Are public school dress codes teaching girls not to ‘distract’ boys?

By Karly Dunn

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(Phil Roeder/Flickr)

(Phil Roeder/Flickr)

It came to my attention recently that public school dress codes are trying to restrict girls more than boys. To gain perspective, I looked at the code of conduct for East Longmeadow High School here in Massachusetts for issues with the dress requirements. At first, I didn’t find any problems.

But I now realize that was the problem.

I’ve been trained to follow the rules of policy ever since I attended public school in second grade. I always made sure my shorts weren’t too short and my tank tops were more than one inch in width, just because I was doing what I was told.

Upon rereading the school’s dress code policy, I noticed that seven out of the eight dress restrictions were directed toward girls. I then researched the dress codes of Monson and Amherst High School and found similar results. Now, this is something worth being angry about. These codes are training girls to not distract boys and to make sure we conform to the stereotypical prejudices we are subjected to.

Everyday Feminism explains in an article, “It assumes that they dress for other people.  Moreover, it assumes that the sexualization is the fault of the girl and not the person sexualizing her.”

Many arguments against this idea express that women are just generally more provocative than men and dress accordingly because of it. But is this really true? Movies and television shows portray women as sexual beings who detract focus from men at work. I think this misogynistic view of women not only affects how men view and treat women in real life society, but also how we teach girls to act and tell them to dress.

Public schools’ sexist dress policies are enabling the stereotypes associated with women’s clothing, behavior and sexuality to be ingrained in the minds of elementary level kids, and these stereotypes stay there beyond high school graduation. I am a victim of such thoughts.

In schools, girls should not be responsible for being “modest” just to make sure boys are comfortable and focused. And there is no “pressure” for girls to dress sexually. Girls don’t dress just for the attention of boys and clothes today do not resemble the modesty the Puritans embodied centuries ago.

In today’s culture, showing shoulder and thigh is not something we should be looking down upon and we’re hurting the self esteem of girls in schools at an early age by portraying that sense of body shaming. We’re not influencing modesty of student focus as a collective here. We’re shaming women’s bodies and favoring male education.

As The Guardian said, “Sending the message to students that girls’ outfits provoke male behavior is a dangerous slippery slope.” It’s true. A girl shouldn’t be responsible for a boy getting distracted in school. We shouldn’t be teaching girls to dress “modestly” for the benefit of boys’ education. We should be teaching boys to exercise self-control.

Karly Dunn is a collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]