Feminist Friday: The Dress Code

by Emily Steers on 05/18/2012

Screw cocktails for a little while; I think this might be my new Friday meme.

To start this particular entry, here’s a photo of me from a few weeks ago, before I cut my hair. Just putting it up for those of you who don’t know me to get a basic concept of how I look before I start ranting, as it is actually pertinent to my coming rage monologue:

The room was a little messy, my hair is now shorter, and by coincidence, I’m wearing that exact same outfit today. I’m thinking I should go shopping.

But, that’s not here or there. What I’m here to get pissed about is sparked by this article on xoJane. You’ll probably see my face in the comments section.

I hate school dress codes. Really, I really, really, really hate them.

When I was in middle and high school, the general dress codes where this:

  1. No bandanas. (We had a very, very small gang issue in our school system. Very slight.)
  2. No clothing with alcohol/tobacco/drug logos.


I got yelled at for wearing shorts that were “too short,” skirts that were “too short,” tank tops, anything that showed my arms, shoulders, or legs; high heels, shirts that were too short. I never got sent home, but it was threatened on me once when I was in middle school when my homeroom teacher decided that my shorts (with the required 3″ inseam) looked too short on me.

Listen: I’m a leggy woman. Just am. At the time, I was about 5’8″ and 13. First off, boys did not notice me until I was IN COLLEGE, so no, Mrs. Peale, I was not distracting 12 year old boys with my legs. I’m sure when I was 13, I spent long hours of my day coming up with LISTS of things I could do to attract the attention of boys. Didn’t happen.

Secondly: do not body-shame anyone. Not boys, not girls, and especially not 13 year old girls.

Thirdly: It is not *my fault* that this culture cannot teach boys (starting at, say, 13) that girls aren’t meant to be leered at. Or that school is VASTLY more important than whatever body part of mine is sticking out from the article of clothing I purchased at Kohl’s.

It’s not biology that makes boys (and, let’s face it, men of all ages) think that the best way to spend time is ogling women and their bodies. That’s fucking SOCIETY and apparently that training starts in middle school.

By the time I got to high school, my personal dress code motto was IDGAF.

A few times a month, I’d put on my wildest outfit to go to school (and get an approving head-nod from my AWESOME MOM who is the AWESOME-EST): A button down shirt, a pleated mini-skirt, fishnet stockings, and 4″ platform shoes. I was 6’2″ of mall punk/Connecticut prepster.

(I asked my mom a few weeks ago what she thought of all my weird (and conventionally inappropriate) outfits back then. Her general answer was, “You were playing dress-up.” ACCURATE. And I urge any of you with teen-aged daughters to take on this mentality.)

Did I catch gross male teachers staring at me? You bet. Did I catch high school boys staring at me? Less often, because I was generally considered a freak of nature, but sure. Was it my fault or problem or concern that they were fucking inappropriate? Hell to the no.

I get school dress codes that say, No gang colors, nothing that’s advertising for booze or cigarettes. But beyond that? No. Teach your boys to be respectful and teach all your children to express themselves, unabashedly, through dress and other forms of harmless self-representation.

Do we really have to boil it down, school administrators? Short skirts and tank tops and short shorts don’t cause boys to assault girls. Your attitude toward MY body does.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

misty May 18, 2012 at 11:22 AM

I will agree to the point that there is an attitude STILL that umbrellas the self control issues of our boys-becoming-men and continues to hold women responsible. I used to work at a boarding school which allowed the teenage male students to roam the campus at will, but the teenage female students were NOT allowed to spend their free time anywhere out doors. That will stick with me forever as it was a perfect example of how our society pretends it does not function. (and pretends poorly at that.)
that being said, having a 13 year old who was recently in a fairly expressive, art focussed charter school, we found that a lot of those dress code rules WERE in place because one bad apple, in a sense, spoiled the whole orchard. the rules may not have been fair for most girls, but allowing a girl to “express herself” publicly (a child, at that) in a way that is beyond demeaning, distracting, perverse and void of any self respect (hers or the parent who allows her out of the house) is something that someone needed to put a handle on…


emily May 18, 2012 at 11:28 AM

ugh, that is so unfortunate.

i went to high school in the early days of the “ironic t shirt” days and boys could not comprehend how certain shirts that were sold at Hot Topic were too violent/inappropriate to wear to class. there’s a certain maturity level that’s required among kids to let them do what they want to do. but again, i’m still wrestling with my own understanding of appropriate/inappropriate is. i’d rather see a girl show up to class in a mini skirt than sweats that say “juicy” on the butt.


