High school students have long been tirelessly and innovatively explaining why stringent, highly gendered dress codes are sexist. Yet it seems school administrators still refuse to acknowledge or even understand their students' points. In fact, one Michigan high school principal went so far as to argue that dress codes protect women, who are otherwise doomed to be sexualized by their insatiable male peers.
Jim Bazen, principal of Plymouth Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, wrote in an op-ed for the Grand Rapids Press that young women are "caught between a rock and a hard place" because while they are taught "'being sexy' will get them attention, especially from boys" because "young men will look at them not as persons, but as sex objects."
But getting rid of dress codes, he argued, is not the solution to this dilemma. To illustrate his point, Bazen magnanimously proceeded to help readers "understand the male mind."
Men are "wired more visual," he wrote. Women should cover up because "skin is a sexual distraction to a male" and viewing exposed female skin forces men to regard them as "sex objects." Any dress code that ignores what Bazen apparently considers a biological fact about men is futile.
"Expecting the guys to keep their eyes off young ladies with shirts revealing their cleavage, short skirt, tight pants/leggings, shorty shorts or tight shirt, is like walking out into the rain and expecting not to get wet," he wrote. "The only way you can help young men not treat young ladies as sex objects is by telling the young ladies to cover up!"
Bazen's argument effectively underscores a perhaps less-discussed aspect of why dress codes that disproportionately target women are sexist: They belittle men, describing them as incapable of regarding women as equitable humans or unable to overcome their basic sexual instincts. His insistence that though the problem lies inherently in men, women are still responsible for controlling and preventing their behavior emphasizes the damaging victim-blaming attitudes already entrenched in our culture.
This is nothing new — we're trying to teach men not to rape, instead of blaming the survivors of sexual assault. In the same spirit, instead of enforcing dress codes as a form of tamping down on distraction for boys, perhaps we should encourage boys to somehow control their libidos and view girl classmates as fully human no matter what they wear.