Teenage Girl’s Skin

Credit: Geneva Vanderzeil via Flickr

Credit: Geneva Vanderzeil via Flickr

It was only last week that Stephanie Dunn, a Kentucky high school student was sent home for violating the dress code. I urge you to take a guess as to what exactly her crime was. Was it wearing a shirt with derogatory imagery on it? Was it dressing in culturally-appropriative clothing? Nope. The piece of clothing that was deemed so offensive that she had to be sent home was a low cut shirt that that did not show a hint of cleavage but only collarbones. Thank God that she wore pants that covered her ankles.

The worst part is that this isn’t an isolated event between schools. Recently, 150 Tring School students were sent home for wearing skirts that were deemed “too short.” This shows that with the return of the school year, comes the return of ridiculous policies centered around policing teenage girl’s bodies.

For example, both Bridlington School and Trentham High School, located in the United Kingdom, have placed a ban on skirts. In one case, it was reportedly due to a male teacher’s comfort level. At this same school, the female students were accused by the headmistress of “pushing boundaries” with tight-hugging pants. In the other, the head teacher made it clear that the female student’s bodies were dangerously distracting for the males of the school: “It’s not pleasant for male members of staff and students either, the girls have to walk up stairs and sit down and it’s a complete distraction.”

As I read this article, I was imagining miniskirts, so short that they’d fail Graded’s famous thumb-rule abysmally. I was imagining barely-there scraps of fabric falling just below their underwear. Yet these skirts, dark and loose-fitting, fall safely past their thighs. My question is: why are we so quick to assume that it’s the girls’ responsibility that male students, let alone staff members, are not distracted by them “walking up stairs and sitting down”? Not only is this heteronormative but it assumes that the male gender is solely driven by their sexual desires and not much else.

When a school asks its students to dress in school appropriate attire, it is not inherently wrong. There is no doubt that within the school setting, there is a certain level of professionalism to strive for. Problems arise when the dress code is a reflection of a culture-wide practice of policing women’s bodies and sexualizing young girls, and when the education of teenage girls is compromised because there is an assumption that a hormonal teenage boy might be distracted by their arms, their shoulders and/or their collarbones. When girls are denied time in the classroom, we are teaching them that society’s hypersexualization of their bodies and male comfort is more important than their own education.

Girls are not sexual objects. I, as a teenage girl, deserve the basic respect of being seen foremost as a student, and as a person. What that entails is that when I walk into a classroom, I want to know that I am seen as a peer and that my learning takes priority over making sure teenage boys aren’t aroused by the sight of my bare shoulders.

I am not asking that dress codes have no parameters. I am not asking for a free-for-all, come to school in your bikini, no-limits dress code. All I am asking for is a dress code that for once doesn’t enforce the sexualization and policing of the female body, but rather makes a stand against it.

Sources: attin.com, dailymail.co.uk, mirror.co.uk, theguardian.com