Alps May 18, 2012 at 12:23 PM

We ended up having a dress code at our school because a bunch of girls were dressing slutty to garner male attention. While not ALL the girls were doing it, there were enough to justify concern. However, the teachers ALSO took all the girls aside and had a big talk about self-respect and body image (these were the Britney and Christina days, after all). They took the boys aside too, and basically gave them a talk about respecting women.

I think dress codes started off as a quick fix for a larger solution. The kids I went to school with were sexually active at 12, 13, 14, because they came from backgrounds where that was common. One of the eighth graders Tried seducing our College Aid for better grades. I’m glad the dress restrictions were paired with those talks – it’d be nice to think that any dress code is merely an annoying restriction on self-expression, but I genuinely think the teachers at my school saw a problem and genuinely tried everything to fix/improve it.

So basically, more talks! More hands on teachers!


emily May 18, 2012 at 12:35 PM

for some reason, i don’t see “dressing slutty to garner male attention” as a *bad* thing. hear me out:
when you hold on to the way you dress as an important part of self-expression (which it is, regardless of how old you are), one thing that is going to happen when kids get hormonal and want to make out with each other is trying to figure out where one lays on the spectrum of sexuality. you’re going to do some stupid shit on the road to figuring out what how much attention you want, what kind of attention makes you happy, and yes, what kind of attention makes you all hot & flustery.
everyone in the world wants 13 year olds to avoid that last one, but guess what? ain’t no stopping hormones. both girls AND boys are going to do some weird and stupid shit when trying to figure out who they are.
the rub is this: the girls who “dress slutty” and get attention for it, day in and day out? that’s probably the only attention they’re getting. at all. from anyone. people of all ages do really stupid things to get another person’s attention. i’d reckon that the best way to get teenaged girls to cover up (and to keep teenaged boys from doing whatever we don’t like them doing) is to *ignore* their costumes and their posturing and to give them attention for anything BUT what we don’t like them doing. so, a girl shows up in booty shorts every day. who cares. if her teachers stopped yelling at her and instead complimented her on her school work– every damn day– she’d stop doing it.


Ada May 18, 2012 at 5:56 PM

Since we had a courthouse shooting following a nasty trial of a 40+ year old man accused of extremely inappropriate relationships with three high school aged girls, there’s been a lot of talk about the sexuality of teenage girls in our small community. There’s been a long standing problem in the community of high school aged girls being in sexual relationships with men in their 20s and 30s. During a call-in radio show about the topic, one caller (a WOMAN) states that girls had to “do their part by dressing appropriately.” What the heck?! I should be able to go out in my God-damn underwear and not have to worry about being sexually assaulted. But if I do get sexually assaulted because I wore a skank-alicious outfit, well, I think we have a bigger issue at hand then just my outfit.


emily May 18, 2012 at 6:21 PM

problem: grown men having relations with teenagers.
cause: grown men want to have relations with teenagers.
solution: sitting grown-ass men down and telling them YOU DO NOT HAVE RELATIONS WITH TEENAGERS.

you are 100% correct! i should be able to walk around in my underpants and be 100%, completely safe. same thing for 16 year old girls, boys, kids, everyone. showing skin is not the *cause* of sexual assaults or statutory rape– or boys doing poorly in school. and thinking that it is ONLY makes the situation worse, because it’s nothing but victim-blaming! i get that it’s EASIER to put girls in Khaki-and-Polo-Shirt-Uniform-Burka-Equivalents, but that is helping no one at all.


Katelyn Benton May 23, 2012 at 5:06 PM

You rule. That’s all.


Angela @ Cottage Magpie May 27, 2012 at 10:19 PM

Just went over and read the original post and all the follow-ups. Unbelievable!!! As I commented over there, it’s hard for me to discuss without just getting seriously profane. Have you read the subsequent posts about all the bureaucratic BS the school is giving them? What a joke.

Meanwhile, YES! We all think that people should be able to restrain themselves from punching someone in the face even though they’re an asshole, so why can’t we expect people to restrain themselves from assaulting someone for ANY REASON AT ALL?



emily May 29, 2012 at 11:40 AM

thank you SOOOOO much for stopping by and commenting! i’m addicted to your site now. so excited!


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