Nel's New Day

November 10, 2014

Dress Codes Help Perpetuate a Culture of Rape

This op-ed piece in today’s Register-Guard (Eugene, OR) gives me hope for the next generation: From Pearl Cutting, a junior at North Eugene High School who attended Kelly Middle School:

“All shirts must have sleeves that fully cover undergarments at all times. Crop tops, halter tops, bare midriff, spaghetti straps or strapless shirts are not permitted. When sitting or standing, the shirt must meet or cover the top of the pants, shorts, or skirt at all times. The neckline of shirts must be no lower than three inches from the bottom of the collarbone or show no cleavage.”

This is the “Shirts” section of Kelly Middle School’s dress code, which is similar to the codes of many high schools and middle schools in the United States. Of course, these policies are meant “to minimize distractions from the learning environment,” as the Kelly Middle School Code states.

As we all know, girls and boys wear different clothes and Kelly’s regulations generally apply only to clothing females would wear. According to this section of the dress code, the female body is a “distraction” that keeps the boys from learning with their darn distracting skin.

Oh, no — what would happen if a boy were to see a girls “undergarments” or cleavage? Heaven forbid that males become aware of females having breasts or wearing bras!

The “Pants, Skirts, and Shorts” section states that pants must not have rips or holes. Short running shorts are not permitted. Yoga pants, tights and leggings are not permitted unless they are worn under a dress or skirt of appropriate length. Skirts should be no shorter than three inches from the top of the knee. Leggings may be worn only with skirts and dresses meeting length requirements. Shorts must have an inseam of at least four inches. Any pants, shorts or skirts that look like pajama bottoms or boxer shorts are unacceptable. Pants and shorts must not sag, and underwear must not be visible. OK, these seem sensible. This section, unlike the previous one, contains rules that apply to both genders.

However, the regulations for clothing that a male would wear are all about looking neat and tidy, while the rules for females are once again all about showing skin. Girls can not wear normal-length shorts or borderline short skirts. Is a leg really that much of a threat to a learning environment?

These regulations are enforced in basic school settings. Students grow up with these taboos ingrained into their brains. Creating all these rules about what females can and cannot wear grossly oversexualizes and exploits their bodies. If you do not allow females to show their legs, a leg suddenly becomes sexual — even though both genders have legs. If the same is done with a bra, immediately undergarments and breasts become grossly exploited.

If dress codes were based in an acceptance of the physical differences in boys and girls, students would become accepting of these differences as well, which would lead to the world’s future adults respecting and accepting each others’ differences.

These issues affect not only me, but all females: “Did you see what she was wearing? She was asking for it.” The epidemic of rape affects all females, even if they have not been victims. All females have been in situations where they have felt the potential of an assault by a male. Even if the assault does not happen, the fact that females feel uncomfortable in certain settings with males demonstrates that all females are aware of the looming possibility.

Starting with school dress codes, people are trained to blame the victim when their bodies are being exploited. Dress codes teach that a woman’s body is sexual, and if she is breaking the code, she is “asking for” verbal or physical assault. This is how rape culture is perpetuated.

School is about learning: learning the class material, learning how to make friends, learning about oneself. If the rules at the school amount to saying “Boys: don’t dress like a homeless person” and “Girls: don’t distract the boys with your skin,” these policies are not making the world more equal — they are only creating ingrained misogyny and oversexualization of women in the minds of the world’s future adults.

These rules say that boys will be boys, we cannot change them, they are not the problem; girls are the problem, girls are distracting, they have to cover themselves up so the boys can focus. Instead of giving girls referrals for wearing shorts, maybe we should teach students that a leg is just a leg.

Thank you, Ms. Cutting!

1 Comment »

  1. My mother and I had this argument in the ’60s. Me: “it doesn’t matter what you wear; it’s who you are inside.” Mother: “It matters. People don’t see the inside so quickly, and boys will be boys.” Then when I was a teacher, my students and I discussed it. Now I have interns and the conversation continues. Studies say we make instant judgments (3 seconds!). Hollywood continues to portray women and men in certain ways. Playboy is still alive and well. Generations have grown up with the idea of women as sex objects. What’s the answer? Isn’t it how we raise our boys and girls? What they see and how they are portrayed in the media? What society (and we are society) says is NOT acceptable? This is thousands of years of cultural acceptance. Thank you for using your voice to impact change. Only when we raise our collective voices will change happen.


    Comment by Sue Ellen Allen — November 11, 2014 @ 7:09 AM | Reply

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