I have written about dress codes before, and a story in the news has me thinking about them again. One thing that always surprises me about dress codes are the restrictions many schools place on young women. Attire is easy for guys. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Maybe a young man is required to pull their pants up, but men don't have to spend excessive amounts of time shopping to find clothing that fits them and fits into the far-reaching school dress codes. The most significant decision I made while getting ready for school was choosing the color of the Bugle Boy shirt that I wore that day. For girls, they have to navigate exhaustive dress codes in addition to a society where their bodies are sexualized at every turn.
The Atlanta Public Schools are revising a policy by including guidance for administrators on enforcing the dress codes. It reads, “students at schools without uniform policies should be able to choose their attire for school and participate in the educational environment without fear of unnecessary discipline...enforcement of this dress code should not result in unnecessary barriers to school attendance. Dress code enforcement shall be carried out in a clear, consistent and equitable manner.” This statement tells me that the board gets it. There is something wrong with disciplining students over attire. There is something wrong with creating a barrier to attendance when the point of school is to learn. Above all, the board wants a policy that is enforced in "clear, consistent and equitable manner." That is the antithesis of what we have seen over the years. Traditionally women and girls have been targeted by school dress codes. Often the reasoning for targeting girls has revolved around their attire being distracting to boys and causing the boys to have impure thoughts.
As a society, we need to start to realize that women's bodies or clothing do not cause males to have impure thoughts. Girls are not responsible for how boys think and behave. Does seeing a girls collar bones produce impure thoughts, or do those thoughts come from the person thinking them? If a bare collarbone is not endangering anyone, then why do we spend so much time policing this?
This problem results from society telling men that they are not responsible for their thoughts and feelings? And, if girls are to blame for tempting boys, then boys never have to be accountable for their behavior. I could see a man excusing his choices by saying, "I would not have acted that way if she was not dressed that way." And, we know that thinking is wrong. It is victim blaming! Moreover, instead of society holding young men accountable for their actions, we enable them by excusing their behavior. And, we wonder why there is an epidemic of men sexually assaulting women? Is a dress code fair if it is meant to address male behavior without ever naming that? If we are especially worried about boys, then we need to teach them some coping skills. We need to give boys the skill set to keep their composure if they see their crush in yoga pants during advisement. Traditional school dress codes are the epitome of inequality as they make girls responsible for the girls clothing and the behavior of the boys. If seeing a girl's bare shoulder or collarbone prevents a young man from concentrating in Geometry, then there are more significant problems than solving an equation using the Pythagorean Theorem.