Schools try their best to promote happy, healthy environments, where children
learn to be their best selves and grow into productive, respectful adults.
Think again: when schools implement rules like dress codes, they are actually
enabling men and punishing women. While their intentions may be humble and innocent,
their idea of what is and is not appropriate or professional can make all the difference and
perpetuate the patriarchal standards and expectations that women are held to, from birth;
that men are allowed to get away with things that in a normal, functioning society, would
see them sentenced to prison. But those who hold power in our civilization are the same
ones defending the offenders—or worse, they are the offenders themselves.
Schools are meant to be the place where citizens receive their enlightenment to be
let out into society and subsequently advance it. But dress codes create prejudice that
would not exist without a catalyst. Dress codes undoubtedly affect women on a far greater
scale than men, because it is never women who objectify men for their bodies: history has
always been men objectifying women. Dress codes characterize body parts like shoulders,
knees, upper arms, necks, and the upper chest region (including cleavage) as inherently
sexual, and therefore they must be covered up in order to prioritize the education of the
“distracted”. There is never a solution or option for the “distractors”, because they are the
ones who are categorized as wrong. Additionally, although maybe not on purpose, dress
codes prioritize men’s education over women’s, as it is acceptable to pull an offending girl
from class to change into another outfit while boys remain in class.
We condition women to be the problem solvers in situations that aren’t their
problems to solve. From not wearing a skirt to school because legs can be too disruptive in
math class, to don’t-drink-too-much-at-a-bar-because-then-you’ll-be-raped, and that’s on you! Victim-blaming begins before there is a victim. A woman’s life can be destroyed by a
man, and it is left up to the woman to pick up the pieces. We see this in one of our most
basic biological functions: reproduction. It takes two to achieve reproduction, but women
are ultimately the ones who do all the hard work, carrying the pregnancy to term. Men
have the option to walk away at any point. This is taught in Kindergarten, with dress codes.
Mary is wearing a skirt that shows her knees. Mary’s skirt is noticed by an administrator,
measured, and deemed inappropriate. Jack witnesses the episode. Jack believes that it is
Mary’s fault. Jack grows up to believe that any actions inflicted on women are a result of the
woman’s behavior. There is a snowball effect to tiny actions on the permeable minds of
Recently, a debate over face masks during the COVID-19 has called dress codes into
serious question. In context, the same groups of people who call for dress codes to remain
in place to maintain order also oppositely scream for face masks to be a choice, and cry
outrage at the notion of a child being sent home from school for not following a mask mandate. However, many have pointed out that if a girl can be sent for wearing a tank top, a
child can be sent home for failing to protect public health. There is a culture war that has
increasingly politicized things that should simply be categorized as human rights, women’s
empowerment being one of them. Increasingly, conservative beliefs in the United States
have promoted the idea that women’s equality has been achieved, is not important, or
simply should not be. At the center of it all is a woman’s right to choose. In 2021, U.S. states
introduced more than 100 bills that would or do restrict a woman’s right to an abortion, the
largest attack on the Roe v. Wade decision in American history.
Feminism and the idea of women’s equality are intersectional with so many public
issues, because misogyny is an underlying threat throughout our entire societal structure.
Racism? Women of color face increased discrimination than do men of color. Economics?
Women are paid 84 cents to the dollar of a man. Politics? Women make up 51% of the
American population, but only about 30% of politicians are female (Fun fact: the current 117
U.S. Congress has the highest number of women serving as politicians in American
history... and they make up 1⁄4 of its body). Healthcare? The United Nations has found that
about 90% of women have experienced gender bias: a study found that men experiencing
chronic pain were seen as “stoic” and women as “hysterical”. Abortion? Don’t even, that’s
left up to men now. Education? 76% of teachers are women, and it’s become one of the
most disregarded professions in this nation. I could go on and on about how so many topics
relate back to gender discrimination, but then I might be called irrationally emotional.
And to think that all this mess starts in elementary school, when Jane is told that she
cannot wear a tank top, because it will cause a distraction for little Tommy. God forbid Jane
gets too warm and then she’s distracted. At least Tommy’s education won’t be interrupted.