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Roving Teen Reporter
Dressing Down the Dress Code
Leah Gans | La Jolla Country Day Senior

THPS Dress Code.   Photo Leah Gans
Click on image to enlarge.

Dress codes in schools have long been a source of tension, but students at one local school are mounting a challenge to its dress code as outdated, sexist, and unrealistic. La Jolla Country Day senior Clara wrote a challenge to the school’s current dress code, including provisions that prohibit “revealing” clothing for young women. Clara believes that such restrictions contribute to a “rape culture” that has become prevalent in today’s society, writing, “We’ve been told by teachers and staff that our bodies are a ‘distraction’ to young boys. By hiding a ‘distracting’ part of a woman’s body, we are treating it like a sexual object (oversexualization) and allowing young men to view these body parts as sexual objects (objectification) instead of simple functional parts of our bodies (ex: legs, shoulders, bra straps, cleavage…). This encourages the idea that it’s okay and understandable for men to view women as sexual objects…” Many teachers and administrators responded to her claim by arguing that the dress code ensures that students look professional. Clara rejected this argument in her appeal, noting that the arbitrary nature of the dress code permits students to wear sweatpants, jeans, and other casual clothing, none of which could be considered “professional,” yet prohibits girls from wearing a sleeveless dress that reveals only shoulders and is common in the workplace.

While the overwhelming majority of LJCDS students supported the appeal, one male student disagreed, sharing, “We are the only private school that doesn’t have uniforms, so stop complaining about wanting to dress slutty.” It should come as no surprise that Clara was anxious to respond to this comment: “First off -- what does dressing ‘slutty’ even mean? This encourages men to harass women, judge women, slut-shame women, abuse women and rape women, claiming that she ‘was asking for it.’ A woman’s sexual expression/clothing does not say ANYTHING about her personality, self worth or self respect.”

Many other students agreed that this comment is an exact example of the problem the school has created through the dress code. A slut, by definition, is a person, especially a woman, considered sexually promiscuous or a female prostitute. Therefore, this comment assumes that one can determine if a girl is either sexually promiscuous, or possibly even a prostitute, from her clothing. It is an example of objectifying women and shaming them for their bodies. The use of the word “slutty” to describe the way girls “want” to dress shows that the dress code needs to be reevaluated.

In addition to the feminist objections, 5’9” LJCDS sophomore Abby shared her frustration with the practicality of finding clothes within the dress code. “Finding shorts and skirts long enough for dress code is not only almost impossible when you’re tall, but what you do find is never going to be in style. I’m not going to buy a whole new wardrobe just for school that makes me look like my Mom.”

Virtually every LJCDS student addressing the issue recognized that the dress code should prohibit the display of private parts, as well as inappropriate content and displays on clothing. Problems arise, however, when the restrictions become based on gender. As Clara wrote, “Boys need to learn to live and interact in an environment of women wearing comfortable clothing they feel confident in, and still take these women seriously and respect them as human beings.” Students involved in this appeal also collected data that displayed there was a major, yet unsurprising gender bias in the actual enforcement of the dress code. As Clara stated in her appeal, restrictions applicable to both genders need to be enforced consistently. Students can act as distractions by wearing silly hats, costumes, or sports uniforms, yet none of these are banned, nor does anyone want them banned. One significant exception, however, is the female cheerleader uniforms, which the school believes are appropriate for cheerleaders to wear during football games, but prohibits wearing to class on game days. This is exactly the kind of discrimination that the LJCDS student body is trying to end through the establishment of a fair and justly enforced dress code that does not discriminate based on gender or body type. As our society progresses toward gender equality, so must our schools and their dress codes.

 

 

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