As we all know, it is essential that young girls cover vast expanses of their flesh in order for society to continue to function, lest they distract the entirety of the male species who are powerless to focus on their jobs, education, or indeed anything that isn’t underage girls. What’s that? Hold on — I’m getting word that this is, in fact, a steaming hot pile of medical-grade trash.
Luckily, a one-woman hazmat team has arrived. This week, a mother from New York invited her daughter's school principal to go shopping with her to buy clothes for her 13-year-old in accordance with the school’s dress code.
Catherine Guggenheim Pearlman, a parenting expert and founder of The Family Coach, wrote the letter after her daughter was sent home with a note about her “inappropriate” shorts for the second day in a row. Pearlman shared a picture of the offending shorts, which violated the school’s clothing policy because they stopped short of the child’s fingertips.
“Dear Middle School Principal,” she wrote in her blog post, “Thank you for sending a note home for the second day in a row to say my daughter was dressed inappropriately for school. [...] To reward you for your concern, I am cordially inviting you to take my daughter shopping. Here are the specifications you have to work with.”
Pearlman goes on to list the various requirements to which her daughter’s clothes must adhere.
“She is 5’7” and and 13 years old. Built more like her father, she has exceptionally long legs and arms.” (Whoa, it's almost like all bodies aren’t built alike and sweeping generalizations about clothing aren’t helpful. Huh.)
“She doesn’t like anything pink or purple or frilly.” (Welp, there goes the girls’ section of any major clothing store.)
“She won’t wear pants because she gets overheated easily. Trust me, I’ve seen this. It will cause a scene in the schoolyard.” (Same, tbh.)
“Now, don’t forget that you will have to find something in the stores that also meets with your dress code requirements. [...] So, if I were you (and I’m glad I’m not) I’d focus on the shorts first. She has very long fingers which seems to make finding shorts that won’t get her sent to the principal’s office impossible.” (Damn, don’t cross Catherine, amirite?)
Pearlman concludes by calling out the implicit sexism of the school’s dress code.
“P.S. I forgot to thank you for making it clear to my daughter that her body is somehow a distraction, either to herself or to the boys. I thought she might have missed the message earlier in the year when the gym teacher told her she couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys aren’t able to control themselves. I appreciate how hard you are working to drive the point home.”
As hair-pullingly, teeth-grindingly frustrating as Pearlman's experience is, it is far from unique. Young girls are regularly told that how other people view them is their responsibility, that if a boy leers at them, it's not his fault (boys will be boys, after all!!), it's theirs. It's the same toxic mentality that prohibited two girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings, and prompted a school to slut-shame its own students based on their choice in prom dresses. It's the same toxic mentality that props up rape culture with victim-blaming. It's a widespread, serious problem, one that deserves to be lampooned and derided for its absurdity, like Pearlman did in her letter. Because the only thing more corrosive than toxic waste is the hot shame of mockery.