Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes

Every single day a girl, somewhere in the United States, walks into a school and in penalized for what she is wearing. Every day a girl is indirectly told that her education is less important than a boy’s. Every time a girl is forced to leave class to change or call home because she isn’t allowed to stay in school for the rest of the day, her education is put on the back burner. Schools all across America have dress codes in place that indirectly put male education above female, and they do it in just one sentence, “…clothing is a distraction to other students learning.” Schools are clearly sexualizing adolescent and teenage girls, and society has just accepted it as another norm.

The National Education Association released an article where school principals and child development experts analyzed current dress code policies: “Many school dress codes use gendered language, such as “girls must not wear spaghetti straps or show cleavage.” The reasoning? These things are distracting to other students, particularly males” (Barret 1). The use of gender-specified rules not only discriminates based on gender, they also send the message that females can be objectified by males. The article goes on to state, “’It’s saying the male response is your fault. Your body is causing negativity,” explains Pomerantz. Sexist rules also set a precedent for men, she adds. “It is offensive to men. It suggests they don’t have the ability to talk to a female student without going wild’” (Barret 1).

Not only are the rules detrimental to female education they also come with the connotation that males are incapable of restraining themselves, and as result females need to accommodate to them. Many female students and parents have taken to social media to try and address the issue that is being faced in public schools all across America. Hashtags like #imnotadistraction and #slutshaming have become very prominent in the movement. The University of Richmond Law Review published an essay titled Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes by Meredith Harbach that highlights the negative effects of dress coding girls and the effect on their sexuality later in life. Harbach says.

“Dress plays a complicated role in the sexualization of girls. Identify formation is an important feature of adolescence in Western cultures. And clothing is marketed to girls as a means of expressing identity and individuality. Clothing is thus both an artifact of the sexualization of girls in our culture and also part of the larger process of identity formation over which girls exercise some control”. The concept that girls are told that they cannot wear something in public not only makes them feel subconscious and beginning the body shaming process, it also restricts their ability to self-express.

In Western culture self-expression through clothing is imperative to social development, and if this is stripped from girls at such an important time in their lives, it is bound to have devastating repercussions later in life. Females are taught they have to conform to society’s view of what a female should look like and this affects their entire self-identity in life. This includes styles they may choose to peruse later that go beyond clothing but to haircuts, body piercings and tattoos. All of these are forms of self-expression that girls that have been affected by sexist dress coding rules will have altered subconscious responses too.

Gender should never define an individual’s worth, and absolutely should not affect their education and sexual identity. Girls should be free to dress however they feel comfortable, and should not be penalized accordingly. If dress codes are mandatory they need to be gender neutral, enforcing the same rules for both the male and female population of the school. This prevents the placement of one education over another, and also doesn’t imply that males are incapable of focusing due to a female appearance.

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