So if you've been out of school for awhile (or maybe it doesn't happen in other countries like it does in North America), you may not know that dress codes are a big thing. As soon as the weather turns, the harassment starts. Girls (and while the odd boy gets coded over a pot leaf graphic or baggy pants, it's girls 90% of the time) get sent up to the office, get phone calls home, get sent home in some cases, over what they're wearing. Teachers are ordered to scrutinize every item covering each teenage body to determine if skirts and tops are long enough, if necklines are too low, if bra straps are too prominent. For teachers like me, who have zero interest in looking at teenage bodies and were raised to be polite and look at people's faces and not their asses, it's a situation that can range from awkward
to my feminist principles are in conflict with my job.
By the way, the heteronormative, cisnormative, misogynist, victim-blaming thing where administrators tell young girls that their clothing is distracting the boys happens in pretty much every school as far as I know. I don't know if they teach that in principal school or what, but it's not an aberration. You'd think, because we are supposed to teach responsibility, the emphasis would be on the boys (or, hey, maybe girls are attracted to other girls, or not everyone identifies as one or the other, and by the way to teenagers everything is distracting and it doesn't actually matter what you wear) to keep their eyes in their own heads, but it's always the slut-shaming. Always.
(If you're wondering, I don't enforce a dress code. I do tell the boys to take off their hats, because it is an obviously visible thing if an admin walks in, and also because baseball caps are fugly. And if I can see a kid's entire ass, I will tell him to pull up his pants. But I do not feel comfortable telling a girl that her bra strap shouldn't show, because I feel like my bra strap shows a lot of the time and it's no biggie.)
There have been a bunch of good articles lately about dress codes in schools, but this is my favourite
thus far:It really bothers me how schools insist that girls wear bras (this starts at, like, age 8-14 when girls start budding. Many girls and/or their moms have embarrassing stories of female teachers quietly pulling them aside, and delicately suggesting that she get a training bra), but then simultaneously decree that bra straps are inappropriate. This is like insisting all boys must wear socks, but the tops of socks sticking out of the shoes are inappropriate. It’s just… so arbitrary.
It’s yet another reminder, and reinforcement, that a girl’s appearance is more important, and demands more attention, than her other, non-visible qualities. You know, qualities like intelligence, perseverance, athletic ability, tenacity, creativity, a hard work ethic… attention to those attributes seem fade away rather quickly once an inch of skin is exposed.
Instead, it teaches her to view herself in a sexualized gaze, from an outsider’s point of view. At an increasingly young age, getting dressed in the morning turns from “does teal clash with yellow?” to “is this too much shoulder? Can someone see down this shirt? Would someone be able to look up this skirt on the stairs? What happens when I sit or bend over? I should test that.”
Anyway, the whole thing is worth a read, as is the link to Impression
, which is an excellent photo essay about the impressions that clothes leave on women's bodies. I'm sort of tired of the argument where I work. Weirdly, Colleague Who Shall Not Be Named, not known for his progressive views in general, actually said some of the things I was thinking at the last staff meeting, which is that the adult obsession with teenage bodies is fucking creepy.
This is our culture, though. This is how we're raising young people to think—that girls are objects to be viewed, scrutinized, judged, that boys are the ones doing the watching, and if one doesn't see the connection to more violent forms of misogyny, one isn't paying enough attention.