Superintendent's Humiliating Dress Code Strategy Sends Damaging Message To Female Students

The back-to-school season is here, which means so, too, is the season of dress code enforcement.

One of the the fall's first examples of administrators going to extraordinary — and humiliating — lengths to make sure dress codes are executed comes from Oklahoma, where a school superintendent reportedly asked girls to bend over for a dress check. 

"As I was greeting the children coming in I knew we had a major, major problem on our hands," Noble High School Superintendent Ronda Bass told local station KFOR. The "major, major" problem? Skirt lengths, of course.

According to senior student Stephanie Stewart, however, what happened next sent some of her friends home in tears.

"The first sentence was, 'Have y'all ever seen any 'skanks' around this school,'" Stewart told KFOR. "Around the end she said, 'I don't want to see anyone’s ass hanging out of their shorts.'"

Bass reportedly followed up those remarks with another unannounced dress code check last week. Bass allegedly called girls out individually for inspection, even asking some to bend over to see if their skirts and dresses were too short.

"If you're not comfortable with bending over, we might have a problem," Bass told KFOR News


Bass said she completely stood by what she had done, noting that she just wants her students to be known as "classy" women.

There a couple of issues at play here, but to begin with, it's telling that Bass only seems to have targeted one gender. Where's the concern for the "unclass" male students of Noble? As we've seen time and time again, school officials across the country seem to have a certain talent for the objectifying and stereotyping of young women. By slut-shaming young girls — publicly — authorities send the implicit message that they should be ashamed and embarrassed, not just because of their choice of clothes but because of their bodies.

In this case, the rationale that female students were getting a reputation for being somehow less than class is a slippery, slippery slope. Other arguments used in similar situations include the idea that girls distract their male peers — and even their teachers. Everything from shorts and skirt to prom dresses, leggings and yoga pants have all been targeted. On the one hand, this attitude may lead to women feeling ashamed or embarrassed by their body; on the other, it perpetuates the idea that men and boys are not in control of their own actions when the temptations of women are thrown into the mix. 

Increasingly, some student have been fighting back against such policies, however. For example, a group of New Jersey schoolgirls who felt violated by strict dress code enforcement started a #Iammorethanadistraction hashtag to reinforce respect for girls. 


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Smriti Sinha

Smriti is a multimedia journalist trained at the Columbia School of Journalism. Before moving to New York, she was a sports reporter at The Indian Express in New Delhi. She continues to cover issues in sports, women's and LGBT rights.

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