“Most rules that you think are written in stone are just societal. You can change the game and really reach for the stars and make the world a better place.”–Sebastian Thrun
I was at a gathering over Independence Day which included a group of high school age teens. I learned a new term: “dress-code,” used as a verb.
It seems that certain authorities in some of our local schools are obsessed with how students dress. Not all students, just particular ones. This is one of the things to know about rules in general: the more rules you have, especially if they are minor, silly, or arbitrary, the easier it is to use them against whoever you wish.
So, some students get “dress-coded,” pulled out of class, disciplined, even suspended, while others do not.
The young people I was speaking with were rather privileged and they knew it. That doesn’t mean they don’t see and are not outraged by the arbitrariness of how the rules are applied.
“I’m considered a ‘goody goody,’ so I don’t get dress-coded” one told me. Another agreed. There are certain people who are above the rules, such as honor students and varsity athletes at her school, both groups to which she belongs.
There is one, much bigger, group for which these rules rarely apply. Boys.
You see, schools are obsessed with how girls dress. Clothes that would be considered quite normal out in public, or even in a professional environment, are verboten in some high schools, at least, for some subset of girls.
A bra-strap showing, that’s a big no-no. And some teachers seem quite concerned about collarbones. Apparently, collarbones are provocative. Or, shoulders. Michelle Obama, our former first lady, often went sleeveless in public, as does the current first daughter, and Special Assistant to the President, Ivanka Trump. But high school girls who do that will be sent home, at least if they’re not among the favored groups.
Maybe provocative isn’t the right term. The one the schools use is “distraction.” This is likely because, while the Supreme Court has ruled that “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates” they have also stated that schools can impose rules designed to prevent students from doing things that interfere with school operations. Thus, something that potentially distracts other students (or teachers) can be forbidden.
But the reality is, this only applies to girls, and often arbitrarily. It shows how much our society still expects women, and even young girls, to take responsibility for the sexual behavior and lack of impulse control of men.
Rather than teaching young men appropriate behavior, they focus on the female students, assuming that they are responsible if a boy misbehaves. This is what activists have come to call “rape culture,” in which people make any excuse for young men, blaming women for anything from a short skirt to how they walk.
We saw this in the recent Bill Cosby rape case in which the jury could not reach a verdict, despite substantial evidence. According to some reports, one of the holdout jurors blamed the victim, suggesting that her bare midriff was a sign of likely consent.
My son is younger, but I’ve seen this trend already at his school. Each year, they take a trip to the city pool and the parental handout we receive includes a big warning: no bikinis. In case we were to miss it, they repeat at the bottom that any student showing up in a bikini would not be allowed at the pool. My son presumably could arrive shirtless, in nothing but his swim trunks, but if a female third grader bared her midriff, the distraction would be sufficient to warrant her punishment.
So, not only are we insisting that girls police their own bodies, we are sexualizing them long before they, or their male classmates, understand the concept.
Double standards are nothing new—when my mother attended school, she wasn’t allowed to wear pants—but now, young women are pushing back, insisting on nothing short of equality. Girls are protesting across the country, and at some schools, the boys are wearing skirts in solidarity.
If you think that sounds ridiculous, consider how silly it is to punish a girl for what a boy might think by taking away the girl’s access to schooling.
A version of this piece also appeared in the Porterville Recorder on July 19, 2017
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