5 Ways Schools Slut Shame Students, Because Dress Codes Do More Harm Than You Think

In our society, women are judged by the sexual decisions they make — and those who decide to have more sex or even just look a way that's perceived as more sexual are judged as inferior. This phenomenon is known as slut shaming, and even at a young age, schools slut shame students in a few subtle but insidious ways. Slut shaming is both built into school curricula, dress codes, and policies, and also happens on an individual basis when teachers advise and mentor students.

Slut shaming can start as early as elementary school, when dress codes focus on making sure students don't wear anything others could perceive as sexual. Then, in sex ed, students are often taught about sex and dating in a gendered way that depicts men as more sexual, and women's pleasure and desire is usually glossed over. When women enter college, they're given a slew of warnings about making sure they don't get assaulted — and then if they are, they're asked what they did to make themselves vulnerable.

Even when schools think they're just educating their students and preparing them for the real world, they end up teaching them that it's not normal for women to be sexual and that women who are sexual deserve bad things. Here are a few ways that happens.

1. By Enforcing Dress Codes

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Dress codes put the onus on students — usually girls — not to look "distracting," rather than teaching students to develop the discipline not to be distracted by them. In sending this message, schools also teach students — particularly boys — that women's bodies are inherently provocative, rather than teaching them not to sexualize women. What's actually distracting is the shame women experience when their choice of clothing is called out in a sexualized manner or they're not allowed to attend class because of what they're wearing.

2. By Teaching Sexist Sex-Ed Lessons

Many schools are still teaching students lessons about sex and relationships that are influenced by gender roles. One teacher even distributed the above flier claiming, among other things, that men "approach and court" while a woman "sits back and accepts" and that men "want sex" while a woman "withholds sex." That's an extreme form of gender roles entering sex-ed classes, but even my very liberal high school health teacher told us that boys are more likely to pay attention to girls who will sleep with them easily. These messages about sex slut shame women and perpetuate rape culture by teaching women it's abnormal to pursue sex and teaching men it's normal to pursue sex at all costs — and at women's expense.

3. By Not Teaching About Desire Or Pleasure — Especially For Women

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"I found that sex education covered mainly periods and pregnancy and discussed very little about the actual act of sex and what consent is and the fact it should be pleasurable for girls as well," one woman said in a Equality Rights Alliance survey about sex education. "There was also no discussion about masturbation. I thought only boys could masturbate until about year eight," said another. In my school's sex education as well, we learned about erections and wet dreams, but nothing at all about women's sexual arousal. When schools treat sexuality as normal for men but not women, women end up ashamed of having sexual desires.

4. By Discouraging Students From Having Sex

The U.S. government has contributed over $1.5 billion to fund abstinence-only programs since 1998, according to Advocates for Youth, yet these curricula have not made students less likely to have sex or reduced teenage pregnancy. Instead, they have simply taught kids that having sex is inherently a poor decision they should feel guilty about. Even outside of sex ed courses, schools often warn students against having sex through assemblies or posters like the one above, which encourages students to "protect her character" by making sure women don't have sex on prom night. Hopefully, though, President Obama's cutting of abstinence-only sex education from the proposed 2017 budget will help mitigate this problem.

5. By Holding Students Responsible For Sexual Assaults

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When women go off to college, their parents often warn them about making sure they don't drink too much or go out alone so they don't get assaulted. Then, freshmen orientation often includes talks on safety with the same message. This victim-blaming continues in colleges' sexual assault hearings, where victims are frequently asked what behavior they engaged in that could have provoked the assault. The same slut shaming ideas that go into school dress codes not only excuse assaults but also lead women to be taken less seriously when they're the victims.

Images: Pexels; Giphy(3)