There’s been a lot of chatter on the news about dress codes lately. Much of the dress codes seem disproportionately directed at young women and girls. I’m willing to admit that what makes the news and what exists might be on two different planes of existence, but a school in North Dakota did admit to having the girls watch Pretty Woman as some kind of…educational piece on what not to wear.
Much of the dialog around dress codes seems to center on what not to show. Too much leg, too much abdomen, too much chest. You can’t have yoga pants or leggings (too tight, you can tell that there are legs!) or too short of shorts or skirts (you can actually SEE the legs that were previously only theoretical!) or midriff baring tops (too much abdomen!) or visible bra straps (oooh! foundational undergarments are a thing!) and you definitely, definitely can’t have cleavage.
Of course, there are likely dress code strictures against male-specific clothing (like visible undergarments), but I’m sure most people would agree that the above mentioned items are mostly directed at girls. There may be boys who wear short shorts and low cut body suits to school, but they are likely few and far between.
So, what’s the problem? Dressing like that is distracting in the classroom, according to a teacher I know (and greatly respect as a fellow human being).
On the surface, I agree. There’s no real reason to show up to school with skin showing all over the place. Dress codes prepare you for the professional world, where there are often dress codes (there’s certainly one where I work – I believe I’m not supposed to show my shoulders at work, although I’d have to double check). This is not new, and although it seems to be more in the news lately, it’s possible that it’s just getting more attention.
However, when I think more about the implications and the language used, I do start to have a problem. It’s the distraction wording. The implication (and sometimes direct statement) that the way girls dress, the amount of skin they’re showing, the fact that other people can see the curves (or not) of their bodies, is too much of a distraction for others (male classmates and occasionally teachers) is the real problem.
In life, there are lots of distractions. A sunny day, music, the office mate who constantly hums off key. You deal with it and get shit done. If you cannot deal with it and get shit done, then you are not going to last long in a professional world. There are other jobs that have an even higher distraction probability. Firefighting, military, police work, EMTs, probably teaching, for the love of the Taco Pope.
Learning to deal with and ignore distractions is a valuable life skill.
There are some cases in which the distractor can be blamed and dealt with (see above loud, off-key humming office mate, who is definitely not fertilizing any non-nondescript tracts of land), but there are others that cannot (just about any distraction encountered while EMT-ing, I’m guessing).
So, not only are we teaching that distractions are something that need to be shut down, we are making assumptions about our boys: (a) they cannot learn if they can see that the girls in their classrooms have girl parts and (b) that they are unable to imagine the girl parts of said girls and aren’t already doing that almost constantly.
We are creating a culture that allows boys to not take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. I don’t care if a teenage boy looks at a teenage girl and thinks, “Damn. She is hot. I would like to get me some of that.”
I do have a problem if he thinks that and then at any point the conclusion is reached that he is entitled of get some of that. If we let boys believe that the way a girl dresses is a legitimate distraction that they should be protected from (by sending girls home and creating dress codes that don’t allow girls to show their shoulders or stomachs or thighs), then we are planting the seeds that the way a girl dresses means something about her as a person – or even worse – as an object.
Now, let’s move on to what we’re teaching our girls. By sending a girl home or telling her to cover herself because she’s showing too much cleavage, we’re reducing her to her appearance. There seems to be more emphasis placed on covering up the curves. As someone who grew up with larger than average (at least where I went to school) breasts, I can tell you what that’s like. I was, for a period of time, called Dolly Parton the Second in Junior High. I was groped on the bus. My knockers were not safe, and this was more than twenty years ago.
I have terrible posture, and a lot of that is from more than 20 years of trying to minimize the appearance of my melons.
I have a great deal of discomfort when it comes to my fun bags, because I was given – either directly or indirectly while growing up – the message that cleavage = hussy.
Now, when even a tiny hint of cleavage shows, I have anxiety. And you know what? Even now, even at almost 40, I still accidentally show my cleavage sometimes. A few weeks ago I was at work, in a meeting, wearing a new shirt. New shirt looked great when I tried it on at the store, but at work, with moving around, and walking, and leaning, apparently it wasn’t as high necked as I thought. I glanced down at my notes and saw that I was showing a lot of cleavage. A lot.
So if I, a woman who’s been anatomically gifted for 25 years now, occasionally have accidental cleavage, how on earth can anyone believe that it doesn’t happen to girls who are just starting to undergo physical changes?
And more importantly, if we’re telling those girls that their snuggle pups are something that needs to be hidden are you being honest about why?
Is it because modesty? Everyone has different standards, why is yours correct?
Is it because the boys can’t concentrate? You’re doing the boys a disservice.
Is it because you can’t concentrate? Then you know what? You’re the problem. Not the curve of a young girl’s leg.
I’d just like us all to agree that clothes don’t make the woman (or man) and that although as an adult professional, I believe there are times and places to wear certain items, I have the experience and wisdom to make those decisions. Teens are still finding their ways, and unless they’re showing up to school nude (which would be chilly and uncomfortable, as well as unsanitary), the education is more important that the possibly too-visible-for-your-comfort T&A.
This kind of attitude is related to the “what was she wearing?” question that so often gets asked of sexual assault victims. (Hint: it doesn’t matter! People in all sorts of clothing get assaulted!)
So, can we stop shaming people (girls? women?) for what they’re wearing? Can we stop judging them for things they often have no control over? It takes a long time to learn to wrangle a large set of mammaries, so let’s give girls a little slack and a lot of education instead!
ETA: This is how the BEST captain feels about your casual denigration of women.