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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Are dress codes promoting sexism?

Stephania+Rando+and+Lauren+Anderson
Stephania Rando and Lauren Anderson

Your style says a lot about you — your clothes, your hair, and the way you put yourself together is the first impression you give to those around you. It is important that youth figure out what works for them and what does not — one more piece in the puzzle of identity for developing adults.
The issue of dress codes in high schools has caused a ripple of unease as students in Oklahoma, New York, and other states react to the restrictions on what they are allowed to wear at school.
Earlier this year, middle school girls in Evanston, IL picketed after their school placed restrictions on wearing leggings. Many students have also responded with walk-outs and by utilizing the hashtag #iammorethanadistraction on social media.
Although boys deal with dress codes too, many girls feel as though a focus motivated by sexism is placed on girls who are accused of being “distractions” to boys at school because of the way they dress.
Although dress codes are almost never mentioned in the university setting, the transition from high school to college is one that many young women find liberating, suggesting how important the freedom to express yourself through your clothes may be for high schoolers as well.
Lauren Anderson, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Boston, speaks about her experiences in high school.
“My dress code at Boston Latin School was very strict. Our tank tops had to have straps at least two inches wide, bandeaus were not acceptable under tank tops, and shorts and skirts had to be fingertip in length [which was written in the handbook],” she said.
“Ripped jeans weren’t written anywhere in the dress code, but somehow we still got in trouble for them. People would be asked to change their clothes if they broke the dress code, and while technically that was true for masculine dress too, it usually never came to that. The dress code was almost exclusively targeted at feminine dress for the simple fact that the administration thought our clothes to be ‘too distracting.'”
Sana Rashid, another sophomore at UMass Boston, agreed with Lora’s sentiments.
“I understand the point of dress codes, but personally I think they’re hindering. I feel like girls should always have the option of wearing what they want, you just have to educate them right,” she said. “I think having dress codes, to an extent, oppresses girls.”
Junior Elizabeth Vo sees some value in dress codes in that they protect students from certain social problems.
“I do think dress codes are appropriate to a certain degree. Like for obvious reasons, like preventing high school students from coming in wearing offensive clothing. Also it is important to remember that these kids are still going through puberty and are more vulnerable to social influence and trying to impress others,” she said. “I feel like if there were no dress codes the girls would come in half-naked to impress guys and whatnot.”
However, the three unanimously agree that the freedom of dress code that comes with going to college is liberating and has only had a positive influence on their self-image and comfort.
“I definitely feel more liberated when I get dressed. I throw on whatever I want and don’t have the slightest worry about what people will have to say about it. I can wear strapless tops, mini-skirts, and ripped jeans without worrying if I will get in trouble or not,” Lora said. “I feel as though my body is no longer being policed by people whom it does not concern.”
Stephania Rando, a sophomore at UMB who went to a strict Catholic school, offers a starting point for dealing with the sexism that the claim of “distraction to boys” perpetuates.
“I completely think girls should dress the way they like,” she said. “We need to teach our boys not to sexualize girls just because a bra strap is showing.”
Source for high schooler data: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/sep/24/us-high-schools-dress-codes-protest-sexism-hemline