It seems like every day, we hear about yet another instance of a young woman (this week it's Quebec student Lindsay Stocker) being told by the school she attends that what she’s wearing is “too this” or “too that.” Whether it’s too short, too revealing, too tight, or too ambiguously distracting, these charges allegedly all have to do with enforcing modesty. But all this modesty policing pretty much never yields the results its enforcers hope for. Instead, it teaches girls to be ashamed: ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of the unwholesome thoughts their bodies are capable of inspiring in others, ashamed of the fact that they even have bodies in the first place. And that? Is not right. It is not right at all.
As Jessica Valenti wrote recently in the Guardian, “This sends a clear message about who the schools really care about. Because truly, what’s more distracting: boys and teachers having to deal with the occasional glimpse of a girl’s leg, or girls being pulled from class, humiliated, and made to change before returning? Dress codes assume that it’s male students whose learning needs to be protected — and adult males who need protection from themselves. What girls need doesn’t rate consideration.”
Take a look at these nine instances from schools all over the world, for example. In each case, girls were singled out because of what they were wearing and shamed for daring to have bodies — and the shaming happened at the hands of the very people who should be teaching them and all their fellow students about body positivity. Anyone else think it’s time school officials cleaned up their acts?
1. “Your Shorts Are Too Short”
Two school officials walked into Lindsey Stocker’s 11th grade class at Beaconsfield High School in Quebec, Canada on a warm day at the end of May and made all of the students stand up with their arms by their sides. If the student’s shorts or skirt didn’t reach her fingertips, she was written up for being in violation of the dress code. Lindsey was one of the ones who was singled out and humiliated because her shorts were allegedly "too short." In response, Lindsey took some inspiration from Tumblr and printed out a bunch of posters reading things like, “Don’t humiliate her because she is wearing shorts. It’s hot outside. Instead of shaming girls for their bodies, teach boys that girls are not sexual objects.” But rather than looking at Lindsey’s protest as food for thought, the school suspended her instead.
2. “Your Prom Dress Is Too Short”
17-year-old Clare Ettinger was kicked out of her prom last month after a number of the parent chaperones complained that her dress was too short and her dancing too provocative. They claimed to be concerned that she might “cause the young men at the prom to think impure thoughts.” Three things: A) That’s bullshit; B) unless Clare has suddenly become Professor X, she cannot control the thoughts of other people; and C) the thoughts of other people should not, under any circumstances, be made Clare’s responsibility. The dress, by the way, passed the “longer than your fingertips” test required by her school, but she was given the boot anyway. She posted an account of her experience on her sister’s blog; read it and prepare to have your blood boil.
3. “You’re Not Adhering to Gender Norms”
Apparently girls can’t win when it comes to prom, because even though we’re not allowed to wear dresses that are too short, we’re also not allowed to wear pants, even if it means that we’re totally covered up. Shafer Rupard wore a pretty slick-looking black-and-red ensemble to her prom at Cherryville High School — a prom which, by the way, had no official dress code — and was promptly given the boot. This isn’t body shaming in the same way that most of the other instances on this list are, but it’s still a big no-no as far as we’re concerned. Rupard was reprimanded for not conforming to gender norms — norms that demand that women wear dresses, but then attack those same women when said dresses don't meet arbitrary standards of modesty.
4. “Your Bra Straps Are Showing”
Some 30 students who attend Menihek High School in Newfoundland, Canada, were sent home last week because their bra straps were showing. Like many school dress codes, Menihek claims that theirs is intended to prevent girls’ bodies from distracting boys — which, needless to say, is an incredibly problematic justification. And the boys aren’t happy about it either; said student Maddie Plynn, “I was talking to a few boys and they even said they are offended because the school is making them out to be uncontrolled horny monsters.”
5. “Your Leggings Are Too Tight”
Haven Middle School in Evanston, IL maintains that they haven’t formally banned leggings, but that’s not stopping them from telling girls that they’re not allowed to wear them because — again — they’re “too distracting for boys.” Even middle schoolers know that this kind of reasoning is bollocks; wrote 13-year-old Sophie Hasty to the Evanston Review, “Not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do. We just want to be comfortable!” Ayyyyyyyyy-men, sister.
6. “Here, We Photoshopped You Some New Clothes”
I think this one wins the prize for “Silliest Solution to a Non-Existent Problem”: A high school in Utah made waves recently for Photoshopping the yearbook photos of its female students so that their shirts appeared to provide more coverage. Tank tops were given sleeves, camisoles were added, and all manner of other alterations were made… and none of the students knew it was happening until they had their yearbooks in hand. And the worst part isn’t even the Photoshopping in and of itself — it’s the fact that there was absolutely no consistency about which pictures they altered and which were left alone. Not cool on so many levels.
7. "Your Body Is Too Different”
Here’s the thing with dress codes: They often fail to take into account the fact that the same garment doesn’t look the same on everyone, and those with different body types are sometimes penalized because of it. Students at Stuyvesant High School in New York fired back in 2012 with something they called “Slutty Wednesday” — a day on which they dressed in outfits that deliberately violated the dress code. Why the protest? Curvier, leggier girls who didn’t necessarily fit the “norm” (a norm which, let’s face it, is a societal construct to begin with) were being unfairly target simply because clothing fit them differently. Noted Lucinda Ventimiglia, who was a senior at the time, “I’ve been told that even though my skirts were technically acceptable, they were still too short for me to wear, and once it was suggested that I should follow a separate dress code, wherein my skirts should end at least four inches past my fingertips, and preferably at my knees.” WTF, Stuyvesant? You either have to have one dress code that applies to everyone, or you have no dress code at all — none of this “selective dress code based on body shape” junk.
8. “It’s For Your Own Protection”
Here’s another one from 2012: The University of Buea in Cameroon earned the nickname “Government High School Buea” for the dress code it had begun implementing at the time. According to Jezebel, it had guidelines for both male and female students — but the ones for the women were a lot more specific: Dresses no shorter than knee-length, no exposed skin, trousers have to fit loosely, and so on. The University was given the “high school” nickname due to how infantilizing the dress code made its students feel — but even worse was the justification school officials gave for it. “When you dress scantily, you call for attention from the opposite sex. This attention is tilted towards sex, which is a great cause of rape and sexual harassment these days,” said guidance counselor Theresia Ebot. How many times do we have to say it: It doesn't matter what someone wears — they are never, ever “asking for it.”
9. “Your Skirt Is Inappropriate”
In April of 2013, the mother of a girl in Henry County, Georgia was told that the outfit her daughter had worn to school that day was inappropriate and a distraction to other students. The kicker? The girl in this case was a kindergartener. Seriously?! Kids run around naked all the time just because they can, and you’re going to give a little girl problems because she is wearing a pair of skorts — not even a skirt, skorts — with tights underneath? What is this I don’t even.