On March 26, the Kalamazoo School Board meeting was full of parents and students voicing their concerns about a new dress code rule at Kalamazoo’s Loy Norrix high school.
A recent crackdown on leggings at the high school – which resulted in girls being pulled from class and told their leggings or skinny jeans were too provocative and distracting – led many Norrix students to voice their opinions about the new rules. Calling the ban “sexist,” “demeaning,” and “misogynistic,” students maintained that the new crackdown was a form of “body shaming” that objectified female students.
Policies like this are nothing new to the American school system. Whether schools mandate that students wear uniforms or allow students to wear street clothes (provided they fit within the parameters of the school’s policy), dress codes are a fact of life for the majority of American students.
However, many dress codes leave students feeling offended and humiliated, with the majority of the rules focused on young women’s clothing rather than young men’s.
It could be argued that young women have more clothing options, and thus have more rules regarding what they can and cannot wear to school, but this is simply not the case. Dress codes are, in the most basic sense, a regulation of what is and isn’t school-appropriate, but they’re also a regulation of women’s bodies. The leggings ban at Loy Norrix High School is just another facet of this regulation, clothed in morality.
When young women are pulled out of their classrooms and sent home to change into something “more appropriate,” they’re being told that what they wear to school is more important than the education they receive at school.
Young women are told that their clothes are “distracting” for their male teachers and peers, but young men aren’t told that they should focus on their education instead of ogling their female co-eds.
Even more disturbing is the fact that male teachers are not being told that their behavior is problematic: a male teacher who sexualizes an underage woman is let off the hook, while the female student is demonized.
In addition, these dress codes serve as to publicly shame young women for acting “too provocative:” when a young female student is chastised for her clothing, it’s rarely a private experience. Instead, she is humiliated in front of her peers and school administrators.
Young women are consistently caught in a double-bind in American society, and dress codes are just another facet of this double standard. While young men are subject to their own dress code policies, it is the female students who are punished the most for breaking the rules. Expected to be sexually attractive but punished for being too provocative, young women are caught in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
Fortunately, the female students at Loy Norrix are speaking out against discriminatory dress code policies, and will hopefully prompt administrators to review their rules.