By: Rachel Benbrook
A group of students in Frederick county Maryland have banned together to protest the punishments for dress code violations opening a wider debate on sexism in the classroom, and the double standards that are prevalent in enforcing dress code violations.
Female students at Maryland’s Urbana Middle School wore homemade shirts stating, “I am not a distraction,” highlighting the fact that they feel that the strict enforcement of dress codes has objectified them, and made them responsible for the thoughts and actions of male students. The students chose large yellow shirts for the lettering, as apparently a large yellow t-shirt is what students are to wear as a punishment when they are told their clothing has violated the dress code.
The protest comes amidst frustrations that dress codes universally target women over men, and place inappropriate burden on females to cover their bodies, or pay the price of being shamed for not doing so.
Students in another school in Frederick County, Linganore High School also protested their schools dress code, which demands that girls cover a good portion of their legs, back, and shoulders. An eighth grade student named Rachel Zuniga told news outlets that this was sending the wrong messages to male classmates. “They’re teaching guys that it is okay for their wrongdoings against females because of our actions,” Zuniga said.
Such a debate has been waged for decades when it comes to women’s clothing and freedom of expression. On the other side of the coin, my heart goes out to school administrators who too often have to set appropriate guidelines for students who may come from homes or backgrounds with varying standards of conduct. Sadly, yes, our appearance does dictate how we are perceived in the professional world, and perhaps helping students understand this is an investment in their future, as well as ensuring a professional learning environment.
However, the level of shaming in regards to violating dress codes is often exclusively put on the girls who are involved. Example: a girl in a tank top would be more likely to have to put on the dress code t-shirt, but a boy in a cut off shirt would most likely not receive the same reaction. Additionally, the focus on dress codes seems to be more along the lines of protection for male students, rather then professionalism. Such an ideology plays into many of the larger issues our society faces today, such as rape culture and a perpetual belief that women contribute or provoke the behavior of men by how they look and behave. It also sexualizes women, and makes it seem that their education is secondary to the needs of their male counterparts, which is a dangerous message to send.
The protests embody a larger conversation on women’s place, and just how early on we start telling women how to act, think, dress and behave. These stereotypes
should not be embodied at such a young age, and we should be more conscientious as how we refer to girls, and how we enforce punishments for dress code violations. Yes, how we dress is an important aspect of how we are perceived, and schools do have an obligation to provide a positive learning environment for all students, however the same about of shame, and public humiliation in regards to violating a dress code should not be directed at young women only. It is time to change the conversation, and quit putting the entire burden of modesty and morality on girls. School should be a positive environment for both male and female students, and both sexes are ultimately responsible for their own thoughts, actions, and behaviors, and we need to start enforcing these beliefs from a very early age.