Letters to the Editors

Letter to the Editor: Dress Code

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Dear Editors of the Seahawk Journal,

#iamnotadistraction. This movement sweeps across the media, our memories, and the misogynists in America.  Who is behind it? One girl, Molly Neuner, is speaking up for many others, in the hopes that the world will change.  The nation will follow her to justice, but we can start here, with Anacortes schools, where the dress code is teaching shame to girls.  Why are we treated less than boys? It feels as if the dress code is pointed unfairly at girls. But why is this the case? I would like to know how the dress code isn’t showing inequality towards some people.  This is about girls, and their bodies, being put down for how they are expressing themselves by what they wear.

Dress codes of public schools are most applicable to girls and their bodies.  As shown on the Anacortes School District Dress Code PDF: ‘an adequate coverage of the body is required (No cleavage).’ This rule was gender neutral, until ‘no cleavage’ was added, and made this apply mostly to girls.  Cleavage is a word applied to women, making this rule unjust. Also, the PDF states, ‘Halter tops, midriff baring or otherwise revealing tops are inappropriate.’ This comes back to cleavage.  ‘Revealing tops’ would mean tops that show too much skin on a girl’s chest. And most men and boys don’t wear crop-tops, (shirts that show the stomach). This guideline is not applied to boys’ tops, but to girls’ shirts, and their stomachs.  But is the midriff so bad? One day, Harper Dailey, a student from Rock Bridge High School, Columbia, Missouri, was walking down the hallway, and her shirt had accidentally been jostled above her navel. A teacher called out to her, “Pull your shirt down!” and for the rest of the day, Harper’s classmates were staring at her.  She wouldn’t have felt ashamed if the teacher hadn’t called her out publicly. Harper later said to Bearing News, “My stomach isn’t a sexual object; it shouldn’t distract people.” Another girl, from our own school, who prefers to stay anonymous, stated, “Today at lunch I saw a boy wearing a shirt with a vulgar abbreviation against women on it.  No one seemed to care, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t get dress coded.” It isn’t fair that girls follow a stricter law in the district than boys do. “If there are rules, they should be for everyone, not just targeted people,” says an Anacortes student. “It isn’t fair that these rules apply only to women.” This is one rule that needs to be changed: “An adequate coverage of the body is required.  (No cleavage).” Instead, specify how much of the body needs to be covered, without targeting girls’ bodies. For example, “shorts must be at least eight inches, measured from the hip.” With this rule, girls can feel like the rules aren’t pointed specifically at their gender. Also, this change would be more consistent because it is based on facts, and not on an interpretation.

Dress codes are based on culture, and teach girls they don’t have control of their bodies.  “By making dress codes about modesty, it encourages boys to view girls who are less modest as less deserving of respect, along with encouraging the notion that boys shouldn’t be expected to control their sexual desires around girls they find attractive.  In short, it tells them it’s okay to sexually assault a girl because of what she’s wearing,” (The Huffington Post). When people start understanding this, girls become more vulnerable because their clothing is partly responsible for drawing attention to them.  This comes back to the point that a girl’s control of her body depends on what she is wearing. If dress codes didn’t teach young men that less modest clothing means they should give less respect, then maybe there would be fewer cases of sexual harassment.

So, in a way, dress codes in schools, which are safe places to teach children to be good people, aren’t at all trying to stop sexual harassment, something that plagues our nation.  Not only this, but the girl might feel guilty when she is the one being harrassed, because she “should’ve known better than to wear something that was against the dress code.” “It’s almost teaching us that if any guys harass us, it’s the girl’s fault,” (The Huffington Post).  If a girl is feeling guilty about being hurt, the chances decrease that she will tell someone. Girls might also feel guilty about distracting guys from concentrating on their school work. However, Jackson Brook, from Palo Alto, California, to Scholastic Choices, says, “The idea that a visible bra strap or a pair of leggings will prevent a boy from learning is absurd to me.” The fact that boys might be staring at them makes girls feel uncomfortable.

