It's back to school season in America, which unfortunately also means a return to infuriating and overzealous dress code enforcement in schools across the country. Case in point: Over the past few weeks around 200 Staten Island students have received detention for violating their school's dress code. What do almost all of those students have in common? A full 90% were girls.
Indeed, it seems that school dress codes have increasingly become fodder for chastising and humiliating young girls across North America. Combining victim blaming and body shaming, school administrators have become de facto fashion police, using sexist stereotypes to penalize and demean female students. This is especially problematic for adolescent and teenage girls, whose bodies are maturing, and who are being taught that their clothes — and bodies — are "distracting" for male peers. The implication here is that boys can't be trusted to contain themselves in the presence of such temptresses.
The incidents seem to multiply as temperatures rise and will most likely continue to persist through the fall. Earlier this month, 15-year-old Miranda Larkin was told by officials at Oakleaf High School in Orange Park, Fla., that she would have to wear a "shame suit" because her skirt was too short. This isn't to say that schools can't or shouldn't have dress codes. Rather, their criteria, which are problematic and skewed against girls, need to be reexamined and changed in order to deprioritize the male gaze.
As Mic’s Julianne Ross explains, "The language and standards set forth by these codes too often seem to be less about making sure students appear professional, and more about singling out young women (especially those who are more developed), treating their bodies as sexual objects with the potential to force boys to misbehave."
This is one fashion trend that needs to end immediately. Here are 13 prime examples of the ways young girls have been shamed and even sexualized by school dress codes:
1. Female students told to "to cover your butts up."
A Minnetonka, Minn., high school principal sent an email to parents in the fall of 2012 requesting their girls "keep covered up" and avoid certain clothes, like leggings, that expose "more leg and backside" and can "be highly distracting for other students."
The warning, which apparently garnered the support of some parents, upset students. But the principal stood by his policy, stating, "Cover your butts up — I'm just going to say it straight up. We're seeing too much."
2. Female students told their strapless dresses were "distracting" boys.
In 2013, the principal at New Jersey's Readington Middle School banned girls from wearing strapless dresses to an eighth grade dance. When parents questioned the principal about the new rule, they were told that strapless dresses "distract" boys. The parents, in protest, took the issue to the local school board, which said it would review the policy.
3. Female students told to curtail the "curvature" of their breasts.
Cincinnati's Mt. Healthy High School principal Marlon Styles sent two girls home from prom because he claimed their dresses revealed cleavage. The girls, ages 18 and 19, were stopped at their school's entrance and forced to call their parents. As Styles explained, "They can have no curvature of the breasts showing." What's next? Handing out rolls of duct tape to female prom-goers and instructing them to tape their "girls" down?
4. Female students told to conform to gender norms.
For the most part, cleavage-bearing and too-short dresses are a prom no-no. Confusingly, at one North Carolina school, so are pants. That is, if you're a girl.
Shafer Rupard, a high school senior at Cherryville High School in North Carolina, was kicked out of her prom for wearing pants, despite the school's lack of dress code for prom. While this isn't body shaming per se, it's a classic example of punishment in which one person undermines the personal agency that another person has over their body. And it stigmatizes gender nonconformity, something that should be respected and affirmed instead of mocked and ridiculed by school administrators.
5. Female students told their dresses cause "impure thoughts."
Clare Ettinger of Richmond, Va., made headlines when she was likewise kicked out after male parent chaperone complained that her dress was too provocative — despite being the mandated fingertip length — and would give boys "impure thoughts." Clare said on her sister’s blog that "the whole situation made me feel violated, walked over and ostracized," and had sharp words for the male chaperone: "I'm not responsible for some perverted 45 year old dad lusting after me because I have a sparkly dress on and a big ass for a teenager. And if you think I am, then maybe you're part of the problem."
6. Female students told their shorts were "too short."
Earlier this spring, 15-year-old Lindsey Stocker was suspended for wearing shorts that were allegedly "too short." As Mic previously reported, Stocker told CBC that two school officials walked into her Quebec, Canada classroom and forced all of the students to stand with their arms by their sides.
