. When I arrived with new clothes I was told those wouldn’t work either. I was told to bring her school uniform instead. The Asst. principal told me that they were worried about “the boys” messing with the girls as her reasoning for policing the girls’ clothing so closely.
I must also mention, my daughter had been out 4 days prior because she had been very sick, so we did not know about the newly imposed rules for Dress for Success. If we had, I would have gladly had her comply because I don’t like making things hard on her. But, I still would have said something about the rules because there is so much wrong with them and the way they are enforced.
Dress codes in schools are almost always geared toward female students and imply things that administrators and faculty sometimes don’t see. I honestly don’t think anything but good intentions were in mind when creating and enforcing both the district dress code and the dress code for Dress for Success. However, even the best of intentions can cause harm.
I would first like to take the time to explain to you the problems with the way the dress code is enforced.
I know in the past female students at your middle school have been addressed for their clothes “not fitting right” (A.K.A clothes that show their natural female shape). I know female students have been targeted for wearing “skinny” pants or pants that someone considers too tight in the thighs or in the butt. This is shaming girls for their naturally developing bodies. This is teaching them that their bodies are a distraction. This is telling them that their bodies are wrong. This is also sending the message to all students that respectability is tied into the clothes we wear, which couldn’t be further from the truth. All human beings deserve respect and the length of someone’s skirt should not dictate that.
Middle school is about the time that girls’ bodies start to change. Many girls are already self conscious about it without the adults they look to for guidance telling them they should be even MORE self conscious. When adults start singling out female students for dress code violations they are sending a message to the entire student body that a female student’s education is secondary to the way she is dressed. This teaches boys that their female classmates are not their equals and are in fact sexual objects.This sexualization of women’s bodies is so normalized in our society many don’t even recognize it and how dangerous it actually can be. This is the same frame of mind that allows people to blame women and girls for any sexual harassment, rape and other types of abuse they may encounter because they could have avoided it if they just would have:
Worn a longer skirt Worn a higher neckline Not worn high heel shoes Worn looser garments Just not been so distracting to the opposite sex
This is essentially what was told to my daughter when the attendance officer told her she was being sent to ISI because her skirt was too short and they didn’t want boys messing with her. Similarly so when the asst. principal told me she was worried about the boys as her reason for wanting my daughter to change for a second time.
You can not teach boys to respect girls as equals by telling girls they need to wear longer skirts, higher necklines, lower heels or looser clothes so the boys don’t mess with them. When you do this you are connecting respectability with clothing choices and teaching boys that sometimes girls are “asking for it”. As adults we are responsible for planting seeds in our children and we should be particularly careful about which seeds we decide to plant. It is important that everyone understands that no one can be forced to harass or abuse anyone just because of the way they dress or look. The responsibility always lies with the offender, not the victim when abuse occurs.
I would also like to point out there has never been any connection between the way women dress and the lowering (or increase) of sexual violence of any kind.
Moving on to specifically address the dress code that was implemented for Dress For Success:
The list I was given with guidelines for dress had 2 separate lists. One that had 12 rules for girls and one that had 7 rules for boys. The majority of the students cited with dress code violations on the morning of 11/5 were female. This means more female students than male students were taken out of class and denied an education until the “problem” was resolved to the satisfaction of the administrator. I’m not sure if you are aware but having a dress code that is gender specific (one set of rules for girls and one set of rules for boys) is actually a civil rights violation under Title IX. You can’t show differential treatment to ANY student based on that student's sex and this is absolutely what the guidelines for Dress for Success do. You would have better fared with a gender neutral dress code.
Furthermore, requiring children to dress according to stereotypical sex roles (girls dress in “girl” clothes and boys dress in “boy” clothes) is highly discriminatory to the students that are LGBT and/or do not subscribe sex stereotypes. In 2014 the DOE released a memo addressing how Title IX also applies to transgender students. The memo states in part “[a]ll students, including transgender students and students who do not conform to sex stereotypes, are protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX.” The way the gendered dress code for Dress for Success is written, it makes it to where students who are transgender or those who are gender nonconforming can not participate in this event because the dress code is based on gender binarism and therefore is discriminatory.
It is also a direct violation of all students’ first amendment rights.
I’m not asking you to abolish the dress code, although that would be nice. I am asking you to be more inclusive with it by making it gender neutral, where the same rules of dress apply to all. I am also asking that you stop telling girls they need to dress a certain way in order to not be harassed by their male classmates and stop teaching boys that the way a girl is dressed is more important than her education.
I am hoping that the greatness I believe is in this district will prevail. However, if the dress code for Dress for Success is not amended to reflect gender neutral guidelines and/or if students belonging to marginalized groups (female and LGBT) continue to be discriminated against and shamed, I will have no other choice than to file a complaint with the appropriate organization.
I am willing to discuss these concerns with anyone who needs to discuss them with me, unfortunately I am unable to take any phone calls that pertain to these concerns and will have to rely on email or regular mail for discussions to occur