It’s accurate to say that in school, girls are changing, but they are also learning.  Girls are still trying to figure out who they want to be and how they want to dress.  However, most parents don’t want their daughters dressing inappropriately, and that’s perfectly fair.  To most parents, the idea of their daughter dressing to flirt and impress is disturbing. They want their children learning, which is why these dress codes are in place.  Say they are taken away. Say Anacortes school girls are dressing however they want to. What are you imagining? Short-shorts and skin-tight material? Actually, what would happen is that these girls would be free to express themselves, through words, through images, and through their culture.  Without a dress code, or at least a less gender-specific one, girls would be free to express their new, developing personality without feeling guilty or pressured by their peers. However, these dress codes are restrictive, and have their own ‘culture’ involved.

It’s true, dress codes do have a culture- one that is based on American perception.  In some American culture, there is lots of cleavage that women show, especially in pop music, to make it more sexual.  This is why there is a no-cleavage rule for the attire at school. School is about learning, and not getting distracted.  It would be accurate to say that some students might be uncomfortable around their peers that are wearing less modest clothing.  But if you think about it, this rule is arbitrary. Has there been any extensive research to study if boys learn less when a bra strap is showing? No.  There are countries in Africa that have women walk around with no shirts on. That is just their culture. The American culture is considered slightly more reserved, or ‘civilized.’ On the other hand, is America really more civilized if it has to hide it’s women’s bodies just to give people an education? After months and months of seeing cleavage, boys would probably get used to it, and no longer ‘get distracted.’ After months and months of seeing shoulders and bra straps, boys wouldn’t ‘stop learning.’ They would get used to the fact that women aren’t defined by their bodies. A strong, independent girl from our school states, “I’m sorry that I’m a woman who feels good about the way I look.  But I shouldn’t have to cover up to make boys less distracted.” This girl is right: boys should learn to control their thoughts, because it’s not our fault that they are staring. It’s unfair that we are at fault for showing our shoulders, and it’s unfair that bra straps can be coded. This rule about straps needs to be completely eliminated for the dress code to improve.

Another American perception, this one being very old, is that women were there to have babies, care for children, and cook for men.  In our quiet, kind hometown, most people would agree that it’s safe to say that no one thinks anything like this anymore. Or is it? We still teach this to children and young women.  If girls are being ‘distracting’ to boys, then we are conforming to what they need. We are respecting only them at a place where we should all be learning.  Imagine this: it’s as hot as the Sahara desert in our school, but you are expected to cover up with long pants, even though you’ve seen boys, the opposite gender, with the privilege of wearing comfortable shorts.  Unfortunately, the cut for most girls’ shorts are too short, and you’re in math class, not able to focus on ratios because of the sun, whose rays are radiating on your forehead. The boys however, are satisfied and cool in their clothing, contently learning.  Let me spell out the problem: girls are having to cover up for boys, so they can pertain more knowledge than us, learn more than us, and master any school subject better.  Let’s overcome the inequity of dress codes and advance towards impartiality.

The change we want to see is this: the dress code at Anacortes Middle School needs to be consistent and gender neutral.  With this modification, girls can feel more confident in school. We took a poll involving 100 students, of both genders, in both 7th and 8th grade.  We asked them if they thought the Dress Code unfairly points at women, and a mere 48% of these students thought it does. However, 10% of these students, all male, said no comment.  Additionally, 52% of these students don’t think bra-straps should be considered against the dress code, while 14% said ‘no comment,’ and were all male. Now if you take a look at these statistics, you’ll realize that we’ve been teaching students the wrong ideas. Male and female students alike need to recognize that women are so much more. We’ve been teaching students that women should be treated lower than men. Now, we need to change this. Girls in this school don’t want to be put down.  We want, we need, and we will have a balanced amount of rules for each gender. To change this will be one of the first steps on the world’s way to gender equality. Let us not teach young women that they deserve less. Don’t teach young women to feel shame about their bodies. Don’t teach young women that their education is still valued lower than that of their male peers. We, as girls, will not be singled out because there are more things to criticize. We deserve to have just as much respect as boys, but with these rules teaching girls that their bodies are distracting, the respect doesn’t shine through.  Let’s put an end to that. Let recognition of our inner beauty shine through like a sun coming out from behind grey clouds, for we are defined by more than just our bodies. Parallelism will gleam, hot on our faces. Let that happen, today, tomorrow, and every day after.

To make this happen, create new, gender neutral rules and enforce them consistently.  We demand, and deserve, this change. The Anacortes School District’s dress code is wrong, and needs to be revised.

Sincerely,

Mica Gold and Aubree Curran

Class of 2023

 

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