As temperatures rise, teen girls and boys alike select their outfits for school accordingly. But while boys are rarely questioned for their attire, their female counterparts are policed and even disciplined for theirs.
Female students at a school in Staffordshire, England, were recently banned from wearing skirts because "they are distracting to male teachers and other pupils," according to the Independent. Trentham High School students who wear such "inappropriate" attire, head teacher Rowena Blencowe told the paper, will be sent home if they don't wear "business-like trousers" to class in September. Another well-known British school, St. Margaret's School in Hertfordshire, also recently banned short skirts to keep students "focused."
A growing movement: While the Independent notes that some members of the community disagree with the school's decision, it's unclear whether or not any students have formally protested. Should they do so, they have plenty of examples stateside. This spring, several American students creatively embraced a role reversal at school, with attempts to educate their teachers about this pervasive form of everyday sexism.
One student at an unknown prep school posted an anonymous note on her school's walls that asked her peers and teachers alike to "stop sexualizing our bodies" and reminded the community that "if my shorts make you uncomfortable, you are the problem." A group of Canadian students launched a campaign called #CropTopDay to push back on one administrator's sexualizing comment and prohibitive dress code. Students at a Connecticut school penned a thoughtful letter to their administration in response to similar actions, and one high school senior even cleverly devoted her yearbook quote to her school's stance on women's "distracting" bodies.
The bigger picture: Beyond being unfair or hampering female students' self-expression, these dress codes are emblematic of the way girls are sexualized and valued primarily based on their sexualization. Specifically, such codes are an extension of the way society generally places the burden on women to police their own bodies to ward off potential harm, especially harm in the form of inspiring apparently insatiable lust in men.
As Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti wrote in May of sexist dress codes, "Like most puritanical nonsense directed at young women these days, the concern is not for the girls, but for the lust their dresses might inspire in others."
In this way, dress codes are evidence of the rape culture that still permeates our society: Monitoring one's clothes is another "preventive" measure young women are taught to engage in so as to not inspire men to inflict harm upon them. As Eliana Dockterman wrote in a 2014 Time piece, "We tell women to cover themselves from the male gaze, but we neglect to tell the boys to look at something else."
Hopefully, British teens will recognize this double standard for what it is and refuse to adhere to it as their American peers have. After all, no young girl should be subjected to explicit objectification anywhere, but especially not in environments supposedly created to enhance their intellects.
h/t The Independent