"In front of all my peers and my teacher they said I had to change," Stocker told the National Post. "And when I said no they said I was making a bad choice. They kept shaking their heads. In front of everybody."
Lindsey fought back, claiming the dress code policy unfairly targeted girls, and printed out posters that read, "Don't humiliate her because she is wearing shorts. It's hot outside. Instead of shaming girls for their bodies, teach boys that girls are not sexual objects." Right on.
7. Female students told bra straps should be hidden at all times.
Roughly 30 female students who attend Newfoundland's Menihek High School were pulled out of class for wearing sleeveless tops and having visible bra straps. It was all because they violated the school's dress code, which, according to students, was put in place to keep girls’ bodies from distracting boys.
It's yet another instance in which teens aren't engaged by adults in an age-appropriate conversation about not hypersexualizing a woman's body and how she presents herself in public, let alone in a high school classroom — making it about what the girls were doing and not about changing boys' mindsets.
8. Female students forced to prove their dress fit properly.
In May 2013, 40 female students at Capistrano Valley High in San Clemente were subjected to degrading demonstrations at their Winter Formal dance — all to prove their dresses fit properly.
According to the San Clemente Patch, a student reported they were required to "lift their arms up and down and turn their backs to male administrators." The school's principal, however, claims this wasn't the case but conceded that the dress code policy needed to be rewritten.
9. Female students told skorts are too sexual. For kindergarten.
In what may be the most egregious example in this list, a girl in Henry County, Ga., was admonished for an inappropriate skort. The shirt and shorts combo garment wasn't worn by a high-schooler or even a middle schooler but a kindergartner.
The school's assistant principal informed the girl's mother that the outfit was a "distraction" to other students. Understandably, her mom was upset and confused, telling local reporters that her daughter "had tights under her skort, so she wasn't showing any skin."
10. Female students told to stop showing so much shoulder.
That's the surprising message female students at Wasatch High School in Utah received when they opened their yearbooks and discovered the school had photo-shopped their pictures to show less skin. Dozens of pictures were edited without the girls' permission or knowledge, arbitrarily adding sleeves and higher necklines. According to reports from students at the high school, none of the boys' photos were altered. Not cool.
11. Female students told their leggings attract too much attention.
It's yet another example in a recurring message that the everyday clothing items girls and women wear are "distractions" and not simply fashion.
Girls attending Haven Middle School in Evanston, Ill., were banned from wearing yoga pants and leggings because they are "too distracting" to male students. The best part? A protest ensued, with more than 500 students signing a petition to challenge the policy and many others defiantly wearing the items to school. The students held signs with powerful slogans to show just how absurd the rule really is: "Are my pants lowering your test scores?"
12. Female students told that "modest" actually means hottest.
Those were the actual words that came out of Lakeland Senior High School principal Arthur Martinez's mouth when discussing the school's dress code. In remarks to the student body, he reportedly used that phrase, and justified it in the context of "boys will be boys."
But 16-year-old Marion Mayer wasn't having any of it, and went toe-to-toe with her principal, calling him out on his sexist and unfair statements. As she eloquently wrote, "You [the principal] are literally sending the message to young girls, who are already struggling with self-confidence, that hiding their body makes them more attractive. You are establishing a sense of shame in these young, developing minds and bodies."
13. Female students told to go home over half an inch of cloth.
Violet Burkhart, a senior at Central Davidson High School in North Carolina, was sent home on her last day of school because her sundress — which she wore to celebrate this milestone — was half an inch too short. With just two hours left of school, teachers measured her dress in a hallway in front of other students, humiliating her and driving her to tears.
But Violet's mom stood by her daughter in the face of sexism and body shaming. Together, they protested the school's handling of the situation by wearing the same dress to graduation, showing young girls everywhere who's really in control of their bodies: themselves.