Why the Dress Code is Flawed

Girls who are harassed mostly have one thing in common: the type of clothing they are wearing. School dress codes can contribute to the problem.

Evelyn Wiethorn, Staff Writer

In 1969, the Supreme Court ruling Tinker vs Des Moines established the legality for all schools to enforce a dress code. The case involved students who wore armbands to protest US involvement in the Vietnam War. In the controversial decision, the Court rule stated that schools are permitted to enforce limitations on student expression, more specifically dress code, if the school deems it a “distraction” to the learning environment. For students at such a young age, their clothing should never be deemed “distracting,” especially by adults. 

In more recent years misogyny and sexism in school dress codes have come to many people’s attention. 

Shauna Pomerantz of Brock University explains that when schools used gender-biased language such as “girls are not allowed to wear spaghetti straps or skirt above the knee,” it is a direct form of victim-blaming. Schools that support dress codes usually respond to criticism by using this type of behavior, saying that the clothing is just “too distracting” to boys who are trying to learn. 

Many schools claim the dress code is easy to follow and doesn’t restrict a girl’s wardrobe. When it is 90 degrees outside and girls want to stay cool, they are forced to wear knee-length shorts. Being limited to wearing long shirts and bottoms doesn’t make it all that easy to express yourself or to remain comfortable. 

However, I’m not saying all schools are this restrictive. Here at NASH, I feel privileged to have the freedom of wearing relatively whatever I want, considering most students know the dress code is rarely enforced. This, however, was not always the case as I can recall many instances where I went to middle school in fear of being “dress-coded.” Something as simple as wearing leggings or a rip too far up on my jeans made me cautious around my teachers. 

In all my years in school, I have never experienced or heard of a boy being dress-coded. The sexism and misogyny that are present in school are relevant and very much real. At a high school in Massachusetts, it was reported that six out of nine students dress-coded were girls.  

The reason the dress code is flawed is mainly due to the message it promotes. By restricting certain types of clothing so early the dress code teaches young boys what type of clothing can be established as being “provocative.” As these same boys grow older, they will still have this idea that certain types of clothes on women will mean they are looking for attention.

This most likely contributes to the one-fifth of all women being sexually assaulted in college each year. Sadly, the boy is rarely is held accountable for his actions; instead, victim-blaming is used to blame the victim of the sexual assault, using some weak excuse, such as the clothing she was wearing. A lack of an attempt to discipline and punish boys for such harassing comments or gestures only makes the cycle of sexual assaults in colleges continuous. 

Boys’ ability to control themselves should not affect the type of clothing girls wear. Young boys should rather be taught how to respect girls and not objectify them, instead of shaming girls for their clothing.  School should be solely focused on learning and no child should have to stress over the idea of being objectified and punished for what they wear.