Bodily Autonomy

Why is it that schools feel that shaming young girls for how they dress is acceptable?

Why is it that the common threads of “you’re distracting students,” or, even worse, “you’re distracting staff,” are reasons that are used to pull young women out of class and demand that they “cover up” or they will be sent home?

Why is it that prom dress codes are only aimed at young women, like this one, and not young men?

Where in the world is it acceptable to make a young girl “move around” to make sure her nipples are not showing when she goes braless because of a sunburn?

Apparently, that acceptable place is in Florida.

The story of Lizzy Martinez was covered by the NY Times, but it is absolutely indicative of what kind of ridiculousness is happening in high schools across the country.

This young lady had a sunburn.  (I have had sunburns that made it very painful to put on a bra, so I’m already right there with her.  There is nothing worse than having to strap something tight around your back and chest when you’ve burned yourself.)  She was in class for 15 minutes before she was pulled out for not wearing a bra.

No, please understand, that there is no requirement in their dress code that says that a young woman has to wear a bra.

The deans were saying that there were young men “looking and laughing” at her, even though she says that there were no issues until she was pulled out of class. She put on an undershirt and was told, by the dean, to “stand up and move around for her.”

Um, what?

That dean (female, by the way) was watching how this student’s tatas moved under her shirt to observe if this student’s nipples were still visible after putting on the undershirt.

Pedophilia/Voyeurism anyone?

That is just creepy and gross.  Like, “I think I need a shower after reading that” disgusting.

When the dean stated that she could still see her nipples (ew!), she demanded that she put band aids on them so they could not be seen.

Ok, you may be thinking, why is that a big deal?  Ever put on a band aid? Ever taken it off and had it hurt or even pull off the first layer of skin?  Now, imagine doing that on a super sensitive part of your body.

Or, hey, you don’t have to.  Because Ladylike did a whole video on it:

Now, before you go thinking that this is an isolated incident, I can assure you that it is not.  If you want just an inkling of what is happening to young women around the country, you can go here, here, and here.

Why is this a big deal?  You may be thinking, “Hey, just dress right and all will be fine.”

Ok, I get that and I don’t necessarily disagree.  There is a time and place for certain clothes, whether in the club or at school.  But, demanding that a young woman cover up or change her clothes because she “is distracting male students/administrators” is not the same thing as saying, “that outfit would be more appropriate for home,” or “we’re trying to encourage you to dress professionally so that you know how to dress in a professional environment.”

By making this about other people, rather than about the young woman herself, you are teaching her that her worth lies in how she is dressed and that how she is dressed is more important than her education.  By extension, you are telling her that her education is less important than the education of her male classmates and that she should be ashamed of “distracting” them.

This stance also perpetuates the “she dressed like a slut” mindset of a rape culture that continually values men and their wants, needs and desires over those of women and tacitly gives men licence to leer and stare at women because of how they are dressed.

In summary, it teaches young women that they have no right to dress how they are most comfortable because their body is not their own and they will be judged by others for how they dress and present themselves.

While some of this is expected in societal circles – you wouldn’t wear an unnecessarily revealing shirt to Wall Street – high schools seem to be going the extra mile to make sure that young women are shamed for wearing things that are culturally and socially appropriate for them to wear in school.  These are not young women dressing to head out for a night on the town in their daily classes.  They are young women wearing yoga pants for gym, shorts for gym, clothes that are comfortable on a 99 degree day.  These are young women doing what is right, not breaking any rules and being called out for being “provocative” and “distracting.”

This needs to end.

One school in Illinois is doing this the right way with their new dress code.  My favorite line is this one:  All students and staff should understand that they are responsible for managing their own personal ‘distractions’ without regulating individual students’ clothing/self expression.

And that’s how you do a dress code right.

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I am currently a graduate student at the School of Social Work at Rutgers University, NJ. I'm also a mother and a life-long learner, who loves to learn from everyone, everywhere. A staunch Democrat who pays attention to what's happening in the world. Budding activist and advocate for those who have no one else. I'm looking to break into higher education in Student Affairs after graduation and am working toward teaching one day, which is my true love.

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