Feminism | Posted by Eve Rebil on 07/5/2013

Your Body Is Too Distracting: School Dress Codes and Slut Shaming

I’ve always hated the idea of dress codes. As a teen, I felt like it was an assault on my personal freedom. Unlike the rebellious stereotype however, I wore as many layers as I could. I frequently wore my father’s XL fleece jacket to school, even though it hung about my knees. It took me years to understand why I felt the need to bury myself in so much clothing, and just as much time to wear anything fitted. Growing up with a positive body image is hard enough these days, but doing so in a school environment where slut-shaming was not only condoned, but perpetrated by school administrators and parents is nearly impossible.

I am not alone with my experience. Lately, this issue has cropped up on the Huffington Post and on blogs such as Jezebel and ThinkProgress. These blogs have all made a similar point: it is not dress codes themselves that are the problem. Rather, it is the reasons that young boys and girls are given for clothing restrictions that contribute to slut-shaming and rape culture. Educators and society do not tell girls that their clothing is simply inappropriate for a school setting, but tell them that they will “distract the boys” and that their attire is “slutty” or “unladylike.” This not only teaches young girls that their sexuality is wrong, but that their own bodies are inherently shameful.

While girls are left to worry and fear how their body is perceived, educators rarely tell boys not to ogle girls.  “Boys will be boys“, they will say. This harms both sexes, as it teaches boys that they can treat the girls and women in their lives as objects rather than people, and it teaches girls that any negativity directed at them by males is their own fault. Girls are taught very early that what they wear not only defines them, but also defines the actions of others against them. Girls receive these messages loud and clear: your body is wrong, your body does not belong to you, you are how you dress, you are an object of lust and desire, you are an object first and a person second.

Meanwhile, stores and advertising drown women and girls in the idea that you must be beautiful and sexy to matter. Young girls are sexualized in everything from television to  the magazines they read and the stores they shop in. Go into almost any clothing store and you will find revealing clothing marketed to younger and younger girls. Girls are trapped in a catch 22: as a girl, it is vital to look beautiful and sexy, but at school they are told that sexy is slutty, disgusting, and wrong. If you don’t fit this mold, dress codes are even harder to navigate. Bigger girls are called out and told “no one wants to see that.” Fat-shaming is just as harmful to a girl’s self-esteem as slut-shaming. Trans* youth also face difficulties with dress codes, as their clothing choices—whether they fit the dress code or not—are often ridiculed and reprimanded by their educators and peers.

A final note to readers:

To teenagers: you are more than bodies, more than outfits, and more than your clothing size. You are more complicated than gender and you are not an object.

To Educators: use your authority to treat young people to respect themselves and others. Do not shame them for what they wear or who they are. Negative reinforcement of dress codes via slut/fat shaming and transphobia hurts everyone.

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  • Bryan Newman @ at 2:35 am, July 6th, 2013

    Thank you for posting this. Ugh… I can still remember in the 7th grade during the first day of English class with the whole “what to wear” lecture where the teacher was going on about what the girls shouldn’t wear because boys apparently are completely incapable of not objectifying women and looking down shirts. Never once was there any responsibility put on the fellow young men in the classroom. This needs to change!

  • Emma E @ at 4:45 pm, July 7th, 2013

    Thank you! I go to a uniform school (which in itself is an outdated notion, but anyway) and I can’t tell you ow many times I’ve seen girls get sent to the office for short skirts. On top of that, my school apparently has a reputation in my district as the ‘slut school’ because of girls’ skirt length, which is infuriating. Its even worse on non-uniform days, when girls are constantly being accused of dressing ‘slutty’ and being sent to the office. Just before the end of the school year, a girl (not even an administrator, another girl) started accusing a girl, during her debate speech, of dressing slutty and asking ‘is it slut season?’ I was so angry. Administrators validating slut-shaming makes it okay for students to do it, which is reason number 20000 why dress codes are stupid.

  • Rachel B @ at 7:51 pm, July 8th, 2013

    This article rings true! In middle school my math teacher repeatedly called my best friend out for her cleavage (she was young and large chested) and to this day, as seniors in high school, she is averse to wear low cut shirts. The boys were never spoken to about how to not glance back and forth between a girls eyes and her chest, rather the girls were told to “cover up.” Attitudes need to change.

  • Johnny @ at 2:17 am, October 15th, 2013

    School dress codes are important because the teach the young what is appropriate and inappropriate attire for public exchanges. Despite school being a welcoming community that encourages students to be themselves, it is still a public formal area similar to workplaces and offices.

    Imagine this scenario. A person of either gender wears a slingshot bikini to school. Lets say the gender is a man, a very hairy and buff man. It’s going to be very distracting for teachers and students alike. And that’s what I wore for senior Halloween.

    It’s not about the gender you are, if you’re wearing something overly distracting e.g. having your tits hanging out everywhere or your pants so low that your crack shows people will always be put off/distracted by your appearance. It can be a well received response or it can be a disgusted response.

    I honestly thought this article was going to be about the needless discrimination of the bodies of ‘blessed’ women in workplaces and in schools rather than a trivial argument solely based on opinions of what is old and wrong.

  • The Round-Up: July 9, 2013 | Gender Focus @ at 7:31 pm, November 1st, 2013

    [...] Eve Rebil at The F Bomb talks about how school dress codes often reinforce slut-shaming. [...]

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