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Shamed for Shorts: Double Standards and Everyday Sexism in Schools

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With the changing of the seasons and warm weather hastily approaching, students have begun trading in their sweaters and boots for shorts and sandals. Schools across the nation, including Half Hollow Hills High School West, have dress codes in place to “remain focused on education despite the distractions.” Although it is a school’s responsibility to enforce the rules and dress codes of the district, are these codes and the disciplinary actions that follow targeting, sexualizing, and attacking women? 

Source: www.wsbradio.com. The six-year-old Georgia girl wearing the outfit she was shamed for.
Source: www.wsbradio.com.
The six-year-old Georgia girl wearing the outfit she was shamed for.

Stories about “slut-shaming” of girls in schools due to the enforcements of dress codes have been circling around social media, and there seems to be a new story everyday. Girls around the nation have been forced to wear humiliating disciplinary ensembles, as if they are living in a modern-day version of The Scarlet Letter. Others have been sent home for wearing leggings and shamed in class for wearing tank tops. Even a six-year-old kindergarten student in Henry County, Georgia, was reprimanded for wearing a skort (a skirt and shorts combo) and tights. Some schools defend their actions with the argument that shorts and other clothing items that show skin are distracting to the learning environment, but many feel that this mentality encourages male students to objectify and sexualize women. “I think it’s dumb,” said Peder Smith, a sophomore at Hills West, “Girls should be allowed wear shorts without a consequence. It’s hot outside; girls should be able to wear what they want. It’s not distracting.”

Although these peculiar punishments may seem foreign in Hills West, the school has its own set of rules and consequences laid out in the Code of Conduct.

Half Hollow Hills High School West’s dress code states:

…Students are not permitted to wear clothing that shows belly buttons or undergarments. That means that girls are not permitted to wear tops that show bra straps, shorts that are just inches below the waistline, and skirts/dresses that are so short that undergarments can be seen with the slightest movement. Halter-tops are unacceptable! That means that boys cannot wear tank tops, short shirts showing belly buttons, and pants/shorts that fall below the waist revealing undergarments. Students who come to school dressed inappropriately will be asked to call home for a family member to bring a change of clothing. Continual disobedience may result in disciplinary action.

Over the years, many incidents have occurred in which Hills West girls have felt violated and attacked by the dress code and the results of a “dress code violation.” Tara Ranjbar, a junior at Hills West, has had a negative experience with the enforcement of the dress code in the past. “When I was in ninth grade,” she said, “my teacher sent all of the girls in my class down to administration for simply wearing shorts. When I went down to administration, they told us that our shorts were actually an appropriate length and to go back to class. From that day on, every girl in my class found it necessary to wear sweatpants over their shorts when entering that classroom. It made me feel very violated, and it also hindered my education. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to the dress code. Some items of clothing boys wear, such as tank tops, could also be considered ‘distracting,’ and many boys are not reprimanded for this.”

Spencer Goldberg, a junior at Hills West agrees with this statement. “I personally have not been reprimanded [for dress code violations],” he confessed, “but I’ve heard tons of stories from friends, specifically girls, that have been reprimanded. I definitely do think there is a double standard because you never really hear stories about guys being reprimanded for their clothing choices. It’s always girls.” Stefanie Drinkwater, a senior at Hills West, agreed that there is a double standard in terms of the dress code. “I definitely agree that dress code should be fair,” she said, “If [girls’] rules are strictly enforced and we’re constantly reminded of them, guys should be too!” Morgan Grant, a freshman at Hills West, also agrees. “Why should women have to cater to the needs of men?” she asked, “Why is it that women have to cover themselves up on a hot summer day while guys barely have a dress code? Guys sag their pants, and not a care in the world is given.” Although many students believe the dress codes target women, most still believe it is necessary to have a dress code in place. “I do believe a dress code is necessary,” Goldberg continued, “because there is a limit. Clothing these days are getting smaller and smaller, and there has to be some limit and code.”

In 2013, a student wrote a letter stating his concerns about the shaming of girls in school as a result of the dress code, and in response received In-School Suspension (I.S.S). Many students are confused as to what the proper consequence is for a dress code violation and if there is there is a disconnect between what teachers find inappropriate and what the administration finds inappropriate. Dr. Catapano explained that the disciplinary actions that follow dress code violations are actually not a result of the clothing itself. “First, a student will be asked to changed their clothes if dressed inappropriately,” he clarified, “If they refuse, that is considered insubordination, and they will be held accountable by the code of conduct. The dress code is clearly stated in the code of conduct…if a student is wearing a t-shirt that promotes drugs or alcohol, they will be asked to remove the t-shirt. Students are do not receive consequences for what they are wearing. You will not be suspended for wearing something that is inappropriate. However, if we tell you to remove the item or change and you say no, then there will be consequences.” Although there seemed to be a disconnect between the administration and the teachers in the past, Dr. Catapano has assured that there have been no miscommunications since he has been principal. “I don’t think there has ever been an instance in which a student was sent down to the office and we didn’t feel the clothing was inappropriate,” he said.

Although many students around the nation feel that dress codes are sometimes too severely reinforced, many others believe that the opposite is true, which proposes a contrasting issue. Many male teachers feel uncomfortable confronting female students about serious dress code violations because of the notion that it is sexualizing them. “Yes, it is very uncomfortable,” replied Mr. Ferretti, a social studies teacher at Hills West, “I have no interest in doing it.”

Dress codes have become a controversial issue nationwide, sparking feelings of discomfort for students and teachers alike. Although there has been no official proposed solution to the issue, many students have opinions on how to halt the problems. Justin Zelamsky, a junior at Hills West, proposed his own solution to the argument, “I think we need a stricter code for both genders. Then, it will be truly equal.” Grant disagrees, “I think that instead of women needing to cover their shoulders in school, students, especially males, should be taught how to control themselves. The quote ‘boys will be boys’ should not exist.” Drinkwater, however, reiterates Zelamsky’s solution, “If they strictly enforced the fingertip length rule on shorts, they might be better off,” suggested Drinkwater, “Because then they have a fair way to check everyone’s shorts.” Until an action is put in place to end these disputed issues, it is fair to say that no progress or change will ever occur.

Objectification, sexism, and double standards may appear to be foreign issues, but they flow forcibly throughout the halls of Hills West and the halls of high schools nationwide. Discomfort surrounding the dress code is experienced by both teachers and students alike. Although it appears impractical to remove the dress code from the Half Hollow Hills Code of Conduct, many students, especially females, still believe that many serious changes are necessary to dissolve these issues and eliminate the gap between men and women. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex.”