This week, 75 parents, students, and recent graduates of the Los Alamos Public School system sent a letter to the superintendent and school board expressing concern that the dress codes at the individual schools as they are currently written and enforced unfairly target girls with the following negative consequences:
- It sexualizes girls at a young age.
- It publicly humiliates them.
- It sends the message that it is acceptable for adult teachers and staff—including adult men—to judge their clothing choices and, by extension, their bodies. We strenuously impress upon our daughters and sons that it is not appropriate for adults to evaluate them sexually—and yet that is exactly what dress code enforcement allows.
- It puts the responsibility on girls to dress so as not to “distract” boys, rather than expecting boys to be responsible for their own behavior. This is a dangerous precedent that can fuel a culture of rape and sexual harassment.
- Furthermore, it unfairly assumes that boys will be unable to control themselves because of girls’ clothing choices. Many of us are also the parents of sons, and we expect more from them—so should the school district.
From our experience, boys are rarely, if ever, dress coded, whereas it is a regular occurrence for girls. We think most people would agree that it’s not because girls are “bad” more often than boys, but because the clothing choices available to them (and, yes, those that are socially acceptable) are not typically in line with the dress code. A simple online search of shorts for sale for boys and shorts available for girls illustrate the stark differences. These reflect what is deemed socially acceptable for the two genders. One easily meets dress code requirements; the other doesn’t.
One could respond, “Too bad. The girls need to learn to dress more conservatively”—but why? Why should the dress code be something boys can easily meet but girls must struggle to adhere to? Furthermore, parts of the dress code are completely dependent on a child’s physical attributes, over which they have no control. For example, two girls—one with longer legs and one with shorter legs—can wear the same pair of shorts, while only the long-legged girl will be in violation of the dress code. Curvier girls can also be at a disadvantage because necklines will be lower and pants tighter.
We also wonder about the inconsistencies in the dress code among school activities. Track, soccer, cheerleading, and volleyball uniforms for girls include short, tight shorts and skirts—presumably because they are more comfortable than longer, baggier clothes. That’s fine. But why are girls in school not allowed to make clothing choices to be more comfortable?
We requested the following:
- The dress codes be changed at each school so they are not so prescriptive. Girls should not have to kneel on the floor and have their legs measured from the knee to the base of their shorts. The straps of their tank tops should not be subject to measurement. Other districts have implemented dress codes that require students to simply be covered from their armpits to upper thighs. Santa Fe Public Schools recently adopted a new dress code that also appears reasonable. These seem like good foundations from which to start the discussion.
- Men should not be dress-coding girls; women should not be dress-coding boys—ever. Many of our girls have been dress-coded by grown men. We’re sure you understand why this is a terrible idea, both for the student and for the school district from a liability perspective. Frankly, we can’t believe this has not been policy from day one.
- Students should not be threatened with missing special events (such as field trips, pep rallies, field days, etc.) for violating dress code, nor should they be humiliated by being sent to the nurse’s office, sent home, or forced to wear ill-fitting clothes. Parents typically send their kids to school in the morning knowing what their child is wearing, so unless a child changes between leaving home and arriving at school (which we recognize is a possibility), then the parents have approved of their child’s clothing choices. If a student is in violation, we recommend that the parents be notified via email for future reference.
It’s time to update our dress code policies so they no longer unfairly punish girls. Every time a girl is sent home or asked to change because of “distracting” clothing choices, they are subtly being told that boys’ education is more valuable than theirs. Let’s update the school dress codes so they reflect 21st century values.