When you’re getting dressed for school in the morning, what do you think about? Are you thinking about your homework, or a conversation you had the day before? Or are you worrying about whether the length of your skirt will abide by some arbitrary guideline set out in your school’s dress code? Given that 54% of all public schools, and an even higher percentage of private schools enforce a strict dress code, the answer to that question is probably yes.
Administrators, parents and other adults claim that there are many benefits to dress codes. One of the largest ones is that they prevent students from being distracted in the classroom. The problem is, what exactly is distracting?
When asked this question, the thing most schools state are bra straps, too-short skirts or dresses, and low-cut tops. This proves that dress codes apply unfairly to girls. Most boys (of course, not all, but most) aren’t wearing skirts or dresses. They certainly aren’t wearing bras or dealing with cleavage. School dress codes exist to punish girls for their bodies.
When young women are punished for wearing a bra, or having cleavage, it tells them that their bodies are something to be ashamed of. When a teacher admonishes a young girl for “distracting” the boys, it tells her that her education is less important than that of a young man. It also reduces boys to sex-crazed, slobbering fools who lose all ability to focus at the sight of a bra strap. This is damaging to both young men and women.
Of course, there are some things that aren’t appropriate for school. I’m not saying show up in just a thong and a crop top- it is a professional environment, just like a workplace. But by telling young women that the way they dress is inherently distracting, you’re reinforcing the idea that their bodies exist solely for male pleasure, which is detrimental to their mental health. Instead of dress codes, let students dress how they want. Teach them that they are at school to learn, not to worry about whether they’re committing a dress code violation. After all, what’s more important- whether their bra strap is showing, or whether they will get into college?