The Inherent Sexism of the Dress Code

Posted in Identity

This year, Frank Brown’s senior government class was assigned a civic action project in which they attempted to take action on an issue tied to public policy. Julia Dinglasan decided to try to change Albany High School’s dress code.

She based the research on her idea that, as she wrote, “the dress code was designed to cater to the sound-mindedness of males, [so] it perpetuates the objectification of females: by asking a girl to change her clothing, one implies that it is acceptable for boys to be distracted by and objectify women.”

Shown in a survey of 74 seniors conducted by Dinglasan: “89% of females believed the dress code created a double standard, whereas only 44% of males shared that same belief.” Generally, a double standard can be defined as: a rule or principle that is unfairly applied in different ways to different people or groups. In regards to that, though there are rules that seem to apply specifically to females, no rules appear to exclusively target males. For example, the dress code states that “clothing should cover the midriff,”and “shorts and skirts that are too short, frayed, torn, or too tight are not acceptable,” which implicitly singles out females.

Bare midriffs are prohibited by the dress code.

Bare midriffs are prohibited by the dress code.

It can be argued that boys’ clothing is less targeted in the dress code because it is often less revealing, and therefore there is not as much need for the school administration to regulate boys’ clothing.

However, the root of the problem is that act of the school dictating what is or isn’t appropriate for girls to wear automatically takes away girls’ control over their bodies because it objectifies them through the notion that their bodies are inherently distracting to boys so they should be responsible for covering themselves up. The way a student chooses to dress is a form of expression speech, and legally according to the ACLU, schools can limit expression only if there is either a reasonable expectation that it will cause a “material and substantial disruption” of school activities, if it invades other people’s rights, or to prohibit “vulgar or indecent language.” Therefore, all of the rules for how revealing a girl’s clothes should be are based on the assumption that if worn, revealing clothes would cause a “material and substantial disruption.” Instead of simply expecting boys to be able to focus, girls are blamed for being too much of a distraction.

One instance of the negative effects of the gender biased aspect of the dress code comes from senior Tabitha Hunt, who has been cited for violating the dress code multiple times. When cited, Hunt has been held up in the hallway during passing periods and has consequently been late to class, missing educational opportunities. In addition, Hunt stated that being cited has caused “shame and discomfort in [Hunt’s] own skin.”

Another major problem posed by the dress code, Dinglasan stated, “is that it isn’t being enforced uniformly… Not only does dress code enforcement target females, it targets some females more than others… According to my survey, many people were not even aware that the dress code is actually enforced.”

In fact, the majority of the dress code rules are “up to school personnel” to judge whether or not certain clothing is appropriate, which is problematic because there aren’t clearly set guidelines for school staff to follow. This can create an uncomfortable situation for teachers and staff, who are being held responsible for setting guidelines without clear instructions. From students who responded to Dinglasan’s survey, “some encountered dress code enforcement on a regular basis, while others were oblivious to any enforcement being done.”

A student violates the Dress Code, but is it inappropriate?

A student violates the Dress Code, but is it inappropriate?

Dinglasan said she hopes to “help draft a more gender-neutral dress code that would ban only offensive slogans or symbols. (These symbols and slogans would have to be explicitly defined—such as no swastikas, for example). There would also need to be a meeting in which teachers defined a standard way of catching and reprimanding dress code violators. This system would take a lot more effort, so that’s why I think it would be more sensible and just to eradicate the dress code altogether.”

Dinglasan has attempted to further her plan by contacting members of the administration, hoping to schedule a meeting with them to discuss the future of the dress code.